Invisible cities

One of the things I resolved to do this year is to read more books because sadly, I cannot remember finishing any book last year. There were some books I bought but I never got to finish them. For instance, I got Salman Rushdie’s Haroun and the Sea of Stories but I found it ridiculous halfway through. I also got China Miéville’s Un Lun Dun but I had to put it off on several occasions due to a busy schedule.

Currently, I am reading Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities. I first heard about Calvino when I came across this Flavorwire article. But it was this webcomic that got me into exploring the book:


(via Incidental Comics)

Invisible Cities is like a story within a story. In it, the explorer Marco Polo describes several urban landscapes to the aging Kublai Khan, from Armilla, “a forest of pipes that end in taps, showers, spouts, overflows”, to Octavia, a city suspended over an abyss like a fragile spiderweb, to Thekla, a city under constant construction “so that it’s destruction cannot begin”. The book somehow reminds me of Lord Dunsany’s The Gods of Pegāna in that the lands described, although distant, feel faintly familiar as if in some lifetimes past, we once walked in its streets.

Here’s an excerpt from Invisible Cities:

In Ersilia, to establish the relationships that sustain the city’s life, the inhabitants stretch strings from the corners of the houses, white or black or gray or black-and-white according to whether they mark a relationdhip of blood, of trade, authority, agency. When the strings become so numerous that you can no longer pass among them, the inhabitants leave: the houses are dismantled; only the strings and their supports remain.


From a mountainside, camping with their household goods, Ersilia’s refugees look at the labyrinth of taut strings and poles that rise in the plain. That is the city of Ersilia still, and they are nothing.


They rebuild Ersilia elsewhere. They weave a similar pattern of strings which they would like to be more complex and at the same time more regular than the other. Then they abandon it and take themselves and their houses still farther away.


Thus, when traveling in the territory of Ersilia, you come upon the ruins of abandoned cities, without the walls which do not last, without the bones of the dead which the wind rolls away: spiderwebs of intricate relationships seeking a form.


One comment

  1. Dustine Rene Bernasor · October 30, 2012

    I have been planning to get "If on a winter’s night a traveller" but I still have a couple of books to finish (Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and Murakami’s Kafka on the Shore). Will definitely read that in the future!

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