* NOTICE: Mr. Center's Wall is on indefinite hiatus. Got something to say about it? Click HERE and type.

Monday, May 30, 2011

INVISIBLE CITIES I -- Introduction, and Chapter 1, ..... 1

Superficially, 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

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….
5.       Have you read Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s “Kubla Khan”?


  1. 1. Yeah, I found this surprising, sort of like the surprise of the first person plural in the first few chapters of Genesis. I wonder if Calvino is calling himself a conqueror because of the power of his ability to write things down and really change the legacy of Khan to whatever he wants for purposes of this story. Within the context of the book, he's every bit the emperor that Khan is. That was my thought anyway. I'd like to know what you think he's doing.
    2. Yeah, I think so. To me, he's saying that a writer can't even understand everything about his own creation. I think that this is true. How many times have you written something, had someone else read it, and they found a motif that you didn't even consciously put in there, but is definitely part of the story? Happens all the time, I think.
    3. I think it's his spiritedness that captures Khan's attention. I wonder if he sees a bit of himself in Polo.
    4. Maybe the idea of the writer as conqueror and explorer?
    5. No. Maybe I'll have a look tonight.

  2. 1. Calvino (who, by the way, has none of the ego of Eco, thank goodness, at least as far as you can tell by the text of his fiction) gets so crazy postmodern with his use of language and narrative, that the story is itself--and I think this is along the lines of what you're getting at here--a city, even THE city. This will make more sense, though I don't think it's inaccessible right now, as we get more info about Polo and the manner of discussion between him and Khan.
    2. Yes. I also take it that he's admitting it's as impossible for him to get everything from his writing as it is for the reader.
    3. I agree. This charisma assists the bridging of cultural and linguistic gaps between them, though I believe it also creates some problems.
    4. Aside from the fact that Polo was Venetian, it could be practically anything.
    5. Have a look. I've got a pretty good guide (Word file) hanging around in a file somewhere, if you're interested. The poem is spectacularly layered. In fact I think it's this very poem that puts Kublai Khan in the story, particularly the description of the strange city Coleridge sees in his drug-induced, Romantically effusive dream. I believe the poem is integrally connected to Calvino's book. I'll try and look up an Italian translation and see how it compares. This would be significant as Calvino is DEFINITELY playing with major issues of intra-linguistic relationships.

  3. A fiction of any kind only exist in the space between the page the and reader's imagination (once, of course, the writing of it is completed). Might this not also be said, to a degree, of history, especially considering the notion of reader interpretation, and that interpretation never aligning--impossible to ever align--perfectly with that of the author, and that with the fact of the observation, in the case of history?

  4. can you not give some dumb opinion and just straight forwardly answer the fucking questions? thanks, management

    1. Hi, "hamill x," and thanks for stopping by. I had no idea my management was offsite!

      In the event that you're not just raving, you might have noticed that the entire premise of the "books studied" section of my little-frequented blog is to spark conversation. The questions are largely rhetorical, at least so far as they intend to trigger your own thoughts, which, of course, if you'd like, you are warmly invited to share. Hence: conversation. Perhaps this is the English teacher in me coming out, but, I ask, what would you gain from your own experience reading the book if I simply doled out "answers," particularly when there are few, if any, wrong responses? Better, come up with an idea, present it, and we can talk it out.

      More than that, sometimes I don't have an answer. While I read, a thought or question occurs to me, and I hope to find out what someone else's thoughts on the subject might include.


Be sure to subscribe to the thread to receive discussion updates.

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...