Spotlight on…Letter-Writers

Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941-1985

Italo Calvino:
Letters, 1941-1985

For the final post in this series, we turn to the raw materials of biography with two volumes of collected letters. Private letters often give a very different picture from public writings – less guarded, more spontaneous and immediate. They can shed light on the development of ideas and concepts over time, revealing the struggle so often obscured by the perfection of the finished work. These letters are a vital primary source for biographers. It seems certain that the rise of email and decline of letter-writing will profoundly affect the work of future biographers. Will email prove as durable as paper? Will the sheer volume of electronic correspondence defeat even the most dedicated researchers? It may be decades before the answers to these questions are clear. For now, we are still seeing significant collections of letters published, allowing readers to make their own first-hand acquaintance with Carl Jung and Italo Calvino.

Analytical Psychology in Exile collects the correspondence between Jung and one of his most brilliant students, Erich Neumann. The letters span nearly three decades, offering a fascinating insight into the maturing of Jung’s theories as he shares them with, and defends them against, the younger Neumann. Jung has been accused of sympathy with the Nazi regime in Germany, and of anti-semitism, yet here we see him in dialogue with a Zionist Jew who was forced to flee Germany for Tel Aviv in 1934. Inevitably, given the impending catastrophe, these letters touch on complex and controversial issues such as the psychology of fascism and anti-semitism, and the crushing experience of exile. Neumann lived to see the founding of the state of Israel and died there in 1960; although nearly thirty years his senior, Jung outlived him by a year.

While Jung passed the Second World War in the comparative security of Switzerland, Italo Calvino experienced first-hand the dangers of life in Fascist Italy. In Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941-1985, that experience is most profoundly seen in an absence, the lack of any correspondence from his years in hiding as a member of the Italian resistance. Although his letters rarely refer to the war, his time fighting with the resistance resulted in a deep philosophical and personal commitment to communism. We see his disillusion and resignation from the Communist Party following the crushing of the Hungarian revolution of 1956 and his excitement at the fresh hope offered by the événements of 1968 in Paris. The course of his writing, from the autobiographical realism of The Path to the Nest of Spiders to the dazzling metafiction of If On A Winter’s Night A Traveller, perhaps reflects his withdrawal from political life. Nonetheless, Calvino remained an acute critic and his letters are filled with sharp assessments of post-war Italy’s vibrant cultural life.

Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941-1985 selected entry in 2014 AAUP Book, Jacket, and Journal Show

AAUPDon’t judge a book by its cover, unless of course you’re at the annual Association of American University Presses Book, Jacket, and Journal Show. According to AAUP’s catalog, “The show recognizes meritorious achievement in design, production, and manufacture of books, jackets, covers, and journals by members of the university press community.” For 2014, there were 268 books and 326 jackets and covers submitted for consideration; Jurors selected 40 books and 22 jackets and covers respectively. For the entire list of 2014’s selected entries, click here.

We are delighted to congratulate Jason A. Alejandro for the selection of his work on Italo Calvino: Letters, 1941-1985. Of this entry, Judge Emmet Byrne said:

“This was by far my favorite book of the competition. When wrapped in the belly band, the book feels elegant and modern, featuring beautiful, serious typography that is well spaced, well sized, and stylishly entered. When unwrapped, the book reveals itself as an enigmatic object—the hip illustration of the author brutally slapped dead center in the middle of the cover, obscuring some of the type. The completely blank white spine and the reversed type on the back—all come together to present a cryptic, somewhat impenetrable face that feels incredibly appropriate for Calvino’s writing.”

This slideshow shows off the book’s cover, typography, and design:

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