Download Full Text (3.2 MB)

Download Overture - Epub (2.3 MB)

Document Type



This is not a culinary essay. The bread of interest is Scottish, discussed by a philosopher, Hume, whose craft is often ridiculed precisely because it bakes no bread. The archaicallynamed cheese is Parisian; the Italian watercress constitutes part of a salad of Italo Calvino's last protagonist, Mr. Palomar. Still, contrary to appearances, my concern is no picnic. If we think of the pleasure that one can derive from bread, cheese and salad we begin to turn in the right direction. Kant tells us that beauty is determined by the feeling of pleasure in the subject who has become disinterested. Kant would, of course, deny beauty to such ordinary culinary things yet for Calvino these prosaic things (or better, the observation of them) bring about the same meditation upon the nature of the self that is provided by Kant's lofty analysis of the aesthetic judgment of taste. In Mr. Palomar Calvino does much more than tell entertaining stories about Mr. Palomar the observer. Calvino's meditations give us, in fact, a framework for our own meditation. It is easy to say that the problem needing scrutiny in modern thought is how we think about the self; yet in anything so well-known as the problem of the self much that is worthy of thought is still lurking. The observation sought by Palomar is described in separate segments of the book on his life in the city, on his vacations and on his silences. His observation shows us how we think about the self, and invites us to do so, too.

Publication Date

Fall 1996


Dalhousie University




Arts and Humanities | Creative Writing | Philosophy


This essay first appeared in The Dalhousie Review 76:3 (Autumn, 1996): pp. 311-334.

Overture - Calvino's Mr. Palomar