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Nor is it conventional fantasy, doing away with the worlds it creates almost as soon as it forms them. Invisible Cities is a travelogue to places that do not exist. It is a work that brushes aside conventions of form and narrative to ruminate on ideas of memory and place, touching on everything from trajectory of civilizations to the limits of communication.
At times delightfully whimsical and intensely melancholic, Invisible Cities is a testament to the power of an author at the height of his powers to provoke, enthrall, and connect. Seeking to learn about his kingdom from his seat of power, Kublai Khan orders Polo to regale him with accounts of cities that lie within his vast realm.
Polo tells Kublai about cities of delight and desire, cities tinged with regrets, vibrant cities, failing cities, seemingly impossible cities that defy logic and time. Reading Invisible Cities is akin to visiting a candy store: The selection is marvellous, the colours are vivid, flavours burst, sensations abound.
Working through the chewy center of each sentence, I come across a twist in language, a shift in cadence, images combined in configurations previously unthought of. Each fictitious city lingered long after a reading, and I find myself returning time and again to places both ethereal and vivid, to gaze up at the city of Dorothea, with its aluminum towers flanked by spring-operated drawbridges and populated by women with fine teeth Cities and Desire 1or to stroll the streets of Esmeralda, where cats, smugglers, illicit lovers, conspirators and mosquito-chasing swallows cut arcs across roads, sewers, and sky Trading Cities 5.
Image featured with permission from David Fleck. Some of the tales dig deeper, becoming vehicles for Calvino to insert some sly or pointed piece of commentary. The monotony of Trude manifests itself at every generic airport, every constructed suburb, every downtown core with chain shops, signs, and goods Continuous Cities 2.
Ersilia exemplifies ecology as all relationships connected by strings, links that endure even as all else crumbles to dust Trading Cities 4. Beersheba is a celestial utopia so tightly controlled that citizens can only experience happiness and freedom when they shit Cities and the Sky 2.
My favourite thematic tale is of Leonia, a city where residents pursue consumerism to its logical extreme, daily throwing out goods to make room for new items while trash form vast and indestructible landscapes Continuous Cities 1. Revelling in wordplay and ambiguous meanings, each fantastical tale nevertheless contains some kernel of insight, demands to be mulled upon and relished, to be revisited again and again.
Kublai Khan is intensely aware that his empire is fading, that power and control are slipping out of his mortal hands. On occasion they rise again, like the aforementioned Clarice where old spaces are compressed and reconfigured into unexpected new ones City and Names 4.
Sometimes old cores blossom and expand outwards into new entities like the city of Olinda Hidden Cities 1. But perhaps the only ones that truly endure are the ones that embrace change and derive inspiration from non-human sources, like the city of Thekla, where construction never ends, cranes are holding up other cranes, and the blueprint is the night sky Cities and the Sky 3.
How we recall a location and how we relate to those flashes of connection profoundly shapes our relationship with space, things, and people. Examples and insights abound within the pages of Invisible Cities.
The city of Zora cautions that old place memories may leave one disoriented and disappointed upon return City and Memories 4. The city of Pyrrha is a testament to the power of names in shaping what we imagine a place to be Cities and Names 3.
The city of Phyllis highlights the arbitrary nature of attachment, noting that one place may seem more joyous solely due to a trick of light, or the sight of a girl with embroidered sleeves from a distant past Cities and Eyes 4.
In each tale, Calvino reminds me that the cities in my mind are wholly distinct from their physical manifestations, that how I perceive and negotiate a place says infinitely more about me than it does about the space. At the beginning of each chapter, in between the tales of distant places, Calvino returns the reader to the garden in which Polo is conversing with the emperor.
Initially the two communicate without a common language, with Polo recounting his tales through objects acquired during his travels, pantomimes the emperor has to interpret, gestures that signify wonder or horror.
Calvino the author takes things a step further. As words begin to fail, the two chief characters continue to exchange in silence, while meditating smoking long pipes, through games of chess, during imagined conversations that may or may not have occurred.
Through these playful exchanges he explores the notion that experiences can never be fully communicated.
Early on, Polo points out that the Khan can only understand his stories through his own lens, leaving out details that would be incomprehensible to a Tartar emperor with his insular and privileged experience: We are seated on the steps of your palace.
Does the story, once told, belong to the storyteller or the listener?In the essay, Calvino concludes that, because any text can be read by any person either in or outside of its intended audience, that the text itself is a less crucial factor than the reader.
In concluding so, Calvino undermines Marxist literary theory wherein the author and the text are the agents working to effect change in the reader. Cities & Desire 5 From there, after six days and seven nights, you arrive at Zobeide, the white city, well exposed to the moon, with streets wound about themselves as in a skein.
They tell this tale of its foundation: men of various nations had an identical dream. Calvino had the perspicacity to remind why it matters to read the best of the best. The rest of the essays I came in and out on and had different levels of engagement.
But being a Calvino enthusiast, I highly recommend getting a copy of this for reading and for your library/5. Korčula Home» About Marco Polo, Invisible Cities and Visual Art Essay on theme of Italo Calvino’s book “Invisible Cities” applied to work of some contemporary artists as well as to work of Edita Pecotic.
Calvino's Reality: Designer's Utopia, an elegant essay focusing on Six Memos. Italo Calvino: Hermit in Paris, by Michael Mewshaw.
Italo Calvino: Cybernetics and Ghosts, by David C. Weichert. "The Parallels!" Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges, by John Barth.
Korčula Home» About Marco Polo, Invisible Cities and Visual Art Essay on theme of Italo Calvino’s book “Invisible Cities” applied to work of some contemporary artists as well as to work of Edita Pecotic. Feb 24, · Calvino, Italo – A member of the left-wing intelligensia in Italy, Calvino writes novels and short stories, blending reality and fantasy with philosophical and moral undertones. Calvino had the perspicacity to remind why it matters to read the best of the best. The rest of the essays I came in and out on and had different levels of engagement. But being a Calvino enthusiast, I highly recommend getting a copy of this for reading and for your library/5.
Feb 24, · Calvino, Italo – A member of the left-wing intelligensia in Italy, Calvino writes novels and short stories, blending reality and fantasy with philosophical and moral undertones.