Friday, May 27, 2011

Review: Invisible Cities, by Italo Calvino

I must admit, I’m a little low on juice today to commit myself to a full review of this book, but I’ll give it my best shot to say something about it. Invisible Cities packages itself like a novel but really it’s closer to a collection of beautifully rendered prose poems. The narrative frame, such as it is, involves the great Tartar emperor Kublai Khan discussing the many cities in his empire with the intrepid traveler Marco Polo.

Through a highly stylized and poetic language, Polo provides Khan with a perspective on his empire by describing cities both real and imagined, with fanciful and sometimes absurdist situations that rest at their heart. Many of the sections are repeated several times throughout the book, each following their post-modern concept(s) through to their logical or illogical conclusions.

It was all really beautifully written, but I have to admit I was looking for something a bit more structural to hold it altogether. Thankfully, the last paragraph – written with a stunning aphoristic precision – left me breathless and glad I read this book. For anyone out there who feels a little bushwhacked by the ludicrousness of the modern world today, who feels like it’s so easy to cave in to the insanity that surrounds us at every turn, these words may provide comfort (as they have to me). Here they are in their entirety:

And Polo said: “The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space.”


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