Sunday, February 28, 2016
Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino
Marco Polo and Kublai Khan have an opium tinged discussion
Kublai Khan, most powerful monarch in the world, stays in his luxurious compound being debriefed by ambassadors of his vast empire. One visitor to his court, the Venetian Marco Polo, who grows to be a favorite, relates his journeys to different cities, presenting his reports in an outlandish philosophical style. These cities are all named after women and categorized in several buckets: cities and the dead, cities and desire, etc. Each city is described in a lyrical flight of the imagination.
Although the book is short, I quickly grew tired of it. In many ways the book feels like a writing exercise - beautiful vignettes. I would love to read it in Italian. And perhaps this is not meant to be read like a regular book, but savored – perhaps the cities are not even meant to be read in order. There’s a reason why the two of them are always smoking opium – the worlds have a dreamy crazy feel to them. Sometimes neither Marco Polo or Kublai Khan (or the reader) is sure whether they are even saying anything out loud.
In some way, the work seems dated, like from the Seventies, including the decorative sexism. Every city has some chick brushing her hair or peeling a tangerine.