I decided to revisit The Invisible Cities (1972) of the Italian author Calvin with whom I believe, with the force of a bump on the little toe, to have some astral connection. The book was reprinted this year.
Bibliophile fetishes aside, Invisible Cities will be a different experience for each reader. Just as the experienced traveler sees in a new city every city he has ever been in the same way that all descriptions are possible from a single place, to where each word turns eager to rediscover its origin, Invisible Cities is a book that contains all the books, or even a narrative that starts from all the narratives, that distances and is lost of them, written to the margins of the memory. ” Each person has in mind a city made exclusively of differences, a city without figures and without forms, filled by the particular cities”Similarly, each reader may find there an imaginative exercise or a dream notebook, a proposal for the next millennium or a dialogue of the dead, a compendium of illusions, a maze of words, fantastic visions, historical follies, a thing or another, perhaps all overlapping. Certainly, you will find an indefinable book:
It is the mood of whoever looks at it giving shape to the city of Zemrude. Who passes whistling, nose steep because of the whistle, knows it from the bottom up: parapets, curtains in the wind, nozzles. Those who walk with their jaws in their chests, with their fingernails planted in the palms of their hands, will stare at the height of the ground, the streams, the cesspools, the fishing nets, the paperwork. It can not be said that one aspect of the city is more true than the other, but one hears Zemrude from above especially by those who remember it when entering Zemrude from below, walking every day the same streets and rediscovering in the morning the bad mood of the previous day encrusted at the foot of the walls. Sooner or later the day comes when we lower our gaze to the tubes of the eaves and we can no longer distinguish them from the sidewalk. The reverse case is not impossible,
They are imaginative narratives, or imagined narratives, or imagined narrating, or at last imaginatively narrate dialogues between the greatest traveler of all time, Marco Polo, and the famous Emperor of the Tartars, Kublai Khan. The first, infinite traveler who through symbols and words is capable of engendering endless cities to satiate Khan’s curiosity; this sovereign of a vast empire that suffers with the limits of old age and the lack of limits of the world, and seeks lenitive in the descriptions of Marco Polo who, however, warns: ” one should never confuse a city with the discourse that describes it “.
The discourse is therefore the point of transcendence of the work, which entails everything and forgets everything. In it, are imprinted the values that Calvin considered fundamental to the literature of the twentieth century in the conferences that make up the Six proposals for the next millennium . Written with the lightness of subtle images and emblematic abstractions, it is rich in brief forms that denote speed, ” a message of immediacy by patient force and meticulous adjustments .” It brings, through belief in accuracy, ” a well-defined and calculated work project, the evocation of sharp, incisive and memorable visual images and language that is as precise as possible .” The Invisible Citiesis also a work of visibility, at the same time an instrument of knowledge and communication with the soul of the world, a vast encyclopedia that reveals the multiplicity of the world, and makes known ” the networks of connections between the facts, between people, between things of the world “. In it, ” each minimal object is seen as the center of a network of relations of which the writer can not dodge, multiplying the details to the point where his descriptions and ramblings become infinite. From whatever point he departs, his discourse widens to understand ever wider horizons, and if it could develop in all directions it would eventually embrace the entire universe “(CALVINO, Six Propositions for the next millennium ).
These same principles are, by the way, in the illustrations. As you have already noticed from the examples throughout the review, in all of them predominate the delicate black trace on the white background, juxtaposition that keeps each city still open to the many palettes of each reading. The landscapes are thus at the mercy of the reader’s desires and feelings, which will fill them now in somber tones of melancholy, sometimes with effusive spring tints. The book being so imaginative, it is possible to imagine the purists of the imagination wringing their noses and crying out against an attempt to imprison the poetry in Calvino’s prose. For these, the answer comes quick and simple: buy the un-illustrated version, now, available in physical and virtual bookstores. Commit here even mine, in case a plot makes them disappear from the face of the earth and you do not bother with graphite rulers and some comments and hearts on the banks. No more quarrels, please.
Invisible cities reveal an understanding of the history of the world as the potential space, ” of the hypothetical, of all that is not, nor was and perhaps is not, but which could have been .” A multiplicity text that drinks from various sources, from the “One Thousand and One Nights” to the Hollywood metropolis, replacing the uniqueness by the coexistence of several voices and looks on reality. The author himself once declared: ” If my book The Invisible Cities remains for me the one in which I think I have said more, it is perhaps because I have been able to concentrate all my reflections, experiences, and conjectures on a single symbol.”Like many cities, this book of Calvino does not find the palliative that a narrative with beginning middle and end provides the escapists; on the contrary, they take advantage of the answers he gives to our anxious inhabitants’ longing for lightness in a fast world. His reading transforms us into Kublai Khans: no time to know the breadth of the world, but the willingness to perceive both from the gaze of the other.
An infinite book, to read over and over again: back and forth, jumping and turning, freely recreating our own planisphere.
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, William Weaver (translator)
Paperback, 165 pages Published 1974 by Harcourt Brace (first published 1972)