Calvino's Palomar and Deconstruction: Similarities and Differences

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Author: Albert Devivo
Editor: Justin Karr
Date: 2002
From: Short Story Criticism(Vol. 48)
Publisher: Gale
Document Type: Critical essay
Length: 5,540 words

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[(essay date 1989) In the following essay, Devivo utilizes Calvino's "Lettura di un'onda" in order to explore the various perspectives of deconstructed reality in the novel Palomar.]

Deconstruction attempts to resist the totalizing and totalitarian tendencies of criticism. It attempts to resist its own tendencies to come to rest in some sense of mastery over the work.J. H. Miller, "The Critic as Host," in De-construction and Criticism, (New York: Continuum, 1979), p. 252.Ogni progetto storico "forte," che oppone al modello esistente un modello altrettanto determinato, va incontro al rischio di fondare a propria volta un ordine cogente, autoritario come è autoritaria ogni presenza.Gianni Vattimo, in Che cosa fanno oggi i filosofi? (Milano: Bompiani, 1982), p. 196.From the ancient view that literary fictions illustrate general truth, we moved to the view that literary fictions illustrate fictions. But having in the meantime discovered that reality itself is fiction, we reassert that, in illustrating fictions, literary fictions reveal truth.G. Graff, Literature against Itself (Chicago & London: The University of Chicago Press, 1979), p. 180.

Both similarities and differences exist between Calvino's Palomar and Deconstruction, since Calvino, in my opinion, uses a deconstructionist method to refute the epistemological premises of deconstruction theory.

"Lettura di un'onda"--a story paradigmatic of the protagonist's reaction to the discovery of the deconstructed nature of the real throughout Palomar--illustrates this point. We shall first, examine its narrative time, describing the main stages of the plot and outlining the narrative strategy used by the author, then observe the similarities between the narrative genesis and deconstruction methodology focusing on the notions of "undecidability" and "difference," and the differences in the attitudes of Palomar and deconstructionists toward the deconstructive nature of reality, and finally, address the ideo-logical consequences of their respective attitudes on such a deconstructed reality.

Palomar is a character who wants to "avoid vague sensations, [and for this reason] has pre-established for each of his actions a limited precise object."1 In "Lettura di un'onda," this intention corresponds to Palomar's desire to see "only a single wave," and not "the waves" (p. 5). He therefore looks at the movements of a wave until it vanishes, at which point he "could," writes the author, "convince himself that he has fulfilled his intention and go away" (p. 5).

However, upon reflection, he realizes that he has not seen a wave because it is "very difficult" (p. 5) to distinguish one wave from the others. He understands that "one cannot observe a wave without considering the complex aspects that contribute to its formation and the ones, equally complex, which it creates" (p. 6). From this process of observation and reflection, Palomar learns that a wave is a complex entity composed of different and changeable aspects which make it simultaneously "always different from [and] equal" (p. 6) to the other waves. Thus, Palomar, having started with the idea of a wave as an autonomous, different, and unique entity, now conceives it as a relational entity within a complex system characterized by contrasting aspects:...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|H1420040357