Why I like Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities

Why I like Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities: this is just thoughts and links on a page. 

1. Because a long time ago I read this article at the Rumpus (six memos for the millennium) and I really liked it. I like his philosophies. In particular, I liked what this article said about lightness;

“…my working method has more often than not involved the subtraction of weight. I have tried to remove weight, sometimes from people, sometimes from heavenly bodies, sometimes from cities; above all I have tried to remove weight from the structure of stories and from language.”

2. Because I like the idea of flaneurie- which exists mostly in cites. I really liked Charles Baudelaire, the painter of Modern Life. And believe you can be away from home and feel at home at the same time. Often by looking at others, you find yourself.

The crowd is his element, as the air is that of birds and water of fishes. His passion and his profession are to become one flesh with the crowd. For the perfect flaneur, for the passionate spectator, it is an immense joy to set up house in the heart of the multitude, amid the ebb and flow of movement, and in the midst of the fugitive and the infinite. To be away from home and yet feel oneself everywhere at home; to see the world, to be at the centre of the world, and yet to remain hidden from the world- such are a few of the slightest pleasures of those independent, passionate impartial natures which the tongue can but clumsily define.

3. I have newly become fascinated with literary psychogeography and feel that ideas and place have a very significant coexistence. I agree that the past can be discovered and rediscovered in building towards the future and that the past of a place can propel or alter its future. I like the idea of the layers of histories and stories in the city.

Guy Debord‘s truest intention was to unify two different factors of “ambiance” that, he felt, determined the values of the urban landscape: the soft ambiance – light, sound, time, the association of ideas – with the hard, the actual physical constructions.

Also, I love this

“The city is its own book, in which words and phrases are erased continually, pages, even whole chapters are torn out. New editions appear one after the other, with new chapters, annexes, supplements. Initially, only architecture was writing this book: “The City””

4. I enjoyed studying the stories along the Silk Road from the Beijing to the Middle East in one of my classes on China. Kublai Khan made Beijing his capital and strengthened economic ties, and diplomatic relations with the mongols. There were so many journeys along this silk road for trade that the world city was eventually built. I remember learning about Changan and the ancient cities.

5. When I read this book, I am taken to different cities, in particular, I think of India and the magical cities of Rajasthan. In particular, I think of Udaipur, the lake palace where the sun set, the air was warm, monkeys climbed and a citaar player played. I think of the lakes that reflected back up to them as here. There is so much in the reflection of a reflection.

“At times the mirror increases a thing’s value, at times denotes it. Not everything that seems valuable above the mirror maintains its force when mirrored. The twin cities are not equal, because nothing that exists or happens in Valdrada is symmetrical: every face and gesture is answered from mirror, by a face and gesture inverted, point by point.”

6. The idea of building and being rebuilt reminds me of when they build the ruins in Nehemiah. It reminds me of the scriptures in Isaiah that talk about rebuilding the ancient ruins. And it reminds me of Song of Solomon 3 when the woman runs through the city searching, so desperately.

“They tell this tale of its foundation: men of various nations had an identical dream. They saw a woman running at night through an unknown city; she was seen from behind, with long hair, and she was naked. They dreamed of pursuing her. As they twisted and turned, each of them Los her. After the dream they set out in search of that city; they never found it, but they found one another; they decided to build a city like the one in the dream.”

7. I love that this ends up, not being about the magical cities of Kublai Khan’s kingdom, but ends up being a story about Venice. A city, which given Calvino is Italian, I would imagine he knew quite well. I love that he travels the world, and ends up at home. They always say to write what you know, but all the while you can use your imagination.

“Marco Polo imagined answering that the more one was lost in unfamiliar quarters or distant cities, the more one understood the other cities he had crossed to arrive there; and he retraced the stages of his journeys, and he came to know the port from which he had set sail, and the familiar places of his youth, and the surroundings of home.”

8. I imagine that port, where he set sail. The port, signifying home that he followed along the canals of Venice, or the rivers of China and throughout the Middle East. I imagine him casting the anchor with not a care. I imagine the port, like I wrote about here, which was inspired by the article below

“Imagine this: you swim out amongst a group of boats fastened to their moorings. These boats are ordinary. They exist, lolling heavy in the water, anchored to the sandy floor. Each one is of a particular size and shape; some are new and some old. None are distinctive or exceptional. The tide moves them, waves cause them to sway – these boats are corpulent for their burden, almost pathetically. So you decide to free them, to rid them of their weight. You swim up to each and cut the ropes, you throw everything overboard and you untie all their anchors. You jettison all that is cumbersome. And what then? Well, the boats begin to float. But not like you thought they would. They don’t float across the water, but instead, they float upwards into the sky. Each yacht and speedboat and dinghy lifts off the water so that before long, the air is filled with the undersides of a thousand hulls.  By freeing the boats of all their weight, they have become extraordinary.” (from here) 

And I also love this:

“Arriving at each new city, the traveller finds again a past of his that he did not know he had. The foreignness of what you no longer are, or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.”

And I do believe that he who seeks, shall find. And we shouldn’t stifle the seeking. And that we are given our imagination as a tool to discover and wonder and find.

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