Invisible Cities

Invisible Cities – A discussion on Italo Calvino’s work


Calvino describes 55 cities, each more fantastical than the last, where the reader – and the character being told these stories, Kublai Khan – are unsure whether any, or all exist.  Is Marco Polo – the story teller – making these cities up to keep the aging emperor happy, to give him some entertainment, or is he using the cities as metaphors for the inhabitants of the empire?  Perhaps both.  It is perhaps a discussion on the idea of living within a city, calling it ‘home’ and even, the idea of feeling as though you ‘belong’ somewhere.  The lecturer discusses the concept of the city, as a home, as being one dimensional where one dimensional means that something exists, but has no discernible location, it cannot be traveled to or looked at; it has not coordinates – whereas two dimensional objects have a point in space dictated by its x and y axis and three dimensional objects have a z coordinate to place in the depth of reality.  Obviously, we know we can actually find the city and live within it, but the city itself, the character of the city is harder to fathom, it’s much less tangible.  Buildings in a city are the characters of the narrative in that city, for some, the characters (buildings), are great, strong and to be revered; for others the characters are bad, evil and should kept away from.  When we think of a city, we have predefined perceptions of what that city is: my perception of a city defines that city, and will be markedly different from someone else’s perception.  Is it because they have lived within the city or simply read things in the media about it or looked at it through rose tinted glasses?  
“Gotham is more real than New York”, proposed the lecturer.  When we travel to new York, we go to see certain elements of the city, the good bits, the famous bits, without capturing the essence of the city; we don’t experience it.  Gotham, on the other hand, broadcasts all of its grisly underside, the bad bits, the roughness of its citizens; the negative side of things.  Does this just mean that one image shows a bad, dark narrative, whereas the other shows a more grand or happy version, or are we seeing two sides of the same coin?  Both?  Either?  Neither?  Best call Batman and find out for sure.


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