In a garden sit the aged Kublai Khan and the young Marco Polo - Tartar emperor and Venetian traveler. Kublai Khan has sensed the end of his empire coming soon. Marco Polo diverts the emperor with tales of the cities he has seen in his travels around the empire: cities and memory, cities and desire, cities and designs, cities and the dead, cities and the sky, trading cities, hidden cities. Soon it becomes clear that each of these fantastic places is really the same place.
©1972 Giulio Einaudi Editore (P)2013 Tantor
"Of all tasks, describing the contents of a book is the most difficult and in the case of a marvelous invention like Invisible Cities, perfectly irrelevant." (Gore Vidal)
Less a book than a series of prose-like poems, where language seems a magical tool that paints landscapes and cityscapes not confined by just what is known or possible. The words flow through your mind and spark the imagination, leading the listener on a guided imagery trip through worlds that seem suspended in another dimension and time. It is like a fabulous dessert -- it needs to be experienced, savored, and languished over. Originally published in 1972 with a cover that depicted a city of stone towers that rise from a large floating rock above an ocean; a picture that teased and hinted at what was inside (I still own my original dog-eared copy). There is no plot -- but plot seems irrelevant as you listen to Marco Polo conjure up cities that float between webs, joyous carnival cities, serious cities where no one makes eye contact or speaks, cities that you won't be returning to, "this is a city just for leaving," all to entertain the aging Kublai Khan. He creates his own cities that might dwell in his empire, asking Polo if he has seen these in his travels. You ponder the meaning of the words as they are used in this game between the two men, as well as the structure of the cities and their purpose. Reading this was wonderful; listening is another experience altogether. Close your eyes and experience a journey. Very short, just over 2 hours; something I will leave on my ipod and listen to again, like a beautiful and creative guided meditation.
This is an outstanding book and performance. The language is so rich that I listened to certain portions more than once since it was hard to take everything in on the first pass.
Mountain biking, surfing, skiing, literature, philosophy, psychology, theology and my ipod.
Having just read Invisible Cities by Calvino today, just about everything is at least swirling in newness of possibilities, like Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, or Jonathan Swift's Gulliver's travels.
I'm still in the rabbit hole, and don't know what I may have been smoking.
The story is of tales of cities visited by Marco Polo, as told to Kublai Khan. Sounds simple, but we realize that Marco Polo is the experiential adventurer in the world, while Kublai Khan is the intellectual summarizer of Marco Polo's experiences. Well, even that is up for grabs in the end, as who has the handle on reality--the adventurer or the intllectual?
At one point, Kublai Khan has reduced everything to nothing more than a chess game, black versus white, but in so doing, he looses all meaning. Then there is Marco Polo who has many adventures to report, but are they real, or just strung together experiences of illusion?
These philosophical positions are not new, but the experience of them is in the way that I like to be challenged by the new.
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