In this passage from Calvino’s Letters, before he has published a first novel, Calvino reveals his dedication to veracity:
They want articles all over the place and I write them because it takes half an hour to write an article. To write an article not to do an article. To do an article you have to read books, find ideas, roll up your sleeves. In addition I’m the kind of guy who goes from the maximum of superficiality to the maximum of fussiness in a trice. For instance, I want to cite a certain name in a particular sentence in a particular article. Let’s say: Chesterton. Because it sounds good at that point. Chesterton and an adjective. “Olympian like Chesterton.” Or “tormented like Chesterton.” But I’ve never read a line of Chesterton: I don’t know whether he’s Olympian or tormented, whether he has anything to do with what I’m writing. So what do I do? I roll up my sleeves and start looking until I find Chesterton’s works. And I read them. All Chesterton’s works. And I read them. And everything that’s been written about Chesterton. And I read that too. So I write in that particular sentence: “Olympian or tormented or cataleptic or schizophrenic . . . like Chesterton.” That’s it. Meantime two weeks have gone by for three words.
Ah yes. That happened to me once (i.e. with Chesterton). I think the notion of Chesterton, even just the name Chesterton, leaks into you when you read Borges. Would Calvino have read him then?
I’m not sure. This letter is from 1945, and Calvino’s earliest reference to Borges in his letters is in the 1960s.
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