Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino, is not a complex book. If you look at the table of contents, you can see that it's categorized very simply into cities and types (memory, desire, signs, etcetera), as well as the periodic ".....," which indicates italicized encounters between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan (and considering Calvino, we might even want to ask, "So why the 5-point ellipsis?"). From the outset, these descriptions of cities and how they (the descriptions and the cities, which, as we discover, are two distinct things) relate back to their stated type are fascinating all on their own, one by one like individual poems in a collection. However, as we dig into the meat of the book--the relationship between Polo and the Khan and the situation (a deliberately vague word) of the empire and the overlapping of cities--we should see how these descriptions and adventures interrelate and build one upon another. Calvino, as far as I'm concerned, is a magician with a million tricks. The conceptual undercurrent of this book is, first, ingenious, and, second, all the more so because he makes it work, faithful to the concept to the end. Be open-minded. This book, if you let it, will stretch you.
On a technical note, regarding the blogging of the book, each reading day I'll put up one to five posts, one post per city and "......" This is mostly for organizational purposes, particularly as I'm very interested in going back at the end and examining together, for example, all the "Cities of Memory" or "Hidden Cities."
1. Calvino’s language and word choice is always important. I think we need to assume that he’s taking on the whole Beethoven every-note-must-be-perfect thing. Notice the use of we. Who is “we”? We see it first in the second sentence: “…of the territories we have conquered….” If we assume that we can’t take anything for granted, then what’s he going for there? (The italicized encounters are narrated in third person omniscient.) I guess I should ask whether you believe Calvino is speaking “we” from his own first person perspective over the survey of the book’s contents or if he’s channeling the Khan and speaking the emperor’s “we.”
2. Considering what I said in the little introduction above, is Calvino, in the remainder of this fatty second sentence, acknowledging that we—he and us—will never fully understand…. What? Cities? Cultures? People? The book (or Book)?
3. There’s an adroit composition to this little essay. Compare the first sentence to the last. Why does the Khan pay more attention and interest to Polo than his other explorers? What obstacles, or potential conflict, can we anticipate?
4. A question to consider over the course of the book: Why did Calvino choose Marco Polo and Kublai Khan? There are some near-obvious possibilities, but others….