Great Literary Quotes of Italo Calvino

  1. Life is nothing but trading smells.
  2. There is no language without deceit.
  3. How well I would write if I were not here!
  4. One reads alone, even in another’s presence.
  5. Falsehood is never in words; it is in things.
  6. It is within you that the ghosts acquire voices.
  7. Melancholy is sadness that has taken on lightness.
  8. Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears.
  9. One should be light like a bird and not like a feather.
  10. Revolutionaries are more formalistic than conservatives.
  11. For the man who thought he was Man there is no salvation.
  12. In general confusion youth recognizes itself and rejoices.
  13. Memory’s images, once they are fixed in words, are erased.
  14. It is not the voice that commands the story: it is the ear.
  15. Sometimes one who thinks himself incomplete is merely young.
  16. You know that the best you can expect is to avoid the worst.
  17. Photography has a meaning only if it exhausts all possible images.
  18. Knowledge of the world means dissolving the solidity of the world.
  19. Futures not achieved are only branches of the past: dead branches.
  20. At times the mirror increases a thing’s value, at times denies it.
  21. You’ll understand when you’ve forgotten what you understood before.
  22. A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.
  23. The more enlightened our houses are, the more their walls ooze ghosts.
  24. In love, as in gluttony, pleasure is a matter of the utmost precision.
  25. Memory is redundant: it repeats signs so that the city can begin to exist.
  26. Writing always means hiding something in such a way that it then is discovered.
  27. In abortion, the person who is massacred, physically and morally, is the woman.
  28. The soul is often in the surface, and the importance of ‘depth’ is overestimated.
  29. Nobody these days holds the written word in such high esteem as police states do.
  30. Each sort of cheese reveals a pasture of a different green, under a different sky.
  31. Novels as dull as dishwater, with the grease of random sentiments floating on top.
  32. I will start out this evening with an assertion: fantasy is a place where it rains.
  33. The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand.
  34. The ideal place for me is the one in which it is most natural to live as a foreigner.
  35. The human race is a zone of living things that should be defined by tracing its confines.
  36. Reading is going toward something that is about to be, and no one yet knows what it will be.
  37. The sea where living creatures were at one time immersed is now enclosed within their bodies.
  38. The city of cats and the city of men exist one inside the other, but they are not the same city.
  39. We could say, then, that man is an instrument the world employs to renew its own image constantly.
  40. Today each of you is the object of the other’s reading, one reads in the other the unwritten story.
  41. It is only through the confining act of writing that the immensity of the unwritten becomes legible.
  42. Every time I must find something to do that will look like something a little beyond my capabilities.
  43. The universe is the mirror in which we can contemplate only what we have learned to know in ourselves.
  44. A classic is a book which with each rereading offers as much of a sense of discovery as the first reading.
  45. You take delight not in a city’s seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours.
  46. The ultimate meaning to which all stories refer has two faces: the continuity of life, the inevitability of death.
  47. Who are we, who is each one of us, if not a combinatoria of experiences, information, books we have read, things imagined?
  48. We cannot love or think except in fragments of time each of which goes along its own trajectory and immediately disappears.
  49. Seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.
  50. A classic is the term given to any book which comes to represent the whole universe, a book on a par with ancient talismans.
  51. Work stops at sunset. Darkness falls over the building site. The sky is filled with stars. “There is the blueprint,” they say.
  52. If you want to know how much darkness there is around you, you must sharpen your eyes, peering at the faint lights in the distance.
  53. Everything can change, but not the language that we carry inside us, like a world more exclusive and final than one’s mother’s womb.
  54. The more one was lost in unfamiliar quarters of distant cities, the more one understood the other cities he had crossed to arrive there.
  55. Elsewhere is a negative mirror. The traveler recognizes the little that is his, discovering the much he has not had and will never have.
  56. It’s better not to know authors personally, because the real person never corresponds to the image you form of him from reading his books.
  57. The unconscious is the ocean of the unsayable, of what has been expelled from the land of language, removed as a result of ancient prohibitions.
  58. Fantasy is like jam… You have to spread it on a solid piece of bread. If not, it remains a shapeless thing… out of which you can’t make anything.
  59. Every choice has its obverse, that is to say a renunciation, and so there is no difference between the act of choosing and the act of renouncing.
  60. Without translation, I would be limited to the borders of my own country. The translator is my most important ally. He introduces me to the world.
  61. Nobody looks at the moon in the afternoon, and this is the moment when it would most require our attention, since its existence is still in doubt.
  62. Everything has already begun before, the first line of the first page of every novel refers to something that has already happened outside the book.
  63. My confidence in the future of literature consists in the knowledge that there are things that only literature can give us, by means specific to it.
  64. It is only after you have come to know the surface of things … that you can venture to seek what is underneath. But the surface of things is inexhaustible.
  65. A human being becomes human not through the casual convergence of certain biological conditions, but through an act of will and love on the part of other people.
  66. What Romantic terminology called genius or talent or inspiration is nothing other than finding the right road empirically, following one’s nose, taking shortcuts.
  67. The novels that attract me most… are those that create an illusion of transparency around a knot of human relationships as obscure, cruel and perverse as possible.
  68. Biographical data, even those recorded in the public registers, are the most private things one has, and to declare them openly is rather like facing a psychoanalyst.
  69. The word connects the visible trace with the invisible thing, the absent thing, the thing that is desired or feared, like a frail emergency bridge flung over an abyss.
  70. The line between the reality that is photographed because it seems beautiful to us and the reality that seems beautiful because it has been photographed is very narrow.
  71. If a lover is wretched who invokes kisses of which he knows not the flavor, a thousand times more wretched is he who has had a taste of the flavor and then had it denied him.
  72. I am a prisoner of a gaudy and unlivable present, where all forms of human society have reached an extreme of their cycle and there is no imagining what new forms they may assume.
  73. I do not have any political commitments anymore. I’m politically a total agnostic; I’m one of the few writers in Italy who refuses to be identified with a specific political party.
  74. Travelling, you realize that differences are lost: each city takes to resembling all cities, places exchange their form, order, distances, a shapeless dust cloud invades the continents.
  75. The satirist is prevented by repulsion from gaining a better knowledge of the world he is attracted to, yet he is forced by attraction to concern himself with the world that repels him.
  76. When I’m writing a book I prefer not to speak about it, because only when the book is finished can I try to understand what I’ve really done and to compare my intentions with the result.
  77. Very often the effort men put into activities that seem completely useless turns out to be extremely important in ways no one could foresee. Play has always been the mainspring of culture.
  78. The catalogue of forms is endless: until every shape has found its city, new cities will continue to be born. When the forms exhaust their variety and come apart, the end of cities begins.
  79. In politics, as in every other sphere of life, there are two important principles for a man of any sense: don’t cherish too many illusions, and never stop believing that every little bit helps.
  80. Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.
  81. I have tried to remove weight, sometimes from people, sometimes from heavenly bodies, sometimes from cities; above all I have tried to remove weight from the structure of stories and from language.
  82. Myth is the hidden part of every story, the buried part, the region that is still unexplored because there are as yet no words to enable us to get there. Myth is nourished by silence as well as by words.
  83. The things that the novel does not say are necessarily more numerous than those it does say and only a special halo around what is written can give the illusion that you are reading also what is not written.
  84. So you begin to wonder if Leonia’s true passion is really, as they say, the enjoyment of new and different things, and not, instead, the joy of expelling, discarding, cleansing itself of a recurrent impurity.
  85. Every new book I read comes to be a part of that overall and unitary book that is the sum of my readings…if you need little to set the imagination going, I require even less: the promise of reading is enough.
  86. When politicians and politically minded people pay too much attention to literature, it is a bad sign – a bad sign mostly for literature. But it is also a bad sign when they don’t want to hear the word mentioned.
  87. Success consists in felicity of verbal expression, which every so often may result from a quick flash of inspiration but as a rule involves a patient search… for the sentence in which every word is unalterable.
  88. They knew each other. He knew her and so himself, for in truth he had never known himself. And she knew him and so herself, for although she had always known herself she had never been able to recognize it until now.
  89. To write well about the elegant world you have to know it and experience it to the depths of your being… what matters is not whether you love it or hate it, but only to be quite clear about your position regarding it.
  90. Literature remains alive only if we set ourselves immeasurable goals, far beyond all hope of achievement. Only if poets and writers set themselves tasks that no one else dares imagine will literature continue to have a function.
  91. Whether there is such a thing as Reality, of which the various levels are only partial aspects, or whether there are only levels, is something that literature cannot decide. Literature recognizes rather the “reality of the levels”.
  92. The struggle of literature is in fact a struggle to escape from the confines of language; it stretches out from the utmost limits of what can be said; what stirs literature is the call and attraction of what is not in the dictionary.
  93. Memory really matters…only if it binds together the imprint of the past and the project of the future, if it enables us to act without forgetting what we wanted to do, to become without ceasing to be, and to be without ceasing to become.
  94. Renouncing things is less difficult than people believe: it’s all a matter of getting started. Once you’ve succeeded in dispensing with something you thought essential, you realize you can also do without something else, then without many other things.
  95. Your first book already defines you, while you are really far from being defined. And this definition is something you may then carry with you for the rest of your life, trying to confirm it or extend or correct or deny it; but you can never eliminate it.
  96. You reach a moment in life when, among the people you have known, the dead outnumber the living. And the mind refuses to accept more faces, more expressions: on every new face you encounter, it prints the old forms, for each one it finds the most suitable mask.
  97. To fly is the opposite of traveling: you cross a gap in space, you vanish into the void, you accept not being in a place for a duration that is itself a kind of void in time; then you reappear, in a place and in a moment with no relation to the where and when in which you vanished.
  98. Who are we, who is each one of us, if not a combination of experiences, information, books we have read, things imagined? Each life is an encyclopedia; a library, an inventory of objects, a series of styles, and everything can be constantly shuffled and reordered in every way conceivable.
  99. It was the hour in which objects lose the consistency of shadow that accompanies them during the night and gradually reacquire colors, but seem to cross meanwhile an uncertain limbo, faintly touched, just breathed on by light; the hour in which one is least certain of the world’s existence.
  100. The city, however, does not tell its past, but contains it like the lines of a hand, written in the corners of the streets, the gratings of the windows, the banisters of the steps, the antennae of the lightning rods, the poles of the flags, every segment marked in turn with scratches, indentations, scrolls.
  101. The book I’m looking for,’ says the blurred figure, who holds out a volume similar to yours, ‘is the one that gives the sense of the world after the end of the world, the sense that the world is the end of everything that there is in the world, that the only thing there is in the world is the end of the world.
  102. What about books? Well, precisely because you have denied it in every other field, you believe you may still grant yourself legitimately this youthful pleasure of expectation in a carefully circumscribed area like the field of books, where you can be lucky or unlucky, but the risk of disappointment isn’t serious.
  103. A person’s life consists of a collection of events, the last of which could also change the meaning of the whole, not because it counts more than the previous ones but because once they are included in a life, events are arranged in an order that is not chronological but, rather, corresponds to an inner architecture.
  104. New York is perhaps the only place in America where you feel at the centre and not at the margins, in the provinces, so for that reason I prefer its horror to this privileged beauty, its enslavement to the freedoms which remain local and privileged and very particularized, and which do not represent a genuine antithesis.
  105. If one wanted to depict the whole thing graphically, every episode, with its climax, would require a three-dimensional, or, rather, no model: every experience is unrepeatable. What makes lovemaking and reading resemble each other most is that within both of them times and spaces open, different from measurable time and space.
  106. There is nothing for it but for all of us to invent our own ideal libraries of classics. I would say that such a library ought to be composed half of books we have read and that have really counted for us, and half of books we propose to read and presume will come to count—leaving a section of empty shelves for surprises and occasional discoveries.
  107. You’re the sort of person who, on principle, no longer expects anything of anything. There are plenty, younger than you or less young, who live in the expectation of extraordinary experiences: from books, from people, from journeys, from events, from what tomorrow has in store. But not you. You know that the best you can expect is to avoid the worst.
  108. With cities, it is as with dreams: everything imaginable can be dreamed, but even the most unexpected dream is a rebus that conceals a desire or, its reverse, a fear. Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.
  109. I had fallen in love. What I mean is: I had begun to recognize, to isolate the signs of one of those from the others, in fact I waited for these signs I had begun to recognize, I sought them, responded to those signs I awaited with other signs I made myself, or rather it was I who aroused them, these signs from her, which I answered with other signs of my own…
  110. You walk for days among trees and among stones. Rarely does the eye light on a thing, and then only when it has recognized that thing as the sign of another thing: a print in the sand indicates the tiger’s passage; a marsh announces a vein of water; the hibiscus flower, the end of winter. All the rest is silent and interchangeable; trees and stones are only what they are.
  111. Your house, being the place in which you read, can tell us the position books occupy in your life, if they are a defense you set up to keep the outside world at a distance, if they are a dream into which you sink as if into a drug, or bridges you cast toward the outside, toward the world that interests you so much that you want to multiply and extend its dimensions through books.
  112. In an age when other fantastically speedy, widespread media are triumphing, and running the risk of flattening all communication onto a single, homogenous surface, the function of literature is communication between things that are different simply because they are different, not blunting but even sharpening the differences between them, following the true bent of written language.
  113. This is what I mean when I say I would like to swim against the stream of time: I would like to erase the consequences of certain events and restore an initial condition. But every moment of my life brings with it an accumulation of new facts, and each of these new facts bring with it consequences; so the more I seek to return to the zero moment from which I set out, the further I move away from it.
  114. This is what I mean when I say I would like to swim against the stream of time: I would like to erase the consequences of certain events and restore an initial condition. But every moment of my life brings with it an accumulation of new facts, and each of these new facts bring with it consequences; so the more I seek to return to the zero moment from which I set out, the further I move away from it.
  115. “Perhaps everything lies in knowing what words to speak, what actions to perform, and in what order and rhythm; or else someone’s gaze, answer, gesture is enough; it is enough for someone to do something for the sheer pleasure of doing it, and for his pleasure to become the pleasure of others: at that moment, all spaces change, all heights, distances; the city is transfigured, becomes crystalline, transparent as a dragonfly.
  116. Though I leave the house as little as possible, I have the impression that someone is disturbing my papers. More than once I have discovered that some pages were missing from my manuscripts. A few days afterward I would find the pages in their place again. But often I no longer recognize my manuscripts, as if I had forgotten what I had written, or as if overnight I were so changed that no longer recognized myself in the self of yesterday.
  117. You have with you the book you were reading in the cafe, which you are eager to continue, so that you can then hand it on to her, to communicate again with her through the channel dug by others’ words, which, as they are uttered by an alien voice, by the voice of that silent nobody made of ink and typographical spacing, can become yours and hers, a language, a code between the two of you, a means to exchange signals and recognize each other.
  118. A writer’s work has to take account of many rhythms: Vulcan’s and Mercury’s, a message of urgency obtained by dint of patient and meticulous adjustments and an intuition so instantaneous that, when formulated, it acquires the finality of something that could never have been otherwise. But it is also the rhythm of time that passes with no other aim than to let feelings and thoughts settle down, mature, and shed all impatience or ephemeral contingency.
  119. The lives of individuals of the human race form a constant plot, in which every attempt to isolate one piece of living that has a meaning separate from the rest-for example, the meeting of two people, which will become decisive for both-must bear in mind that each of the two brings with himself a texture of events, environments, other people, and that from the meeting, in turn, other stories will be derived which will break off from their common story.
  120. My working method has more often than not involved the subtraction of weight. I have tried to remove weight, sometimes from people, sometimes from heavenly bodies, sometimes from cities; above all I have tried to remove weight from the structure of stories and from language. . . . Maybe I was only then becoming aware of the weight, the inertia, the opacity of the world–qualities that stick to the writing from the start, unless one finds some way of evading them.
  121. The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.
  122. The minute you start saying something, ‘Ah, how beautiful! We must photograph it!’ you are already close to view of the person who thinks that everything that is not photographed is lost, as if it had never existed, and that therefore, in order really to live, you must photograph as much as you can, and to photograph as much as you can you must either live in the most photographable way possible, or else consider photographable every moment of your life. The first course leads to stupidity; the second to madness.
  123. What he sought was always something lying ahead, and even if it was a matter of the past it was a past that changed gradually as he advanced on his journey, because the traveller’s past changes according to the route he has followed: not the immediate past, that is, to which each day that goes by adds a day, but the more remote past. Arriving at each new city, the traveller finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.
  124. The close-up has no equivalent in a narrative fashioned of words. Literature is totally lacking in any working method to enable it to isolate a single vastly enlarged detail in which one face comes forward to underline a state of mind or stress the importance of a single detail in comparison with the rest. As a narrative device, the ability to vary the distance between the camera and the object may be a small thing indeed, but it makes for a notable difference between cinema and oral or written narrative, in which the distance between language and image is always the same.
  125. You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade. Best to close the door; the TV is always on in the next room. Tell the others right away, “No, I don’t want to watch TV!” Raise your voice — they won’t hear you otherwise — “I’m reading! I don’t want to be disturbed!” Maybe they haven’t heard you, with all that racket; speak louder, yell: “I’m beginning to read Italo Calvino’s new novel!” Or if you prefer, don’t say anything: just hope they’ll leave you alone.

italo-calvinoItalo Calvino (15 October 1923 – 19 September 1985) was an Italian journalist and writer of short stories and novels. His best known works include the Our Ancestors trilogy (1952–1959), the Cosmicomicscollection of short stories (1965), and the novels Invisible Cities (1972) and If on a winter’s night a traveler (1979).

Admired in Britain and the United States, he was the most-translated contemporary Italian writer at the time of his death, and a contender for the Nobel Prize for Literature. (from Wikipedia)

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