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Friday, June 3, 2011

INVISIBLE CITIES XII -- Chapter 1, ..... 2

Marco Polo
This is end of the first chapter.  (Duh.)  How have your thoughts/opinions of the book changed since the opening scene and the first city or sp?  For me, the timing of this exchange and its revelation was perfect.  While I was very much enjoying the city-to-city descriptions and the poetry of Calvino's assemblages up to this point, I needed either something to happen or a substance-changing revelation, and I got it.  Also, I really appreciate Calvino's use of form here, as this final bit is very much like the last sentence or two of each vignette and the framework those sentences offer for the rest of that city.  This final ..... gives context for the preceding cities, all the way back to first.  But poetry is such a personal thing.  I could easily be seeing this in a way that you don't.  Thoughts?
  1. "The emperor is he who is a foreigner to each of his subjects."
  2. All the cities have a mythic/fairytale grandeur and vagueness.  How is this explained or justified by the situation of the Khan and Polo's difficulty in language?  How does this news--the language differences--turn on its head everything we've read so far?  From whom are we getting the stories of the cities: the firsthand of Polo, or the secondhand of Kublai Khan?
  3. "Everything Marco displayed had the power of emblems, which, once seen, cannot be forgotten or confused."  Hmm.  Sounds a little bit like Zora and Zirma.
  4. "Perhaps ... the empire is nothing but a zodiac of the mind's phantasms."
  5. And what of having to know something before being able to possess it, as the Khan asks in the final enigmatic exchange?  This, too, sounds very much like some of issues we've been dealing with.
  6. So Polo eventually masters the Khan's language.  Does this mean the rest of the cities we encounter throughout the book will not be subject to the same misinterpretation?  (And about "misinterpretation": are the Khan's interpretations of Polo's descriptions wrong or inaccurate?)


  1. I think that our interpretations of the final line at least are pretty much the same. And I agree that it was good timing.

    1. So true. That's why Machiavelli said that if you wish to keep a place that you've conquered, you have to there to live.
    2. Yeah, this was a pretty crazy twist. I think that it explains the vagueness because we're getting the most basic, the very essence of each city for the simple fact that this is all that Polo can get across.
    3. Yeah, this is reminding me more and more of "The Mysterious Flame" as we go along, just in the way that it explores the mind.
    5. I think that the answer is telling. You never really can possess it. You can have some mental idea of what it means to possess it, but the city's ultimately incomprehensible and as diverse as the thoughts of the people living in it.
    6. Very possibly wrong. And I don't think that it's going to change it much just because, even with his limited language, he could have picked more superficial things to talk about, but he focused on the spirit of the cities instead, so I think that he'll continue to do that.

  2. 3. All of the cities seem to tie directly to memory almost no matter what else the title says. It really makes me want to come up with a full and broad definition for MEMORY....
    5. Yes. Presumptuous for the Khan ever to hope he might "possess" the empire and its cities.
    6. I agree. What I LOVE about the revelation of language difficulty here is that it puts at the forefront--exaggerates it--the primary difficulties and IMPOSSIBILITIES in cross-language discussion--interpretation versus translation, and that it is impossible to fully GET what one person is saying when that person comes not only from a different language but from a different--and vastly different--culture.


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