Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Invisible Cities - an inner atlas

I stumbled upon Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino by completely by accident with no idea what it was about or its reputation as a great book/modern classic. Which might be a very appropriate way to fall down this rabbit hole of literature. 

The book consists of fifty-five descriptions of cities, interspersed with conversations between Marco Polo and Kublai Kahn. Which sounds pretty simple. Marco Polo describing cities to Kublai Kahn.

Except that it isn’t simple. The cities are fantastical, impossible cities. Sometimes anachronistic, sometimes magical, sometimes just plain bizarre. The book is a dreamscape of cities that have never been and could never be.

And it’s not even clear that Marco Polo and Kublai Kahn are real themselves. One or the other might be imaginary. Except that they are just characters in a book. They really are imaginary!

My personal favorite interpretation (and it’s not my only one) is that the book is deconstruction of the very concept of places. The cities say more about the person who is describing the cities than the cities themselves. Invisible Cities doesn’t tell us about places. It asks questions about the human condition.

What is real? What is unreal? And what do we get out of the unreal, what do we need from the unreal?

Invisible Cities isn’t just a book that I’m glad that I read. It’s a book I want to reread every six months to see what has changed in it, what new things I get out of it. It is a classic and it really asks you to explore concepts you hadn’t realized you accepted.

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