Calvinisms: the taverna, the castel and the motel of crossed destinies

Catalogo "Marjane Satrape ovvero dell'ironia dell'Iran"

inguineMAH!gazine #10 – year4 (2006)

To the end of the “Taverna” Macbeth says:

I’m tired to watch sun in the sky,

I wait for the collapse of the syntax of world,

when playing cards are stirred.


In 1968, Italo Calvino attends the conference of Paul Fabbri from the title “The tale of cartomanzia and the language of symbols”. Since that, the author begins to elaborate the plan of a novel that used tarot like a machine for telling stories: each tarot have a narrative function, each sequence can give life to a story, all of the stories crossing would have had to produce the novel. Calvino prefers to use Marseillaise tarot deck (1761), a cruder and popular deck designed by an illustrator called Fautier. At the first, the project reveals itself very difficult. He departs from the layout of the text, but he doesn't succeed in building, with the stories already prepared, a structure that convinces him, he won't succeed in getting a convincing disposition and he must be been satisfied with a precarious scheme. "... I felt that the game works only according to strict rules; It has been necessary an absolute rule of construction that conditioned the joint of each tale in the other, otherwise everything was free". The result of this first attempt is subsequently published in 1973 and dismissed by the author as imperfect: "If I persuade myself to publish "The Taverna of Cross Destinies" that is, above all, for freeing me of it. Still now, with the book in drafts, I continue to put again the hands on it, to get off it, to rewrite. When the book will finally be published, I’ll be free once for all, I hope. Nevertheless the idea of fiction as a combinatory process was never abandoned by Calvino and when, in 1969, Franco Maria Ricci proposes him to write on the tarots (the Visconti deck created between 1450 and 1468) he accepts, but it changes methodology: it already foresees the scheme when he begins to write the first tales. "It was easy to build the central intersection of the plot, “the magic cross”. All tales emerged from each others that were crossed among them, and I got so a kind of crossword made of figures rather than of letters, in which every sequence can be read in the two senses. In the turn of a week the plot of the Castle... it was ready to be published." "The Castle of the Cross Destinies" goes out therefore in art catalogue "Tarot. The Visconti Deck in Bergamo and New York”. Calvino’s research of perfect forms, geometric stylization, and binary opposition of combinatory fiction never exhausted and it pass through all his literary production. Moreover, the matter of games, Calvino’s involvement in Oulipo, connections of his writing with the symbol and with the diagram are all elements to comprehend his opera.

We know that he took back in hand the layout of “The taverna” to repair and modify it without never coming to resolve the puzzle. “I don't know how much time I am confined here, fixed eyes on the table covered of figures. I don't worry anymore the days that pass, what it happens out, the role that I could have ­-who knows why- in things that happen; I know that all the ways are excluded to me except this: to contemplate the combinations of these pictures. To contemplate: that is to understand to contain to admit among all the possible or thinkable things. Nobody has succeeded in understanding what I do till now. They say: "Then, have you discovered the secret of tarots? Can you read in my destiny?" [...] If I remark that I don't practise divination neither for me neither for the others, they don't believe me; as soon as their eyes are placed on series of ambiguous allegories, allusive rebus, it comes spontaneous the desire to establish a relationship between them and the destiny, between them and the continuous loss of themselves in time and life. It doesn't touch me.It is not the landslide of the crumbled fragments of existences that I contemplate in tarot, but something more important: all the marks without which the lived one and the vivibile could not be thought." In the conclusive note to "The Castle", Calvino confesses a certain bother for prolonged analysis of such medieval-renaissance iconografic repertoire. He would want to apply the same method to a modern visual material. He thinks about comics and he imagines therefore a third book, "The Motel of the cross destinies" that would have had to follow the precedents. But the writer stops himself to the formulation of the idea and he leaves to others the discovery of the combinatory rule, the narrative contrainte, the reconstruction of the diagram, the magic square, a forest of paths.


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