The Words that Failed: Italo Calvino on Che
Republished from Outside the Town of Malbork.
This text of Italo Calvino was written on 15 October 1967 in Paris, the day of his 44th birthday. It was first published in Spanish in 1968 on the Cuban magazine ‘Casa de las Americas’. The original Italian version was published in Italy 30 years after, in 1998 on the number 1 issue of the magazine “Che” of the Che Guevara Italian Foundation.
Translation by El Aïd El Othmani Nabil.
Whatever I have tried to write to express my admiration for Ernesto Che Guevara for how he lived and how he died, it all seemed out of tone. I feel his smile that beams back at me, full of irony and commiseration. Here I am, sitting in my studio, amongst my books, in the feint peace and prosperity of Europe, dedicating a brief interval of my work to writing, without any risk, about a man who has willingly assumed all the risks, who hasn’t accepted the fiction of a temporary peace, a man who asked of himself and of others the maximum spirit of sacrifice, convinced as he was, that every sacrifice spared today would be paid for tomorrow with an even greater sum of sacrifices.
Guevara recalls for us the absolute gravity of everything that regarded the revolution and the future of the world, a radically critical view of every act whose purpose was to put in place our consciences. In that sense he will stay at the center of our discussion and our thoughts, as much alive yesterday, as today when dead.
It is a presence that doesn’t ask of us any superficial consensus nor formal tribute; that would be equivalent to misunderstanding, minimizing the extreme rigor of his lesson. The “line of the Che” demands much of men, it demands much whether as a method of struggle or as a perspective of the society that was to be born out of this struggle. In front of so much coherence and courage in carrying to the ultimate consequences an idea and a life, let us ourselves be modest and sincere, conscious of what the “line of the Che” means–a radical transformation not only of society but above all that of “human nature”, beginning with ourselves–and aware of what separates us from putting it into practice.
The discussion of Guevara with all those who approached him, the long discussion of his brief life (discussion-action, discussion without ever abandoning the rifle), will not be interrupted by his death, it will continue to flow. Even for an occasional and unknown interlocutor (that could have been me, in a group of invitees, an afternoon of 1964, at his Ministry of Industry office) meeting him couldn’t remain a marginal episode. The discussions that count, are those that continue albeit silently in thought.
In my mind, the discussion with Che has continued for all these years, and the more time passed, the more he has been right.
Even today, dying while putting in motion a never ending struggle, he continues, always, to be right.