In Italo Calvino’s book, The Complete Cosmicomics he challenges the reader to face complex scientific topics through the experiences of the protagonist Qfwfq and his many romantic companions. Although at first it may seem impossible of the reader to relate to an undying being such as Qfwfq, it is soon clear that he is not unlike a human himself. Calvino uses human emotions and desires as a way for his audience to imagine and connect to the universe around them. His ability to connect to the audience is most clearly seen when Calvino writes about Qfwfq’s romantic endeavors.
In the story “Without Colors” Calvino describes the earth before the atmosphere emerges. Qfwfq is living in only shades of gray and struggles to find other beings like himself. As he roams the colorless earth he is excited to discover a being much like himself named Ayl. Instantly Qfwfq falls deeply in love with her. They explore the planet together while learning to communicate with each other through primitive gestures and speech. The pair continues to learn more about each other they in turn begin to learn more about themselves. As they continue to acquire more information about their own opinions, they discover their preferences are completely opposite of each other’s. Just one example of these opposing opinions are Qfwfq’s love of the shiny rocks while Ayl prefers only opaque and uniform stones. Eventually, the atmosphere begins to form on the earth, blocking much of the sun’s harmful rays and making colors possible to observe.
At first both Ayl and Qfwfq are frightened of this new discovery, even the ever curious Qfwfq must even keep his eyes closed as they cannot fully adjust as rapidly as the color is emerging. This temporary shared emotion of fear is one of the final acts that both characters experience together in full unity. During this baffling time Ayl runs from Qfwfq in search of the grayness she so greatly loved. Qfwfq must go in search for her, only to find her much later under the earth hiding in the darkness. Although this seems like just a small reaction, Calvino may have used this moment to signify Qfwfq and Ayl’s final split emotionally. From this point forward, their relationship will never complete. Still, after adjusting to the colors himself Qfwfq hopes to change Ayl’s mind about the colors. To do this he seeks Ayl out under the earth. He desperately wishes to be with her in the new exciting world exploring side by side as they had in the gray world. Out of options, Qfwfq attempts to lie to Ayl as a way to get her to leave the comforting darkness under the earth. Understandably, she does not appreciate Qfwfq’s lies and retreats into the earth to the darkness that she loves even though it means sacrificing a portion of her happiness. Upon a first reading this story seems to be a tragedy.
How could Qfwfq move on with his life without Ayl, his only true love? However, upon re-reading this story it seems that Ayl and Qfwfq were never meant to be together. One way of interpreting this chapter is to think of colors as representations of human emotions. As the two main characters develop their own personalities colors also begin to emerge, as Oulipo states, “In some ways, it is a genesis of the self. These two are discovering themselves amidst a changing world”. The colors may be a representation of their willingness to embrace the unknown. One example of this is when Qfwfq quickly embraces the new colors and their complexities into the world, while Ayl longs for the simplicity and comfort of grayness. In this story Qfwfq is open to evolving his personality, always trying new things and constantly forming new opinions, while Ayl must decide whether to accept this new world of color or retreat into total darkness forever mourning for her perfect gray world;“…all seemed so trivial to me, so banal, so false, so much in contrast with Ayl’s person, with Ayl’s world, with Ayl’s idea of beauty, that I realized her place could never have been out here. And I realized, with grief and fear, that I had remained out here…, and that Ayl’s perfect world was lost forever.” It is evident by the end of the chapter that Qfwfq accepts the fact that Ayl cannot stay in the world of color he has learned to love, and therefore he cannot stay with her.
The second love story in The Complete Cosmicomics is titled “Crystals”. This story also centers around Calvino’s main protagonist Qfwfq and his adventures on earth, however it differs by revolving around a different love interest named Vug. The story begins with Qfwfq in modern times living in New Jersey. He is reminiscing about his life on the earth before it had a crust. During these early millennia, He and Vug spent their days wandering the infantile earth avoiding magma, metallic rain, and acid clouds. As the earth develops, they come upon the first crystals. The crystals are described as smooth with sharp corners and shiny exteriors, instantly mesmerizing Vug and Qfwfq. However, although both beings were impressed with this new discovery, they disagreed with what made these crystals so interesting. Qfwfq preferred the perfection in the molecules of the crystals while Vug found their mistakes more interesting. Their argument over what makes crystals impressive continues through the ages, even into modern times when the two reunite.
This story is particularly interesting because it is one of the only stories that Qfwfq acts uncharacteristically. In the other stories Qfwfq is the first one to accept, and even welcome change, however in this story he rejects the uniqueness mistakes give the crystals and values only the pure and undamaged. Vug is depicted as the more adventurous character valuing only the unique crystal formations. Yet, even with their differing opinions Vug and Qfwfq remain friends through the ages valuing each other input and perspectives. This story is Calvino’s best depiction of a healthy relationship. Although the two partners disagree, they still manage to interact with each other in a courteous way, both are even willing to consider the others opinion without immediately dismissing it. It is clear from the text at both characters share a mutual respect for the other. Disagreement is something that every relationship must face at one time or another, and this story sets a wonderful example for readers to relate to and even mirror in their own lives, whether their arguments are about crystals or not.
The final love story in The Cosmicomics is “Nothing and Not Much”. This story continues with Qfwfq and his last love interest Nugkta. Calvino describes Qfwfq’s eagerness to impress Nugkta. Their relationship begins in the newly formed universe and Qfwfq is desperate to obtain Nugkta’s attention. Calvino focuses on the differences between the two beings, namely Qfwfq’s love of exploring the unknown and Nugkta’s longing for the void she had always known. Eventually Qfwfq realizes that all Nugkta wants is the total emptiness and perfection that was the void. As Calvino states, “Everything in existence carried some original defect within itself: being, to her mind, was a depressing, vulgar degeneration of non-being”. This story resumes Qfwfq classic characteristic of embracing change in the universe around him, while also trying to impress those around him. Qfwfq is so eager to impress Nugkta that he starts to mourn for the void with her even though he really likes creation, “How could I have been so mistaken as to seek the completeness of fullness in preference to the perfection of the void”.
This story is very similar to “Without Colors” as it focuses on a “female” being longing for what she previously had, in Ayl’s case that was the gray world, and in Nugkta’s case it was the void that she so desperately missed. These two stories differ however because toward the end of the story Nugkta begins to change her mind, accepting the new world around her, only because she realizes that this new universe came from her original void, and therefore is still a part of her home. In all of Calvino’s love stories he uses Qfwfq and his love interest as foils for each other. If Qfwfq likes the change his lover does not, or if his lover likes the change Qfwfq will reject it. The characters each represent complexity or simplicity, purity or impurity. Although these stories revolve around many of the same themes, the role each character plays varies. In “Without Colors” and “Nothing and Not Much” Qfwfq is the more adventurous character and his female companions are less inclined to leave what they have always known, but in “Crystals” Vug is adventurous while Qfwfq is comforted only by perfection. At first the reader may question why Calvino chose to write love stories in the first place to explain such complicated scientific concepts? The most probable explanation for this is that Calvino wanted to introduce these topics to his audience in a way that everyone could relate to, whether they are very adventurous or prefer to stay in their comfort zone. He makes this clear from the beginning by giving Qfwfq human-like emotions and desires. Realistically an undying being like him would never struggle with these emotions, but Calvino makes him more assessible to his audience by having him go through experiences everyone goes through. All relationships, romantic or plutonic, have ups and downs because no two people are exactly alike. This variety is what keeps relationships interesting and force partners to keep evolving. Giving Qfwfq these relationships and flaws makes him a more well-rounded character and one that the reader can picture themselves as. This personability helps Calvino explain abstract and intricate scientific topics in a way that the reader can picture themselves experiencing the same things that Qfwfq did, no matter how abstract the topic may be.
The three love stories in The Complete Cosmicomics show a distinctly human side to the characters involved, especially in the case of the protagonist Qfwfq. Calvino uses Qfwfq human emotions and desires, especially love to relate to the reader what it would have been like to experience these events in person. Calvino also uses the concepts of opposites between the partners to show two different view point to change, it can be embrace or it can be avoided even if that means sacrificing some happiness.