Category Archives: italo calvino

Translation as Stylistic Evolution

Some people have asked for the title of the Calvino/Queneau translation book I referenced earlier this week. It is Translation as Stylistic Evolution: Italo Calvino Creative Translator of Raymond Queneau. It will cost you about $60.

The Genius of What Is Possible In English

Fascinating conversation between Adam Kirsch and Ilya Kaminsky on what translation can and can’t do. I’ll grant that Kirsch is well-informed, and his concerns are fair enough, but this response of Kaminsky’s really gets at the inherent error in focusing to exclusivity on the source text w/r/t translation:

But what interests me is not only the genius of the poet translated but also the genius of what is possible in English as it bends to accommodate or digest various new forms. By translating, we learn how the limits of our minds can be stretched to absorb the foreign, and how thereby we are able to make our language beautiful in a new way.

I love that devotion to the “local” in your earlier commentary, and would like to turn the discussion to the idea of influences. How does this inherent local power in English language poetry grow, expand, and learn its own abilities from its constant encounters with the other? What keeps that wonderful poetic (or, at times, anti-poetic) “local” fresh? What allows it to constantly renew itself and not die of incest and boredom?

AK: What you say about poetry’s encounters with otherness seems to me to apply especially to American poetry. Think of Pound and Eliot, who were never more American than when they attempted to channel the whole of European literature

For what it’s worth, I’m reading a book on Italo Calvino right now that recounts Calvino’s translation of a book of Queneau’s that was essentially untranslatable (Calvino’s word, not mine). Why did Calvino do it? He wanted to enrich the Italian language, as well as develop his own style as a writer. That’s just what he did. (It’s a central claim of this book that this translation was largely responsible for Calvino’s evolution in his books after Cosmicomics.) And at the end of the day Italian readers had a book that, though not an exact parallel text to Queneau’s original, was still one of the year’s most interesting, innovative texts to appear in Italian when Calvino published it.

Re: Sebald and Calvino

At TQC we've just published an interview with Jonathan Tel, whose new book, The Beijing of Possibilities, is getting favorable comparison to Sebald and Calvino.

Review of The Complete Cosmicomics

Jeanette Winterson reviews the new "complete" Cosmicomics:

Cosmicomics, with its ancient Big Bang dwarf Qfwfq as the narrator, unravels the beginning of life and fuses Sixties sci-fi with the extravagant atomics of a much more ancient Italian writer, Lucretius. The reader does not need to know that Calvino is using De Rerum Natura, and its glorious conceit of life's beginnings as a series of ideas randomly colliding with each other, causing a cascade of creativity and chaos, where a cauliflower might just as easily have become the dominant life form on Earth. If the reader does pick up Lucretius, the pleasure is multiplied – pretty much like the cauliflowers.

That's the kind of writer Calvino is – yet his multilayered narratives are never showy in that dismal post-modern way of meta-text verbiage, rather they are winged. As a reader you can choose in which direction you want to fly.

For the details of what exactly is in The Complete Cosmicomics, as well as the chances of there ever being a U.S. version, see our report on this book at The Quarterly Conversation.

Related Content

The Complete Cosmicomics: Full Contents and Details On Seven Newly Translated Stories

(This story is also available at The Quarterly Conversation.)

Italo-calvino Later this year, Penguin U.K. will publish a "complete Cosmicomics." The volume will bring together short stories by Italo Calvino which had previously been spread our across several volumes, or which were untranslated.

According to Rachel Love, Editorial Coordinator at Penguin Classics and Reference, the forthcoming book, titled The Complete Cosmicomics, will include:

According to Love, "Calvino published different cosmiscomics throughout his life, in Italian, and they were collected at different times by different publishers." The seven stories in the new edition "are not newly discovered" work from Calvino, but they are pieces that have not previously been translated and collected into English-language Calvino collections.

Translator Martin McLaughin explains the provenance of the seven new stories in his introduction to The Complete Cosmicomics:

A little-known third collection – La memoria del mondo e altre storie cosmicomiche ("World Memory and Other Cosmicomic Stories") (1968), a volume not available commercially in Italy – offered 20 fictions in all, 12  from the previous two collections [Cosmicomics and t zero] and eight new pieces (seven of these new items are translated here for the first time into English; the other new 1968 tale, the title story, was translated by Tim Parks as "World Memory" in the 1992 volume Numbers in the Dark).

Three of the stories have landed in U.S. periodicals. The May issue of Harper's magazine has published two of the new translations under the title "Two Cosmicomics" and in The New Yorker published "The Daughters of the Moon" in its February 23, 2009 issue.

Cosmicomics was first published in Italy in 1965, and subsequently translated to English and published in the U.S. in 1968. Called by Salman Rushdie "possibly the most enjoyable story collection ever written," it is narrated by an entity known as "Qfwfq," and the book's 12 stories create fables to explain and question various scientific theories. It won immediate praise in the United States, with D.J. Enright writing in The New York Review of Books, "These are short stories because they couldn't possibly be long ones. Cosmicomics is a truly original piece of writing, an engaging and refreshing book."

Although Calvino began his career with realist novels of post-fascist Italy, in 1952 he broke from realism with The Cloven Viscount, the fable-like tale of a 17th-century viscount, sliced into two parts by a cannonball. Calvino followed up Cosmicomics with Ti con zero in 1967 (t zero, 1969). Numbers in the Dark was published in English in 1996, translated from the posthumous Italian-language collection Prima che tu dica 'Pronto' (1993).

It is uncertain if the U.S. will see a "complete" Cosmicomics, as the rights to the stories collected in the U.K. volume are spread among Harcourt and Vintage. Additionally,  The Wylie Agency has rights to the seven newly translated works, meaning that all three parties would have to reach an agreement in order to publish the full book Stateside.


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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