Calvino's Invisible Cities is a different take on the novel. It disposes of the traditional chronological narrative and organizes the story according to themes such as cities and memory, cities and desire, cities and names, etc.… The novel's thematic organization allows Calvino to de-emphasize the traditional characteristics of cities, such as their material structure and their uniqueness from other cities.
Calvino uses this thematic narrative to emphasize what is common to all cities. Thesis: For Calvino, what is common to all cities is the role of human perception, colored by desire and fear, in creating those cities, which can exist for us only as myths. Because our desires and fears persist no matter the city we are in, all cities are ultimately the same until we can live independent of desire and fear.
The Significance of Calvino's Juxtapositions
Dreams and Fears
Calvino posits that cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears. (Calvino 44). That is, our perception of the city, and our perception of its consequences, are the only aspects of the city that actually matter to us. Marco proves this when he points out that the curious, power-hungry Kublai "…take[s] delight not in a city's seven or seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours." (Calvino 44).
He demonstrates the similarities between cities and dreams by showing that they are all rooted in desires and fears. "With cities, it is as with dreams: everything imaginable can be dreamed, but even the most unexpected dream is a rebus that conceals a desire or, its reverse, a fear." Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears…" (Calvino 44). Kublai later demonstrates this as he thinks about the network of cities in his empire, thinking of the enormous trade and production that will occur, only to later worry that the empire is being crushed by its own weight. (73).
Ideologies and Myths
Calvino teaches that, for humans, cities exist most significantly as myths. In attempting to describe the city of Aglaura, Marco observes what he can say from having lived in the city will never be as "real" as the myths formulated about the city. The inhabitants reports' of the city's "…proverbial virtues,… proverbial faults, a few eccentricities…," are an "…enduring assortment of qualities…" attributed to Aglaura by ancient observers. (Calvino 66) Marco laments that "…these accounts create a solid and compact image of a city, whereas the haphazard opinions which might be formed from living there have less substance." (Calvino 66).
Calvino points out that there are always two cities which exist, "…the city that people speak of and the city that exists on its site." (Calvino 66). Clearly, a different city exists for the city's inhabitants, who believe that the city will exist as such no matter what Marco's experience of the city indicates. Such myths that we construct about of our city and others are part of what Calvino calls the "…invisible reasons which make the cities live…" (Calvino 136).
Aspirations and Disillusionments
Calvino's descriptions provide insight into each individual's inner journey by picking apart the elements of our outer journeys, through our travels. Calvino also shows that our experience of a city has more to do with ourselves than with the city. Cities are usually too large for any one person to explore completely. Thus, our experience of any city is always incomplete, the product of our limited experience of the city.
Furthermore, Calvino shows that all of our reality is never an objective reality, but a subjective reality determined by our desires. When describing the miniature models of Fedora housed in Fedora's museum, Marco reflects that every visitor to the museum chooses the city that corresponds to his desires, contemplates it, and imagines himself enjoying it. (Calvino 32).
What Calvino's Cities Describe
Calvino's cities describe the confluence of the individual's perception and that which is perceived. These elements are the invisible processes and dynamics that animate a city. This is the reason for the title, "Invisible Cities."
In describing the city of Zaira to Kublai, Marco insists that the city does not consist of mere material structures, but of the "…relationships between the measurements of its space and the events of its past…" (Calvino 10). He points to the city of…