PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

'The Complete Cosmicomics' Presents a Fantasy Universe Far Richer Than Our Own

In a strange sense, the yearning for meaning in each of these tales makes them feel like part of religious lore.

The Complete Cosmicomics

Publisher: Bobbs Merrill
Length: 432 pages
Author: Italo Calvino
Price: $24.00
Format: Paperback
Publication date: 2014-09

Italo Calvino’s Cosmicomics, only some of which were first published in English in 1968, is a compendium of imaginary tales about creation and the laws of the universe. It's quite different from any of the meta-explorations on semiotics he would become notorious for.

Most of the tales in this compendium are narrated by a being called Qfwfq, who tells his stories as if trying to preserve a literary tradition of the universe, one that also happens to be exquisite when read aloud. This makes one think Calvino was keen on making his tales feel like they had really been around since the beginning of time, and were being passed along from generation to generation. Very few contemporary short story compilations have given readers the same unabashed pleasure found in Calvino’s Cosmicomics, which makes it sad that English readers had to wait for decades for a complete translation of these works.

The Complete Cosmicomics only appeared in 2009, featuring translations from Martin McLaughlin, who explained he had translated stories that hadn’t even been commercially available in Italy and it took them another five years to make their appearance in the United States. The Complete Cosmicomics includes the 12 stories that first appeared in 1968, 11 stories that formed a series called t zero, and seven new stories translated by McLaughlin, which are just now making their English language debut and four tales from Numbers in the Dark and Other Stories, making this one of the best literary releases of the year.

While there is no specific way of “consuming” the Cosmicomics, McLaughlin’s expert intro makes a great case for why the tales were written in the first place and what Calvino’s intentions were. He also serves as a guide into how we can enjoy the new additions. “The main reason [behind the origin of the tales] was that [Calvino] felt that realist fiction was exhausted and that the writer had to turn elsewhere for inspiration,” explains McLaughlin.

We can see this exemplified in “Games Without End”, which begins with a scientific-sounding explanation of the distance between galaxies. It establishes that “when the galaxies become more remote, the rarefaction of the universe is compensated for by the formation of further galaxies composed of newly creative matter”.

In fact all the Cosmicomics begin with a scientific introduction, which lead us to assume that Calvino was trying to filter readers through his uniquely intellectual fantasy, for these are science fiction tales, but done in a way that they aren’t instantly enjoyable. Calvino, who had begun his career in World War II as a realist, seems only two decades later to be completely frustrated with what other fiction authors were doing and attempted to take all his knowledge of Borges to the next level, by taking it to his very own universe. Therefore, many have debated if Calvino was a postmodernist or something else altogether.

Despite the tales’ intellectualism, the truth at their center is the need to find a link between scientific fact and something resembling a soul, or an essence. Calvino populates his stories with characters that represent the most human parts of our species, turning tales like “The Distance of the Moon” into sweeping love stories that feel as if they could be expanded in an epic novel. “My return was sweet, my home refound, but my thoughts were filled only with grief at having lost her, and my eyes gazed at the Moon, for ever beyond my reach,” he writes. In a strange sense, the yearning for meaning in each of these tales makes them feel like part of religious lore.

In the darkly humorous “The Aquatic Uncle”, Calvino details the dilemma of beings who are almost literally torn apart once their species moves from living in the ocean to becoming terrestrial creatures. This is seen through the title character, who refuses to leave the lagoon where he lives, much to the chagrin of his relatives who try to convince him. “You’ll be nice and snug, we’ll dig you a little damp holem” they plead, only to have the elderly creature exclaim “he who has fleas in his scales swims with his belly in the mud”, an expression that Qfwfq attributes to being “an idiomatic expression”.

Tale, after tale, there is so much pleasure to be derived from The Complete Cosmicomics, that you can’t help but be convinced at times that they are true, for these characters with their strange features and unique idiosyncrasies become so tangible that we feel like we have always known them. Calvino’s prose is simple, but never simplistic, granting those familiar with his literary influences the added bonus of recognizing little clues he has left to make this universe feel richer and more infinite than the one we inhabit.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Peter Frampton Asks "Do You Feel Like I Do?" in Rock-Solid Book on Storied Career

British rocker Peter Frampton grew up fast before reaching meteoric heights with Frampton Comes Alive! Now the 70-year-old Grammy-winning artist facing a degenerative muscle condition looks back on his life in his new memoir and this revealing interview.


Bishakh Som's 'Spellbound' Is an Innovative Take on the Graphic Memoir

Bishakh's Som's graphic memoir, Spellbound, serves as a reminder that trans memoirs need not hinge on transition narratives, or at least not on the ones we are used to seeing.


Gamblers' Michael McManus Discusses Religion, Addiction, and the Importance of Writing Open-Ended Songs

Seductively approachable, Gamblers' sunny sound masks the tragedy and despair that populate the band's debut album.


Peter Guralnick's 'Looking to Get Lost' Is an Ode to the Pleasures of Writing About Music

Peter Guralnick's homage to writing about music, 'Looking to Get Lost', shows how good music writing gets the music into the readers' head.


In Praise of the Artifice in George Cukor's 'Sylvia Scarlett'

George Cukor's gender-bending Sylvia Scarlett proposes a heroine who learns nothing from her cross-gendered ordeal.


The Cure: Ranking the Albums From 13 to 1

Just about every Cure album is worth picking up, and even those ranked lowest boast worthwhile moments. Here are their albums, spanning 29 years, presented from worst to best.


The 20 Best Episodes of 'Star Trek: The Original Series'

This is a timeless list of 20 thrilling Star Trek episodes that delight, excite, and entertain, all the while exploring the deepest aspects of the human condition and questioning our place in the universe.


The 20 Best Tom Petty Songs

With today's release of Tom Petty's Wildflowers & All the Rest (Deluxe Edition), we're revisiting Petty's 20 best songs.

Joshua M. Miller

The 11 Greatest Hits From "Greatest Hits" Compilations

It's one of the strangest pop microcosms in history: singles released exclusively from Greatest Hits compilations. We rounded 'em up and ranked 'em to find out what is truly the greatest Greatest Hit of all.


When Punk Got the Funk

As punks were looking for some potential pathways out of the cul-de-sacs of their limited soundscapes, they saw in funk a way to expand the punk palette without sacrificing either their ethos or idea(l)s.


20 Hits of the '80s You Might Not Have Known Are Covers

There were many hit cover versions in the '80s, some of well-known originals, and some that fans may be surprised are covers.


The Reign of Kindo Discuss Why We're Truly "Better Off Together"

The Reign of Kindo's Joseph Secchiaroli delves deep into their latest single and future plans, as well as how COVID-19 has affected not only the band but America as a whole.


Tommy Siegel's Comic 'I Hope This Helps' Pokes at Social Media Addiction

Jukebox the Ghost's Tommy Siegel discusses his "500 Comics in 500 Days" project, which is now a new book, I Hope This Helps.


Kimm Rogers' "Lie" Is an Unapologetically Political Tune (premiere)

San Diego's Kimm Rogers taps into frustration with truth-masking on "Lie". "What I found most frustrating was that no one would utter the word 'lie'."


50 Years Ago B.B. King's 'Indianola Mississippi Seeds' Retooled R&B

B.B. King's passion for bringing the blues to a wider audience is in full flower on the landmark album, Indianola Mississippi Seeds.


Filmmaker Marlon Riggs Knew That Silence = Death

In turning the camera on himself, even in his most vulnerable moments as a sick and dying man, filmmaker and activist Marlon Riggs demonstrated the futility of divorcing the personal from the political. These films are available now on OVID TV.


The Human Animal in Natural Labitat: A Brief Study of the Outcast

The secluded island trope in films such as Cast Away and television shows such as Lost gives culture a chance to examine and explain the human animal in pristine, lab like, habitat conditions. Here is what we discover about Homo sapiens.


Bad Wires Release a Monster of a Debut with 'Politics of Attraction'

Power trio Bad Wires' debut Politics of Attraction is a mix of punk attitude, 1990s New York City noise, and more than a dollop of metal.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.