Applied Poststructuralism. Italo Calvino’s "A Sign in Space"

Essay, 2019

5 Pages, Grade: B



According to Barry (2017), the poststructuralists look into paradoxes and uncertainties as they think that signs’ meanings depend on the perceiver, and different people would have different perceptions. There is no way to be certain whether an author is conveying the meanings as such, as language has its own limitation too, i.e. it is limited to the words that can be used in the language and the meaning can vary according to time and place, not to mention the perception of different people. A Sign in Space explores how signs can be unreliable and meaningless by constantly creating paradoxes: the ‘idea of sign making’ paradox, the omnipotence paradox and the ‘existence of space’ paradox. It also explores how our perceptions can be unreliable by looking into the narrator’s perception over Kgwgk’s sign erasure action.

The ‘idea of sign making’ paradox

Initially the narrator said he “conceived the idea of making a sign” (Calvino, 2014, p.61-63), however, later he said “to think something had never been possible, first because there were no things to think about, and second because signs to think of them by were lacking” (Calvino, 2014, p.63-64). The problem is if he could not think of anything without a sign, how could it be possible to think of the idea of making a sign.

The omnipotence paradox

The narrator seems to be an omnipotent creator in some circumstances and resembles a God. The narrator is the first one to make a sign in the universe, and when making that sign the narrator “didn’t have any examples to follow” (Calvino, 2014, p.61-63). However, in some cases, it shows that the narrator cannot control everything and is constantly in doubt. For example, he “couldn’t help thinking about when [he] would come back and encounter [the sign] again” (Calvino, 2014, p.63-64). Not only did he be unable to calculate the time he needed to see the sign again, but he even have troubles remembering the sign, as he described, “I mean if I tried to break it down into its various elements, I couldn’t remember whether, between one part and the other, it went like this or like that” (Calvino, 2014, p.64-66). Later, he deduced that there maybe another Godlike figure also doing galactic revolutions similar to the narrator, and he deduced that the figure Kgwgk may have erased his sign. The narrator’s omnipotence from this incidence onwards has nearly vanished, given that there may be another Godlike figure similar to the narrator, and that the narrator do not even know if the figure even really exist as this claim is only ‘deduced’ but not ‘proven’. It is uncertain that whether the narrator is a God or not, by being able to perform actions affecting the universe, but at the same time unsure about many things within the universe.

The ‘existence of space’ paradox

Another point of uncertainty is that if there were any space in the universe at all initially. The narrator mentioned in the first sentence of the short story that once he “drew a sign at a point in space” and later mentioned that “all the other points in space were the same”, except the sign just created (Calvino, 2014, p.61-63). However, at the end of the story, when the narrator found out that the universe was full of signs and no space could be found, he proclaimed that “space didn’t exist and perhaps had never existed” (Calvino, 2014, p.73).

Narrator’s fluctuating attitude towards the erased sign

Besides noticeable paradoxes, the narrator’s fluctuating perception over a single issue also raises an important question: is it ever possible to judge whether something is absolutely correct. At first the narrator was angry about Kgwgk’s action of erasing the narrator’s sign, as he mentioned that Kgwgk “erased [his] sign in a vandalistic impulse” and had tried to make another sign “with vulgar artifice” (Calvino, 2014, p.67-69). Not long after, however, the narrator began to think that Kgwgk had indeed done the right thing. As the world became more beautiful with more and more different signs, he began to think that the sign he had created was comparatively quite bad. The narrator even tried to “hide [his] shame” by “crawl[ing] into the craters of the volcanoes” and “sink[ing] [his] teeth into the caps of the glaciations”, when he tried to remember the now-ugly sign that he created (Calvino, 2014, p.69-70). Apparently at this stage the narrator thought that his creation of the sign was a wrong thing, and he was pleased that Kgwgk had erased his sign. Later, however, when he discovered that some erased signs became visible again, he was so thrilled that he cannot wait to see his sign again, as he said “my sign must have returned to its pristine visibility!” The narrator, missing his sign so much, have again changed his attitude towards the issue. Hoping that he can see the sign again, apparently he is now against any attempt to erase of the sign.


Excerpt out of 5 pages


Applied Poststructuralism. Italo Calvino’s "A Sign in Space"
The Chinese University of Hong Kong
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ISBN (eBook)
applied, poststructuralism, italo, calvino’s, sign, space
Quote paper
Kwan Lung Chan (Author), 2019, Applied Poststructuralism. Italo Calvino’s "A Sign in Space", Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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