Calvino’s letter on Cosmicomics: “I manage to let them think themselves…”

To writer Gian Carlo Ferretti in Milan from I.C. in Turin, Feb. 15, 1966. (Ferretti had written to Calvino, conveying his impressions of Cosmicomics, on December 29, 1965.)

Dear Ferretti,

I have been meaning for some time now to reply to your letter. It gave me enormous pleasure for the very intelligent things you say about my book and it also requires a certain commitment from me in replying because of the questions you ask. Yes, in the kind of stories one finds in Cosmicomics, I would like to succeed in distilling the results of my ideal form of research, and of my comments on reality; but I would like to do so not solely using symbolic or rather allegorical words with a range of meanings. I would like to be able to express everything by thinking in images, or in word-images, but word-images which have the rigor almost of abstraction which in the Cosmicomic stories happens only in “A Sign in Space” and “The Spiral” (and perhaps also in “The Light Years”), and from there to succeed in articulating a discourse that is my discourse, without it having other layers of meanings. For the time being, at the point where I at just now, I manage to let the stories organize themselves, on the basis of their own material, to let them think themselves, become a discourse of which I take note. However, this business of the objectivity of the story which takes shape by itself is for me only a partial, provisional hypothesis. I am well aware that even this question of proposing signs and following them through their potential organization is a way of thinking, and so the point of arrival must be the abolition of this opposition between the organization of signs and the organizations of meanings.

Naturally the emphasis on the abstract component in Cosmicomics must be accompanied by the constant presence of representation, through linguistic and figurative materials which provide the texture of real life. That is what defines the Cosmicomics for me.

As you can see, I am still too much taken up with characterizing this work, the Cosmicomics, from its inside to try to define it in the context of the rest of my work. The things you say on this topic, looking to parallels with The Watcher, are highly suggestive (and I hope you have the chance to develop this argument) and it seems to me that Ferrata [who had written a review for Rinascita the month before] too has gone down the same road, also with a certain finesse. But for each book I would like to create first of all a void around it, see it how it is on its own, and then put it in context.

I am very grateful for your reading of the book and for the stimulus for discussion and clarification that you have given me.

Best wishes.


Italo Calvino

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>