Italo Calvino and Georges Perec: The Multiple and Contrasting Emotions of Cities and Puzzles

By Chiesa, Laura | The Romanic Review, May-November 2006 | Go to article overview

Italo Calvino and Georges Perec: The Multiple and Contrasting Emotions of Cities and Puzzles


Chiesa, Laura, The Romanic Review


If the question of estrangement is emblematic and inescapable in the literary criticism of Italo Calvino, (1) for Georges Perec the question is that of the 'infra-ordinaire' and of the 'contrainte du reel.' (2) I will try, beginning with these two poles (estrangement and infra-ordinaire) to demonstrate the connections and the disjunctions that pass between Calvino's Le citta invisibili and Perec's La Vie mode d'emploi as regards the way in which they articulate and dislocate space and imaginary geography. The title of OuLiPo's second collection, Atlas de litterature potentielle (1981), was suggested by Calvino. (3) The words atlas and potential are placed together and in relation to literature, which means that we are dealing with a collection of literature and with geographical maps not yet drawn, but rather atlases and literatures to come, yet to be discovered by the emotions. Giuliana Bruno, in Atlas of Emotion, (4) develops an interdisciplinary research project at the heart of which she places la Carte du pays du Tendre (1654), a map designed by Madeleine de Scudery to accompany her story Clelie. Bruno proposes this text as inaugural of a new genre of narrative in which geography is not a cold scientific discipline but rather is in a relationship with psychology and emotion; the voyage and the space of the map open paths to narrative, in a movement both real and emotional, in the relationship between image and text. The map incarnates a narrative voyage for which, writes Bruno, "it visualizes, in the form of the landscape, an itinerary of emotions which is, in turn, the topos of the novel." (2) On the subject of tendre or tender, the author reminds us that this word in romance languages recalls, if not a romantic attachment, at least an affectionate tie between people. In ways that turn out to be near opposites, the texts that I analyze are pervaded by this emotive connotation of the map, and furthermore, as we will see, il y a du tendre, there is tenderness between these texts. On one hand is Calvino with the glare of cities both potential and surreal, on the other hand Perec, who plays at blowing up maps and their universes of sense, yet both touch on themes which, thanks to the elaboration and construction of the narrative space, lose their analytical coldness. Nevertheless, if there's tenderness, geographical tenderness, between the texts, there's also tension, the tension between singularity and the complexity of the modern metropolis, a tension not unlike that which Walter Benjamin describes in his unfinished Arcades Project. In comparing them, I will show the strong echo of tension inherent in modernity, as described by Benjamin, in which the city becomes an ambiguous space, somewhere between a room and a landscape. Regarding the experience of the flaneur, Benjamin writes: "Landscape--that, in fact, is what Paris becomes for the flaneur. Or, more precisely, the city splits for him into its dialectical poles. It opens up to him as a landscape, even as it closes around him as a room." (5) Considering modernity, Benjamin develops a mode of thought according to which the vast open space of the landscape or the cityscape and the closed space of a room are confused, or rather, alter and alternate with each other; such an interchange takes place between the texts of Calvino and Perec.

Italo Calvino and Le citta invisibili: Interdisciplinary Geography among Dialogical and Descriptive Illuminations

The theme of travel and that of the map are one of the foci of Calvino's poetics. In the period of the drafting of Le citta invisibili, Calvino is interested in the map and travel: in "Com'era nuovo il mondo" (6) he speaks about the relationship between them as the tracing of a route, in fieri, and also as the opening of a landscape and a way of giving coordinates to a new one which has just begun to make itself known. In "Il viandante e la mappa" (7) Calvino writes that: "il primo bisogno di fissare sulla carta i luoghi e legato al viaggio: e il promemoria della successione di tappe, il tracciato di un percorso (426)," and adds that a map always presupposes the idea of an itinerary and of a narrative. …

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