Mr. Palomar and Marcovaldo

mr palomarHaving liked Invisible Cities which I read earlier this year, I took the time to read two other short books by Italo Calvino which I bought very cheap from one of my acquaintances on Facebook.

Mr. Palomar seems to me like a brochure of classic postmodern doctrines and procedures on the indeterminacy of meaning, the playful sifting of sensuous details, the fragmentation of representation, among others arrayed one after another in the guise of ruminations on a variety of phenomenon from birds, city life, to the night sky.

The entire book is a collection of sketches, meditations on perception made by the spectral figure of Mr. Palomar rather than a real narrative in the traditional sense. Yet in the attempt to sound profound, Mr. Palomar ends up with some of the most banal postmodernist cliches without the consolation of a good story.

What aroused my interest is how Mr. Palomar trains his vision on the city which he describes simply as a point of consumption. His vision strolling like a flaneur into different shops, he acquaints us to the minutiae of the market made cultural as a self-referential linguistic system (a la Saussure) with no outside.

marcovaldoThe city of toiling people and laborers creating products is hidden from view. Material social relations of class and exploitation are obscured.

This is a marked contrast to the other Calvino book Marcovaldo, which bursting with comic moments and sardonic insights, portrays slices of the everyday life of the worker Marcovaldo in an unnamed Italian city.

Depicted here is how Marcovaldo copes with the daily drudgery of capitalist existence through little adventures in search little spaces of nature amidst the concrete jungle of commerce and industry.

In this sense, Marcovaldo reminds me of Chaplin’s Modern Life, but unveiled in one small episode for each Season (Spring, Summer, Autumn, Winter) through a period of five years.

This slim volume of little more than 120 pages is now my favorite Calvino volume.


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