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Exploring Postmodern Features in Calvino’s “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler”

May 9, 2023 | 0 comments

May 9, 2023 | Essays | 0 comments

Postmodern literature is difficult to define because of its novel techniques, versatile ideas as well as vast deviations from the traditional novel writings. A novel with postmodern fiction features is controversial and challenging in nature. Moreover, certain features in a novel like self-reflection do illustrate postmodernism. Calvino’s novel of 1979 “If on a Winter’s night a traveler” is worth examining as it aids in understanding the features of postmodern literature. The novel is about the reading experience, an individual’s way of thinking, and feeling concerning reading. The novel is not only captivating but also indicates innovative work in postmodern fiction circles. Also, it is unique as it deviates from the obvious objectivity provided by the omniscient external narration always found in nearly all traditional books as explicated by Calvino and William (13-18). Calvino makes the reader apart of the novel by constantly using the pronoun ‘you’. He creates a direct relationship between the author, the text,t, and the readers. Calvino’s novel portrays numerous remarkable literary devices that use “key characteristics” of postmodern fiction as illustrated by (Woods, pp.65-66). This essay analyses Calvino’s novel, “If on a winter’s night a traveler”, regarding postmodern features and their application in the novel as well as the novel’s various themes.


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Meta-fiction is a postmodern feature that has been exhibited by Calvino. Meta-fiction is employed to aid in convincing the readers to view the authors’ writings as pure imaginations as it involves the author’s ability to control the novel’s characters – the story is told in such a way that proves that it has been made up as implied by Woods (49). for instance, Calvino’s use of meta-fiction is facilitated by the use of the second-person pronoun, ‘you’ to refer to the readers giving the impression that the readers are experiencing “If on a winter’s night a traveler” as they read the novel within the meta-fiction framework from the begging of the novel. Calvino’s remarks that claimed that one may find him/herself a prisoner of a system in which every aspect of life is fake indicates his attempt to dissolve the disconnection between the narrative’s texts and the perceived reality being careful not to pinpoint that the text reflects the society as implied by Calvino and William (72-94).

Calvino also employs self-reflexivity throughout the novel. His self-conscious writings seem to be constantly questioning his narration at the same time raising moderate amounts of satire and humor to demonstrate the poststructuralist view regarding reading over writing hierarchy. He achieves this by subversion and restating which puts the German Romantics theory into practice as implied by. Calvino does believe that the decisive moment in literacy life is the reading act and that the procedure of composing literature has been reassembled after being taken into pieces as he makes it clear in the novel through the protagonist, Ludmilla, who indicates a lack of desire in the writing act instead opt to get involved in the reading act alone as implied by Calvino and William (27-28).

Calvino uses fragmented novel sections to achieve the abolition of the cultural divide of low and high culture. He employs multiple fictive selves which is a feature of postmodernism. Calvino combines everything from thriller, adventure, and mystery genres to classical fiction forms that are more traditional. The novel has been referred to as highbrow as most introductory chapters within the novel differ in plot, theme, and genre. The multiplicity of the storylines interspersed into the underlying narrative aided in creating a definite inter-textuality sense between the narratives supported by a sense of pastiche or imitation of style that guides Ludmilla and other readers through the numerous fiction stories that are all disconnected and unfinished as implied by Nell and Cohen (27-29).

Another interesting aspect is the identity notion present in the novel. The story majorly leans towards questioning the process of all job related important information. It is a procedure by which duties, nature of jobs and people to be hired are determined. The information can be used in the writing act itself as well as the ontological uncertainty. Calvino uses incomplete narrative stories to illustrate a postmodern situation in literature which strengthens his view of the world as he reasons that the world‘s reality is given meaning by culture and language and disagrees with the notion that that reality may exist outside culture and language in a meaningful way illustrating that the meaning of knowledge is centered upon the reality of an individual’s awareness. He uses literature as his own way of knowing knowledge thus stresses the perception that this genre ought to ensure the involvement of the reader to obtain meaning as he/she reads as explained by Calvino and William (24-33).

Calvino employs disrupt narrative techniques by using literacy complexity at play which is a feature of postmodernism. The use of this assist in influencing the readers’ judgment by trying to shape their opinions and feelings as well as maintaining them beyond the postmodern text. The printing helps to disrupt an intentional choice to end the text and the decision to end the text does not reflect the reader’s experience as implied by Weiss (67).

Calvino alters the reader and the text through his creative choices implying that the author manipulates the readers as much as they think the text is independent of the author. However, it is thought that maybe the text is the autonomy of the author, particularly that imprisons Flanner of Calvino and by extension of his readers. It is argued that absence and impossibility are functions of postmodernity since the readers’ relationship with an emasculated, absent author is unavoidable as explained by Calvino and William (49).

If on a writer’s night a traveler” is a complex and innovative novel that is applicable on various levels across various themes. Meta-fiction questions people’s reality notion and its connection with fictional or even counterfeit in the postmodern world. Other aspects showcasing the work include identity, inter-textuality, and originality (Calvino and William113). Uncertainty, complexity, frustration, and confusion are all features of the contemporary world as seen and experienced by Calvino. Moreover, all the themes portray the sense of irony, intelligence, and humor and during the end, Calvino’s work turns out to be a self-reflexive game that is clever as the author appears to be playing with us, the readers as described by Sullivan (158).

In Calvino’s novel, “If on a winter’s night a traveler” the impracticable event of postmodernity is compared to prison. Practically all of the text, in the IntraText or main narrative, is written from the perspective of men trying to conquer women. However, this is not the case when the Narrator describes the viewpoint of the Other Reader (Calvino and William 15). Thus ought not to be mistaken for Calvino’s attempt to free female awareness from the male opinions in text. This alteration of the perception to a female from a male point of view is another approach in which the author and his supreme Narrator change the Reader’s subjectivity. The Reader has a slower progression from suffered book-lover to the international detective as well as a victim of textual Twilight Zone as confirmed by Calvino statement that says, “The you that were shifted to the Other Reader can, at any sentence be addressed to you again. You are always a possible you.” (Calvino and William 16). Calvino uses this method together with others to make an impression upon the Reader that the weakness of their bias in its submissiveness or helplessness of the supreme Narrator’s and, through this extension shows a gendered tone as implied by Sullivan (160).

The novel is subjective thus illustrates postmodernism since the postmodernism tales continue even if the tale is over. Sullivan (156) compliments the novel for its outstandingly untraditional use of several aspects and progressiveness. For instance, the postmodern journey begins and continues with Ludmilla’s question of whether ‘you’ have completed reading the novel but you are almost finished implying that the story is continuous as stated by Calvino and William (260).

If on a winter’s a traveler struggles with philosophical postmodernity limitations at various levels. Calvino acknowledges the continuous incomplete state which resulted from postmodernism where the absent text is a framework and a tool for experiencing the work. The exploration of reading and postmodern term papers, sample essays, thesis papers, research papers, book reviews, dissertations, speeches, book reports, and other assignments. Exclusive writing self-consciously by Calvino is multilayered since he uses comparative regularity that indicates one or the other intra-text from the main narrative text and is disrupted. In this novel, Calvino blurs the lines between the Reader and the reader together with the text which is unchanged hence not jointly exclusive thus basically contradictory as described by Calvino and William (57-68).

Therefore, the printer’s interruption of the reader’s reading of Calvino’s novel does not disrupt the reader because the reader is the character within the absent text since the reader continues to confront the novel as a text created of absent text. The reader gets involved within the impossibility of the novel, experiencing the text from his/her point of view implying that they are the character of the missing text. Thus, “If on a winter’s night a traveler” is considered a perfect example of the philosophical gray zone which Bewes constantly refers to in his dissection of postmodernity as implied by Calvino and William (14).

In conclusion, what would seem to be a plea by Calvino to understand that mutual human behavior? In her quote, “…the mind shapes itself to the body, and, roaming round its gilt cage, only seeks to adorn its prison of postmodernity is, in reality, a hoax, something of a ruse, or an appeal to the Stockholm syndrome?  Through sexualizing and gendering, this novel by Calvino turns out to be highly ironic.  “If on a winter’s night a traveler” is a novel in disrepair, in pieces, and resides as a metaphor for the entire literature within the postmodernity genre.

Works Cited

Calvino, Italo, and William Weaver. If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1979. Print.

McCabe, Nell H., and Samuel S. Cohen. Explicating the Incipits a Writer’s Journey in Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler. Columbia, Mo.: U of Missouri–Columbia, 2010. Print.

Sullivan, Laura. “Women Reading Calvino Reading Calvino.” Mississippi Philological Association (1994): 156-169

Weiss, Beno. Understanding Italo Calvino. Columbia, S.C.: U of South Carolina, 1993. Print.

Woods, Tim. Beginning Postmodernism. Manchester: Manchester UP; 1999. Print.

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