This is how it began:
We're fascinated at Check-in Architectuer with Italo Calvino's landmark book about the imaginary potential of cities, Invisible Cities. While doing research for this blog post, we realized that the Wikipedia page for Invisible Cities was pretty weak. So given this project is about webmedia in its own way, we decided to almost entirely rewrite the Wikipedia entry. We kept some of the original content, and thus we credit the other anonymous researcher, but we added to it greatly. So here is the new Wikipedia entry for Invisible Cities for your enjoyment, courtesy of the researchers at CIA.
The book explores imagination and the imaginable through the descriptions of cities by the narrator, Marco Polo. The book is framed as a conversation between the aging and busy emperor Kublai Khan, who constantly has merchants coming to describe the state of his empire, and Polo. The majority of the book consists of Polo's descriptions (1-3 pages each) of 55 cities. Short dialogues between the two characters are interspersed every five to ten cities and are used to discuss various ideas presented by the cities on a wide range of topics including linguistics and human nature. Not only is the book structured around an interlocking pattern of numbered sections, but the length of each section's title graphically outlines a continuously oscillating sine wave, or perhaps a city skyline. The interludes between Khan and Polo, are no less poetically constructed than the cities, but form a framing device, a story with a story, that plays with the natural complexity of language and stories. Other postmodern writer's such as John Barth, who also uses multiple framing devices, cites in interviews precedents such as Scheherazade in the Arabian Nights.
The book is probably based on The Travels of Marco Polo, his travelogue of the Mongol Empire written in the 13th century, which shares with Invisible Cities the brief, often fantastic accounts of the cities he visits, accompanied by descriptions of the city's inhabitants, notable imports and exports, and whatever interesting tales Polo had heard about the region.
One of Calvino's masterpieces, the novel does not fall under the aegis' of either magical realism, science fiction, or speculative fiction, and in fact is closer to poetry than classic novel writing. In the end, the book creates its own universe, neither that of a futuristic world or one based on classic fantasy fiction (pagan myths, Christian folklore, etc.) nor does it obey E.M. Forster's classic model for the story, but creates a new form, a new model, and for this it can be easily considered not only unique but revolutionary.
The book, because of it's approach to the imaginative potentialities of cities has oft been used by architects and artists to visualize how cities can be, their secret folds, where the human imagination is not necessarily limited by the laws of physics or the limitations of modern urban theory. It offers a beautiful alternative approach to thinking about cities, how they're formed and how they function.
- Introductory Chapter from Invisible Cities
- Excerpts from Invisible Cities
- Review by Tal Cohen
- Review by Jeannette Winterson
- Fällt | Invisible Cities - Portraits of the world's cities painted with sound.
- Italo Calvino sparks obsessions
- Erasing the Invisible Cities: Italo Calvino and the Violence of Representation by John Welsh, University of Virginia
- A San Francisco based band, that is inspired by and it shares its title with the novel
- Cities From Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities or Unique Baby Names From BabyNameWorld.com? by Greg Santos on McSweeney's Internet Tendencies
- Review by Pauline Masurel, published in The Short Review
- Illustrated Invisible Cities
- Fabulous Calvino by Gore Vidal in The New York Review of Books (Unfortunately, Subscription Required)
- Calvino's Urban Allegories by Franco Ferruci in The New York Times