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If on a winter's night a traveler

If on a winter's night a traveler


by Italo Calvino


Character Analysis

Good ol' Irnerio is the "lanky young man" you meet in the university hallway while looking for Ludmilla. From the get-go, you (yep, you) get jealous and start wondering what his relationship with Ludmilla is. But your attention quickly shifts when Irnerio oddly tells you that he's managed "to learn not to read" (5.60). Huh?

Apparently, Irnerio has become so fed up with being "the slave of all the written stuff they fling in front of us" (5.60) that he's trained his brain to stop recognizing groups of letters as words. He insists that the trick to doing this is to stare at words until your brain realizes that they're just squiggles on a surface. For a similar exercise, try saying the word "fudge" fifty times in a row, and you'll see that it starts to become nonsense the more your brain realizes that it's just, well, a noise.

Arguably, Irnerio has achieved a state of innocence when it comes to reading that goes beyond even Ludmilla's:

Irnerio's eyes have broad, pale, flickering pupils; they seem eyes that miss nothing, like those of a native of the forest, devoted to hunting and gathering. (5.61)

He has reduced language to nonsense, and it's totally working for him.

Irnerio also likes to take books and make "artworks: statues, pictures, whatever you want to call them" (13.36). Just as his mind takes the meaning out of the words he reads, his artwork reduces books to material objects, completely neglecting the fact that they were created for the purpose of reading.

After reading about Irnerio, you might even feel like making a sculpture out of Calvino's book instead of finishing it. But please finish it.