Italo Calvino: Mr Palomar – Review

Still undecided as whether to rate this 4 or 5. Brilliant little book. To try and assimilate a great book into a few words: it’s a series of literary meditations on the everyday world around us. Can be dense at times but I’m certain that giving this book series attention will give you serious rewards. Calvino’s style, from playful wit to head scratching philosophical observation, comes through beautifully as always. I’m also convinced Mr. Palomar is just a pseudonym for Calvino himself, and I’m sure Mr. Calvino had been reading some Deleuze when writing this book… Too many descriptive similarities to Deleuzian concepts to be a coincidence, especially at the time it was written. Again undecided whether to write a full length piece on Calvino and Deleuze or just review this book on it’s own but I will give it a go at some point soon. The quote at the beginning of the final chapter really sums up what the book is about:

After a series of intellectual misadventures not worth recalling, Mr. Palomar has decided that his chief activity will be looking at things from the outside. A bit nearsighted, absent-minded, introverted, he does not seem to belong temperamentally to that human type generally called an observer. And yet it has always happened that certain things (a stone wall, a seashell, a leaf, a teapot) present themselves to him as if asking him for minute and prolonged attention: he starts observing them almost unawares, and his gaze begins to run over all the details and is then unable to detach itself…

I have a bunch of quotes saved on my kindle form this book and this probably the least beautiful or insightful of them all but it gives a great depiction of what the book is about. I will get back to it soon. Up there with my favourite Calvinos.

EDIT:

I thought while I’m at it I may as well quote my favourite passage from the book. This is when Mr. Palomar decides to take a telescope and look at Saturn…

If the ancients had been able to see it as I see it now, Mr. Palomar thinks, they would have thought they had projected their gaze into the heaven of Plato’s ideas, or in the immaterial space of the postulates of Euclid; but instead, thanks to some misdirection or other, this sight has been granted to me, who fear it is too beautiful to be true, too gratifying to my imaginary universe to belong to the real world. But perhaps it is this same distrust of our senses that prevents us from feeling comfortable in the universe. Perhaps the first rule I must impose on myself is this: stick to what I see.

Echoes of the fascination with astronomy that Italo shows in Cosmicomics. It was awe inspiring to read this on my roof looking up at the stars. I think I’ll stick with 5/5.

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