“What was Italo Calvino?,” asks sci-fi doyenne Ursula K. Le Guin in a Guardian review of the Italian author’s collection of short stories Cosmicomics. “A prepostmodernist? Maybe it’s time to dispense with modernism and all its prefixes.” Calvino certainly exists in a category all of his own. In short novels like Invisible Cities and his numerous story collections, the “prepostmodernist”—or whatever—created a voice as wondrous and individual as his contemporary, Borges. Calvino coined his own genre, which he called “Cosmicomics,” and which Le Guin describes as “a subspecies of science fiction [which] consists typically of the statement of a scientific hypothesis (mostly genuine, though sometimes not currently accepted) which sets the stage for a narrative, in which the narrator is usually a person called Qfwfq.”
One of the stories from the collection, “The Distance of the Moon,” gets an animated treatment in the video above, scored by Erik Satie’s “Gnossienne No. 1.” The fantastic story, narrated by the mysterious Qfwfq, also includes characters like Captain Vhd Vhd and Xlthlx, and, like all of Calvino’s work, it combines a child-like wonder with his playful, mythic imagination and scientific intelligence. The animation, narrated in Hebrew with English subtitles, beautifully illustrates the strange whimsy of the story with stop-motion cut-outs. And in the audio above, you can hear actor Liev Schreiber explain the scientific theory behind Calvino’s story, then read the story itself. The reading took place at a live event hosted by Radiolab and originally aired on WNYC and PRI’s show “Selected Shorts.”
And if this leaves you desiring more animated Calvino, then don’t miss our previous post: John Turturro Reads Italo Calvino’s Animated Fairy Tale, The False Grandmother.