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Useless Cities March 23, 2012

Posted by Elizabeth Campbell in Uncategorized.

I’m having a hard time with Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. Is it the translation? I like it, but I’m having a hard time understanding what I’m reading.

Italo Calvino was part of a Parisienne writing group from the ’60s who called themselves Oulipo. This group focused on experimental writing, giving themselves constraints within which to write, such as not using the letter “e” anywhere in the entire novel, or poems in which every line contains every letter of the alphabet.

With that in mind, I can understand that Invisible Cities is an experimental novel. All the cities that Polo describes is (are?) the same city. And every city has multiple facets depending on who is experiencing life in that city.


It reads lie a webage, or a Choose Your Own Adventure novel. You can read the book from cover to cover, or read all the Polo/Kublai interactions first, or read the different chapter headers in numerical order, or…

Here’s an interesting webpage (in Russian) with artworks, in which the webpager dude actually set up the book to do this. it’s really beautiful. Go there and tell me what you think.

I plan to read more about Calvino. He led a huge life.



1. nrlymrtl - March 24, 2012

I am also finding it an odd book. Last night I decided to just let myself get lost in the prose and beautiful imagery and not try to look for a common string, something to hook it all together. Also, that bit about the fat lady waiting for the underground train threw me. I mean Marco Polo was around 1254-1324 and Kublai Khan 1215-1294. Oops… Was that on purpose?

darkcargo - March 24, 2012

There’s a lot of that. Ferris wheels, gas lamps, underground transport, etc,

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