Monday, January 22, 2007

Italo Calvino - Invisible Cities

Italo Calvino is one of the most intriguing European writers of the late Twentieth Century. Among his many books, Invisible Cities stands out. It is a short book, only 165 pages long, but to read it properly seems to take a long time. It takes the form of a mythical dialogue between the young Marco Polo and the aging Kublai Khan. Polo weaves fantastical tales of all the cities he has visited in his travels for the ailing emperor: cities and desire, cities and memory, cities and signs, hidden cities, cities and eyes - travelling back and forth through history as well as through different cities - though it eventually becomes clear that all the tales are really about one city and every city.

For anyone who is interested in how we experience our cities today, especially for photographers concerned with trying to describe the modern city, Invisible Cities stretches the imagination in unexpected directions and does so in a very lyrical way. Two other good reads by Calvino are If on a winter's night a traveller with it's ever rotating cast of characters and plots and also Mr. Palomar, who sees the world in a way that will be familiar to many photographers

Invisible Cities is also a book which I would suggest should be mandatory reading for every City Planner...

"Your gaze scans the streets as if they were written pages: the city says everything you must think, makes you repeat her discourse, and while you believe you're visiting Tamara you are only recording the names with which she defines herself and all her parts. However the city may really be, beneath this thick coating of signs, whatever it may contain or conceal, you leave Tamara without having discovered it. Outside, the land stretches, empty, to the horizon; the sky opens, with speeding clouds."
Cities & Signs 1

"If on arriving at Trude I had not read the city's name written in big letters, I would have thought I was landing at the same airport from which I had taken off. The suburbs they drove me through were no different from the others, with the same little greenish and yellowish houses. Following the same signs we swung around the same flower beds in the same squares. The downtown streets displayed goods, packages, signs that had not changed at all. This was the first time I had come to Trude, but I already knew the hotel where I happened to be lodged; I had already heard and spoken my dialogues with the buyers and sellers of hardware; I had ended other days identically, looking through the same goblets at the same swaying navels. Why come to Trude? I asked myself. And I already wanted to leave. "You can resume your flight whenever you like," they said to me, "but you will arrive at another Trude, absolutely the same, detail by detail. The world is covered by a sole Trude which does not begin and does not end. Only the name of the airport changes.""
Continuous Cities 2

"Memory's images, once they are fixed in words, are erased. "Perhaps I am afraid of losing Venice all at once, if I speak of it. Or perhaps, speaking of other cities, I have already lost it, little by little" "

(The Utopia of Golf from peripheral vision)

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