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Thursday, June 2, 2011


Two things I'm wondering right now as I sit to put together my thoughts and questions for Tamara: [1] do all the cities' names have an applicable significance--are they the framework, like a poem's title, for understanding the contents; and [2] did Calvino work from some sort of map, and we're just not getting all the directions?  I'd love to be able to follow the geography and paths of Marco Polo's travels.
  1. The name Tamara is fairly mundane compared to those of the previous cities.  Dominantly Russian and Hebrew, it has connections (particularly via its masculine counterpart--typical) to "palm tree" and "spice," yet this prosaic etymology seems superficially still to fit.  The stuff here is, ostensibly, pretty simple.  The type of this city is "Signs," an oft-used label of deconstructionists (think Barthes and Derrida) for what a word is in relationship to what it represents (for example, the word "computer" is the sign for the machine I'm currently holding on my lap).  But in the opening paragraph, Calvino shifts that use of "Signs"--and this brings us again, tangentially at least, to Eco--to the more general issue of signs across systems, called semiotics.   Calvino's examples are the paw print for the tiger, a marsh for a water course, and the hibiscus for Spring.  So what is Tamara a sign for?  (Or is this a non-issue as we're not even to the city yet?  Personally, I don't think so.  I think it's just a warm-up--an anticipation on the part of the traveler.  You?)
  2. These signs, however, in the city seem, at least nearly always, to be metonymous or synecdochical for--related to--whatever they represent.  The deconstructionists would claim, I think obtusely, that it doesn't make any difference what the sign is.  Why not a paw print for Spring or scales for the barracks?  So what about the lions, towers, dolphins, and stars?
  3. There's a system of signs--or maybe hierarchy:  scissors for the tailor, the silk for the wealthy, the custom clothing for social status (inelegant examples--sorry).  Where does the ladder end?
  4. "Your gaze scans the streets as if they were written pages."
  5. "And while you believe you are visiting Tamara...":  Every city so far has not been what it at first appears to be, and this gives each city--I'm not quite sure how to say it--almost a sense of non-being.  Tamara, for example, isn't really a city but just a book of signs telling you what to think and see and feel.  Though I hate to use this example, it's really just a matrix (yeah, like the movie) upon which something or someone populates the illusion.  Of course, what's the difference between this and the "real" thing?
  6. Examine the format of the vignette: it starts with a gradual increase in the frequency of signs until within the, I guess, city limits it's dense and heavily layered, and then at the end, as we leave, the mass of signs decreases, lessens, though the traveler's eye (our eye) keeps looking for signs--out of habit, desperation, or because that's just how the human mind works?


  1. 1. Not sure. I think that the entire city's so superficial at some level that we may not know what it's about at its core, so we can't know what the sign stands for.
    2. Arg. No idea. Lions and towers call to mind an image of a fortress (if lions represent the king/force). Stars are somewhat heraldic as well. Dolphins? Nothing.
    3. Statues for the gods?
    5. I guess that there would be a few things. The first thing that would stand out to me is that signs that suggest something can never capture all the meaning of something real. It may suggest the predominant quality of a thing or the predominant emotion of what it suggests, but it can't encapsulate every meaning or reaction at the same time.
    6. Desperation, I think. After all the signs, we still haven't figured out what we really want to know.

  2. 1. And reliance upon the signs of things rather than the things themselves is indeed superficial--in a way I'd never thought of before. It's a cool idea.
    2. The lions and towers are very Venice (http://www.italianphotographs.com/PhotoGallery_VENICE.html); stars are pretty generic; and maybe once upon a time there were dolphins in the Venetian harbors???
    3. But aren't the statues just signs for the gods themselves, and the gods signs for power, and power the signs of.... I don't know. This might be one of the potentially deepest cities, though the imagery of Anastasia is my favorite so far.
    5. I agree. Canine or dog or even German shepherd are all very limited without modifiers, but the modifiers supersede the sign, at least to a degree. The thing itself is even limited, without more intimate familiarity. If a poem or a painting might be considered a sign in and of itself, it, perhaps, could fully realize the item's reality. What do you think?
    6. I think that's exactly it. I couldn't put my finger on it (the benefit of being the one asking the questions).


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