Friday, September 03, 2004

The (fantasy) lives of animals

"Some thought seemed to be striking Moretobello every now and again; it had had a dream, that night, which was why it had left the stall and felt lost to the world that morning: a dream of forgotten things which seemed to come from another life; of wide grassy plains filled with cows, endless cows, coming lowing towards it. And it had seen itself, there in the middle of them, running about in the herd of cows as if looking for something." -- Italo Calvino, in the story 'Father to Son', in Adam, One Afternoon. Moretobello is an ox, in a valley where mules do most of the lifting.

"The old mule went on putting down its hoofs uncertainly on the surface pitted with flints and new holes; its skin was stretched tight with the impression on it; it had suffered so much in its life that nothing could make any impression on it any more. It was walking along with its muzzle bent down, and its eyes, limited by the black blinkers, were noticing all sorts of things; snails, broken by the shelling, spilling an iridescent slime on the stones: ant-hills ripped open and the black and white ants hurrying hither and thither with eggs; torn-up grasses showing strange hairy roots like trees." -- The same, in the same book, in the story 'Hunger at Bevera'.

These passages were written before (I think) Calvino became declaredly a fantasist; you are in the middle of some politically loaded slice of peasant life, and suddenly the animals are seeing more vividly, and feeling more deeply, than the rural proletarians who own them. It's an odd effect. I'm glad I don't have to guess what it signifies.

[Adam, One Afternoon, and other stories, by Italo Calvino, translated by Archibald Colquhoun and Peggy Wright (Collins, 1957; but before that Einaudi, 1949). Short short stories of the working-class during and after WW2. It's not just self-willed beasties that upset things -- the amoral little boys may be even spookier.]

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