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On His Trapeze

Michael Wood: Roland Barthes, 17 November 2016

Barthes: A Biography 
by Tiphaine Samoyault, translated by Andrew Brown.
Polity, 586 pp., £25, December 2016, 978 1 5095 0565 4
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... for guru – ‘but something like the master of a workshop, a master worker, a master artisan’. Italo Calvino said Barthes’s field was the science of the single object, the art of generalising where only the particular was in play. This was ‘the great thing that he – I do not say taught us, because one can neither teach nor learn this – but ...

Bye-bye, NY

Ange Mlinko: Harry Mathews’s Fever Dream, 18 March 2021

Collected Poems: 1946-2016 
by Harry Mathews.
Sand Paper Press, 288 pp., $28, February 2020, 978 0 9843312 8 4
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... the Oulipo were some of the most illustrious names in European literature: Perec, Raymond Queneau, Italo Calvino. Their goal was to revitalise literature via gamesmanship, and to create new forms using mathematical methods. Mathews was awed to be in such company but alert to the elitist and sexist optics. ‘Literature and game playing, literature as game ...

Propellers for Noses

Dennis Duncan: The Themerson Archive, 9 June 2022

The Themerson Archive Catalogue 
edited by Jasia Reichardt and Nick Wadley.
MIT, three vols, 1000 pp., £190, November 2020, 978 1 9162474 1 3
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... Themersons courted J.B. Priestley but he failed to deliver; Edwin Morgan had his poetry rejected; Italo Calvino called in on the couple; B.S. Johnson invited Stefan to the Writers’ Co-Operative. The correspondence file bulges in surprising places, in large part thanks to Stefan’s habit of sending comp copies to anyone who might be interested. Kathy ...

Once upon a Real Time

Wendy Doniger, 23 March 1995

From the Beast to the Blonde: On Fairy Tales and Their Tellers 
by Marina Warner.
Chatto, 458 pp., £20, October 1994, 0 7011 3530 1
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... life’. She begins with an observation about differences between two specific male tellers, Italo Calvino (who ‘reveals the porousness of stories to their tellers’ temper and beliefs’ and whose telling is ‘bright with energetic rebellion and peasant cunning’) and the Grimms (‘eerie, volatile, and curiously unfocused socially and ...

The Dining-Room Table

Lucie Elven: Anne Serre sheds her armour, 21 April 2022

The Fool and Other Moral Tales 
by Anne Serre, translated by Mark Hutchinson.
Les Fugitives, 228 pp., £10.99, June 2021, 978 1 8380141 5 5
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The Beginners 
by Anne Serre, translated by Mark Hutchinson.
New Directions, 128 pp., $14.95, July 2021, 978 0 8112 3031 5
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... the hallway and the dining room, she was all smiles.’ This zigzag pattern of events, which Italo Calvino identified as a feature of folktales, creates ‘incessant motion’ within a restricted space. Play is more real here than reality: three pages are dedicated to the governesses’ game of pretending to leave ‘just to stir up the ...


Marina Warner: Literary Diplomacy, 16 November 2017

... with the world. The capacity to make things up is a way of thinking. In Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino says he scrutinises the darkness so he can pick out the pinpricks of light – potential fields of inquiry. Echoing this, Mahmoud Darwish once said that ‘a poem is a throw of dice on a patch of darkness.’ Rebecca Elson, an astronomer who ...

The New Narrative

John Kerrigan, 16 February 1984

The Oxford Book of Narrative Verse 
edited by Iona Opie and Peter Opie.
Oxford, 407 pp., £8.95, September 1983, 0 19 214131 7
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Time’s Oriel 
by Kevin Crossley-Holland.
Hutchinson, 61 pp., £4.95, August 1983, 0 09 153291 4
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On Gender and Writing 
edited by Michelene Wandor.
Pandora, 166 pp., £3.95, September 1983, 0 86358 021 1
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Stone, Paper, Knife 
by Marge Piercy.
Pandora, 144 pp., £3.95, September 1983, 9780863580222
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The Achievement of Ted Hughes 
edited by Keith Sagar.
Manchester, 377 pp., £27.50, March 1983, 0 7190 0939 1
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Ted Hughes and Paul Muldoon 
Faber, £6.95, June 1983, 0 571 13090 9Show More
by Ted Hughes and Peter Keen.
Faber, 128 pp., £10, September 1983, 0 571 13088 7
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by Paul Muldoon.
Faber, 64 pp., £4, September 1983, 0 571 13117 4
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... further ironies are possible, further mischief is possible ... ’ It sounds like something from Italo Calvino: a narrative fantasy in a hall of mirrors. But, in Quoof, Muldoon has achieved his object. Though every poem is distinct and ‘intact’, each text in the book relates to its successor through a word, a theme or metaphor, while the concluding ...

Short Cuts

Nick Richardson: ‘The Bestseller Code’, 17 November 2016

... In​ Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveller the protagonist encounters two sisters who have different styles of reading. Ludmilla reads for pleasure, unencumbered by academic-literary-critical goggles, delighting in writers who write as ‘a pumpkin plant produces pumpkins’. Lotaria, on the other hand, is an academic who reads books ‘only to find in them what she was already convinced of before reading them ...

The Writer and the Valet

Frances Stonor Saunders, 25 September 2014

... he might gain from it the halo of a victim,’ an Italian insider told the young literary editor Italo Calvino. It’s not that Pasternak hadn’t been courageous – there are numerous acts of selfless, indeed reckless concern for others – and he surely didn’t deserve to be saddled with a bad conscience. But in his ‘yielding himself up’ there ...

At the Crime Scene

Adam Shatz: Robbe-Grillet’s Bad Thoughts, 31 July 2014

A Sentimental Novel 
by Alain Robbe-Grillet, translated by D.E. Brooke.
Dalkey Archive, 142 pp., £9.50, April 2014, 978 1 62897 006 7
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... prestige as a champion and practitioner of the nouveau roman: an influence on Perec and Modiano, Calvino and Cortázar; the darling of the avant-garde literary journal Tel Quel. Grove’s combined edition of La Jalousie and Dans le labyrinthe sold forty thousand copies in the US, where Robbe-Grillet was taken on a widely publicised tour of ‘forty ...

On Sebastiano Timpanaro

Perry Anderson, 10 May 2001

... a byword for bien-pensant civics lessons and sententious moralism. In the early 1970s, however, Italo Calvino ‘rediscovered’ one of his late novels, Amore e ginnastica, praising its erotic mordancy. Then in 1980, the manuscript of a novel De Amicis had written nearly a hundred years earlier, but had left in a drawer, was published. Its title was ...

Travelling in the Classic Style

Thomas Laqueur: Primo Levi, 5 September 2002

Primo Levi’s Ordinary Virtues: From Testimony to Ethics 
by Robert Gordon.
Oxford, 316 pp., £45, October 2001, 0 19 815963 3
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Primo Levi 
by Ian Thomson.
Hutchinson, 624 pp., £25, March 2002, 0 09 178531 6
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The Double Bond: Primo Levi, a Biography 
by Carole Angier.
Viking, 898 pp., £25, April 2002, 0 670 88333 6
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... abroad. He was friends with many of his generation among Italian writers and especially close to Italo Calvino. He was also a man who felt deeply both his own suffering and the suffering of those close to him. He was heartbroken over the self-destructive drunken decline and death of Lorenzo Perrone, the mason who, more than anyone, kept him alive at ...

Cry Treedom

Jonathan Bate, 4 November 1993

Forests: The shadow of Civilisation 
by Robert Pogue Harrison.
Chicago, 288 pp., £19.95, May 1992, 0 226 31806 0
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... late-18th and 19th centuries.’ Trees were planted with Cartesian precision, in straight lines. Italo Calvino’s novel The Baron in the Trees tells of an 18th-century nobleman who climbed a holm oak at the age of 12 and vowed never to set foot on the ground again. He wrote a number of political and philosophical treatises which attracted the attention ...

Bites from the Bearded Crocodile

G. Cabrera Infante, 4 June 1981

... he saw in his native Santiago de Cuba – but wrote of them in French Alexandrines in Paris. Or Italo Calvino, born in a village near Havana but raised in Rome. But there have been some important artists born in Cuba who stayed in the country, like those painters who belonged to the Cuban school of painting of the Forties and whose works can be seen in ...

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