invisible cities all over the world like Ahwaz in south of Iran, that suffer through horrible tragedies and the world won't pay attention to. They are the real life invisible cities. Through literature one is able to empathize to people and situations that otherwise would never be seen or known. Calvino's Invisible City explores the imaginative world of Kublai Khan and Marco Polo.
The book discusses the descriptions of cities by an explorer, Marco Polo. The book is put together as a conversation between the aging and busy emperor Kublai Khan, a busy man with many emperors who talk to him about the state of his expanding and vast empire, and Polo, the boundless explorer. The largest percentage of the book is of short prose poems describing 55 cities, narrated by the explorer Marco Polo.
Every five to ten cities, there are small dialogues that act as transitions between the two men. It not only functions as transitions, but also is used to discuss different ideas shown by the cities on a wide range of topics including linguistics and human nature. The book is made loosely around an interlocking pattern of numbered sections. The length of each section's title graphically outlines a continuously oscillating sine wave. Some people might interpret it as a city skyline. The dialogues between Khan and Polo are poetic and present a story within a story, that plays with the natural complexity of language and storytelling.
It's quite interesting the aspect of Marco Polo and Kublai Khan not speaking the same language. When Polo is discussing of the various cities, he uses objects from the city to tell the story. It's kind of like a poetic show and tell. What is implied is, that each character understands the other through their own interpretation of what they talking about. It leaves room for interpretation for the reader to see what exactly could be happening in the scenes with the two conversing. It's amazing just how many angles one could approach it.
Because of the boundless potential for interpretation in this book, it is a perfect example of human imagination and that is not necessarily limited by the laws of physics or the limitations of modern urban theory. It offers a different and complex way into thinking about cities, and how they are. It also offers a different perspective into how a city could be formed. Lastly it gives important cues as to how they function without the use of language to describe it.
Some key facts about the book. It's original publication date was 1972. The novel's plot is Magical Realism. The time frame for the work is thirteenth through the twentieth centuries. The setting is Kublai Khan's palace and empire. The genre for this book is long fiction. The subjects or themes that one can come across this book are: Philosophy or philosophers, storytelling, Fantasy, cities or towns.
Further discussion of the characters Marco Polo, a Venetian traveler, now resident in the court of Kublai Khan is one of many emissaries reporting to Kublai, serving him by helping him to understand the subjects of his vast empire. Before he learned Tartar, the language of Kublai Khan, he would show and point out objects to get his stories across. Once he has learned Tartar, Marco speaks, but, accustomed to the early emblematic communications, Kublai prefers to mix speech with pantomime.
"A sort of "mute commentary" is created when the two of them sit silently immobile, in private meditation, each imagining what the other is asking or saying. Regardless of idiom, Marco insists that all the cities he describes exist only as he has perceived them and that all communication is an act of creation. The emphasis placed on the perceiver applies equally to Kublai's act of listening. As Marco explains, "It is not the voice that commands the story: it is the ear." Marco's insistence on this theory has the effect of arousing suspicion in Kublai and creates the principal dramatic tension of the story."Invisible cities cyclopedia of literary characters, revised third edition 2012)
Kublai Khan is the Tartar emperor. "As a listener to Marco's fantastic descriptions, Kublai is impatient and becomes progressively more domineering. Kublai's interest in the stories is motivated by his determination to possess his empire one day, which he believes he cannot do without knowing and understanding it. He thus hopes for patterns in Marco's descriptions, so that, without knowing every city, he can comprehend the empire. At Marco's claim that none of this is possible, Kublai shows his impatience with varying degrees of intensity: by demanding that Marco describe the cities simply and directly; by physically attacking Marco and accusing him of representing only dreams and moods; and, in occasional desperate attempts, by himself describing cities and asking Marco whether they exist. When Kublai decides to have Marco cease traveling to play chess with him, to deduce cities from configurations of the chessboard, Marco overwhelms Kublai by pointing out the infinite possibilities and suggestions in the very woods of which the board is made. Such exchanges depict Kublai as desperate in his desire for unambiguous realities and as ultimately defeated by Marco's persistent uncertainties." Invisible cities cyclopedia of literary characters, revised third edition 2012)
This is quite a strange and surprising book. Invisible Cities can be classified as "post-modern," and Calvino's writing can be described as surrealistic. Trying to actually describe the book is a frustrating, almost futile attempt. Khan expresses his tiredness of the stories brought to him by his messengers across the empire. Only the stories told by Polo, of the cities that he met during his travels, keep him interested. "From there, after six days and seven nights, you arrive at Zobeide, the white city, well exposed to the moon, with streets wound about themselves as in a skein. 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 lost 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. In laying out the streets, each followed the course of his pursuit; at the spot where they had lost the fugitive's trail, they arranged spaces and walls differently from the dream, so she would be unable to escape again." (Calvino, 1974) Even though Khan insists, Polo never talks about his own city, Venice. He only talks about strange, magical, invisible cities that nobody else envisioned or witnessed. And yet, Khan cannot avoid the feeling that by telling him about those nonexistent places, Polo does describe, bit by bit, the city they both really think of.
"This was the city of Zobeide, where they settled, waiting for that scene to be repeated one night. None of them, asleep or awake, ever saw the woman again. The city's streets were streets where they went to work every day, with no link any more to the dreamed chase. Which, for that matter, had long been forgotten." (Calvino, 1974) The book consists of fifty-five extremely short city descriptions, embedded within an intellectual duel between Polo and Khan. The victor was Marco Polo. The reason begin he perplexed the emperor with the notion that people could explore and find an infinite amount of things.
Despite the fact it is a short book, it takes days to read due to its complex nature. After each story you have to stop; to think; to contemplate on the piece of poetry-in-prose that you have just read. For me it was a long hard look into the ideas and thoughts of Calvino. It was a way for me to envision what he did for he illustrated in such a unique perspective. "New men arrived from other lands, having had a dream like theirs, and in the city of Zobeide, they recognized something of the streets of the dream, and they changed the positions of arcades and stairways to resemble more closely the path of the pursued woman and so, at the spot where she had vanished, there would remain no avenue of escape. The first to arrive could not understand what drew these people to Zobeide, this ugly city, this trap." (Calvino, 1974)
It's shortness is misleading, it is very dense and heavy with energy and deserves to enjoyed and not raced through in the reading. Now to get into the analytical aspects of the book, here is some examples. "Although the treatment of Calvino's "cosmic comic" period, addressed in Chapter Six, is again done with care and sensitivity, the first three paragraphs in the chapter are uncharacteristically rough, and the author's appraisal of the French" new novel" is problematical. However, Raymond Queneau, whose influence on Calvino was so important, receives an…