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[40] If, On a Winter’s Night A Traveler – Italo Calvino

If, On a Winter’s Night A Traveler is a rarity in fiction reading and writing in which the book boldly denounces the inveterate relationship between authorship and authority, proclaiming a revolution in which readers are to be liberated from the “tyranny of the author’s single canonical meaning” and free to make their own interpretation.

The Plot
A certain reader is reading a novel that breaks off into another novel and the reader seeks to investigate the origin of such unpardonable publishing mistakes. It turns out that a certain translator Ermes Marana had proposed a stratagem in which he would break off the translation at the moment of greatest suspense and would start translating another novel, inserting it into the first through some rudimentary expedient. When translating literature of a moribund language, he got confused and the texts that he had translated was from another novel by a Polish writer. Such production defect in copies on behalf of his egregious blunder repeatedly forced readers to abandon reading.

Through the help the very diabolical Ermes Marana, a Japanese firm plotted to manufacture author Silas Flannery’s novels by computer and contrived to produce absolutely new ones in order to invade the world market. The books were re-translated back to English and none of the critics could have distinguished which from the true Flannerys. The books were really plagiarisms from little known Japanese authors of novels that, having had no success, were sent to be pulped. The art of writing and reading what an author means for a reader to read from the writing is brought forth to the full actuality through the reader’s indefatigable effort to unmask the identities of translations.

Writer-Reader Relationship
The author addresses directly to the reader and shapes the story in the perspective of the reader-in other words, the author somehow deprives his authority and has to involve reader into decision-making. The book has left open to the reader who is reading the possibility of identifying himself with the reader who is read: this is why he was not given a name, which would automatically have made him the equivalent of a third person, of a character, and so he had been kept a pronoun in its abstract condition-suitable for any attribute and any action.

Reading about Reading
The book begins (and subsequently throughout which) asks the reader to reflect minutely on the very activity of reading, which most of us take for granted. The book itself is also about characters (readers) practicing such reflection so raptly (and so absorbed in their books) that the world around them falls away. The novel explores the complex relationship between reading (what is being read, what the author means for reader to read…), writing (what is being written and not explicitly written…), and publishing (how translation of text might have forfeited the meaning…).

Stimuli Reading
The most magnificent aspect of If, On a Winter’s Night A Traveler is that the book explores the relationship between what the author has written explicitly and how what is being written down in the book stimulates, evokes, and obviates past experiences, memories, and thoughts. Reader might remember very well everything he has read, perhaps for whom each book becomes intensified with his reading of it at a given time, once and for all. As a result, reader might have preserved the books in the memory and prefers to preserve the books as objects, keeping them within proximity.

Italo Calvino further explores this argument about reading a “different book” other than the one currently being read. Reader, in other words, might be reading another book besides the one before his eyes-a book that yet does to exist, but since the reader wants it, cannot fail to exist. Reading becomes some abstract idea through which reader measures himself against something else that is not present, something that belongs to the immaterial, invisible dimension, because it can only be thought, concocted, and imagined or it was once and is no longer attainable.

If, On a Winter’s Night A Traveler challenges reader to have seized on a thought that the text suggests to it, or maybe a feeling, or a question, or even just an image. The book encourages reader going off on a tangent and wandering from thought to thought, in such itinerary of reasonings that reader should feel to persue to the end.

6 Responses

  1. I really liked this book. It was such a pleasure to read. Witty and not heavy-handed, even as it explored some otherwise pretty dry subjects.

  2. I love Calvino. I’m going to pick this book up when I get a chance. Thanks.

  3. I loved this book, too, and continually hail it as one of my all-time favorites. The book is a masterpiece, in my opinion, and you have done a nice job writing it up here.

  4. after reading his invisible cities, i’ve been looking around for more of calvino’s writings. he’s so different from what i’ve read before. it’s like he writes in one single long breath, that sort of feeling.

    love you blog. stumbled here by chance trying to find lyrics to Eason’s “Aren’t You Glad” and google threw up your site. a happy find for me.

  5. […] If On a Winter’s Night a Traveler Calvino shows that the novel, far from being a dead form, is capable of endless mutations. I had no […]

  6. I understand that this is a post from some years ago, however, this is a book that I have always been intrigued by, a brilliant review – and a read that I am really looking forward to!

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