Was Calvino a productive or tormented writer, or neither?

After having finished reading If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, I couldn’t help but think whether Italo Calvino was a tormented or productive writer. In the scene in Chapter eight where the productive writer observes the tormented writer, the productive writes notes that he has never liked the works of the tormented writer because  “he feels that he (the tormented writer) is on the verge of grasping the decisive point, but then it eludes him and he is left with a sensation of uneasiness.” (Page 174) In the same way, towards the end of each story that is within the novel we feel that right as Calvino is about to reach a point where he provides us with answers, he suddenly cuts the story short, leaving us feeling uneasy.

Judging by Calvino’s past you can say that at around the time he wrote If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler, he was in a dark place, therefore, making him a tormented writer. In 1966 his mentor, Elio Vittorini, had passed away, which left Calvino as he described in an “intellectual depression.” But Calvino is no stranger to this feeling as he struggled to write his second book, and after his first novel was published his three later books were considered to be defective. All of this on top of having experienced World War II and the Fascist Party are only slight glimpses as to why Calvino might have been a tormented writer.

Within the same scene the productive writer admits that he admires the tormented writer because “he (the productive writer) feels how limited his own work is, how superficial compared with what the tormented writer is seeking.”(Page 174) Calvino’s works such as If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler is not the conventional novel that we are accustomed to where there is a single plot within the novel; instead it is something much deeper and creative. It takes you into ten different worlds as opposed to just one, and it allows the reader to alternate between his or her self and the character of “You.” By creating the novel in such an interesting and innovating way, Calvino is clearly seeking for something more than just the average novel, therefore, further classifying him in to the category of the tormented writer.

While, I argue that Calvino was a tormented writer it could also be said that he was a productive writer as after all he was able to successfully complete this novel. How many drafts it took to him though to complete the novel? How long did it take him to write it? These are two questions that I feel that if I had the answers to would help me classify Calvino as a productive or tormented writer.

Diverging from the subject of tormented and productive writers, maybe it isn’t so much that Calvino is either or, but more so that his novels are creatively different and intricate because that is Calvino’s style of writing – it’s who he is, and as his readers we should have been able to associate his style of writing with his proper name. In What is an Author? Foucault notes that the author’s name “is a proper name” – “it has indicative functions: more than an indication, a gesture, a finger pointed at someone, it is the equivalent of a description.” (Page 105) I took this to mean that there is a certain association with the author’s name more than just simply having the name of Italo Calvino.

The name Italo Calvino has many associations with it, one being that he is known for writing different stories within one novel such as he did in Invisible Cities and If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. Because there is this association with Calvino’s name, there is the question of whether he wrote If on Winter’s Night a Traveler the way he did because he was truly tormented, productive, or is the way that he simply wrote. Perhaps these three alternatives helped build the ultimate composition of the novel. Will we ever know the truth behind the composition of this novel?  The answer is probably not as Calvino was also, as evidenced by the novel, associated with mysteriousness.