Subscribe to Newsletter
Monthly Newsletter: Join more than 5,000 African literature enthusiasts!
Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our "Guide to African Novels."

Invisible Cities…and The Dead

SHARE THIS

Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino. A bewitching little book.  No use trying to figure out what it is. Is it a collection of poems, a series of vignettes, a novel, a travel guide, an ethnographic commentary, a bureaucratic document, a lineup of fireside tales, a meditation? What I can tell you is that it’s a rewrite or, rather, a remix of Marco Polo’s Travels, a 13th century travelogue.

Picture Marco Polo and the Great Khan of the Tartars in an oriental garden. They are smoking. Their pipes are glowing in the darkness, burning leafs handpicked from the royal herbarium. The aroma is heady and the air is cloudy, like a dream. The Khan is playing chess. But he’s also reflecting on the passing of his kingdom and reading maps with roads that lead to utopias.  Marco, on the other hand, is on a visionary state of mind. He’s describing cities that may not exist on real maps but that exist within the heart of every city in the world. Are cities not, at the end of the day, simply places where desire and dream and exchange and death take place? Read about Argia, the city of the dead and tell me what you are reminded of.

What makes Argia different from other cities is that it has earth instead of air. The streets are completely filled with dirt, clay packs the rooms to the ceiling, on every stair another stairway is set in negative, over the roofs of the houses hangs layers of rocky rain like skies with clouds. We do not know if the inhabitants can move about the city, widening the worm tunnels and the crevices where roots twist: the dampness destroys people’s bodies and they have scant strength; everyone is better off remaining still, prone; anyway, it is dark. From up here, nothing of Argia can be seen; some say, “It’s down below there,” and we can only believe them. The place is deserted. At night, putting your ear to the ground, you can sometimes hear a door slam.

From Invisible City by Italo Calvino

To visit Marco’s cities, get a used copy of Invisible Cities at Amazon.com for about 3 dollars.


Tags: , , , , , ,

I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

5 Responses to “Invisible Cities…and The Dead” Subscribe

  1. thalemonadelounge August 2, 2011 at 9:39 pm #

    Happy Anniversary on August 1!

  2. Osondu G.O August 4, 2011 at 3:43 am #

    You seem to be in love with dark stories and its obvious you such a book critic.keep it up.Thump up!
    http//osondugo.blogspot.com

  3. N. Coppedge August 11, 2011 at 2:37 pm #

    so-called fabulism is underrated in literature. Maybe Calvino invented it himself. The Rubayat of Omar Khayyam by Edward Fitzgerald included in Harold Bloom’s <> doesn’t really compare, although it might be the next runner up besides some things such as 1001 Arabian Nights in some editions. Most novels, for example, don’t compare at all (That includes Rushdie).

  4. N. Coppedge August 11, 2011 at 2:38 pm #

    Harold Bloom’s “Best Poems of the English Language”

  5. admin August 11, 2011 at 3:34 pm #

    @ Osondu: Thanks for your comment. It’s funny that you say I like dark stories because I’ve denied that fact for the longest time. Good luck with your blog by the way.

    @Coppedge: Thanks for stopping by. It’s interesting that you thought of fabulism in relation to Invisible Cities. Calvino’s earlier works like Baron in the Trees do have a more fabulist texture but his later stuff like If on A Winters Night a Traveller seem quite different. I would really love to know more about why you compare these group of works: rushdie, Khayyam, and the Arabian Nights in relation to Calvino.

Leave a Reply

Welcome to Brittle Paper, your go-to site for African writing and literary culture. We bring you all the latest news and juicy updates on publications, authors, events, prizes, and lifestyle. Follow us on Twitter and Instagram (@brittlepaper) and sign up for our "I love African Literature" newsletter.

Monthly Newsletter!

Subscribe for African literature news, and receive a free copy of our
"Guide to African Novels."

Archives

Alain Mabanckou’s New Book, a Collection of his Lectures Delivered at the Collège de France, to be Published January 2020

image.flvcrop.2048.5000

Congolese author Alain Mabanckou, possibly the most prominent name in Francophone African literature and renowned for his experimental writing, has […]

The 2019 Brittle Paper Awards: Announcing The 5 Shortlists

BP shortlist

We are excited to announce The 5 Shortlists for the 2019 Brittle Paper Awards. Launched in 2017 to mark our seventh anniversary, the […]

“Read Salone, Build Salone”: The First Sierra Leone National Book Fair | 5-7 Dec.

SLNBF

Between December 5 to December 7, Freetown, Sierra Leone, will play host to the Sierra Leone National Book Fair—the first […]

Is There a Quota of 5 Books by African Authors for Every “Best 100 Books of 2019” List?

best of best of best of

As yet another year draws to a close, literary lists of various sorts are once again filling our newsfeeds. During […]

Laila Lalami’s The Other Americans Longlisted for the 2020 Aspen Words Literary Prize

Lalami_Laila-1

Moroccan-American novelist Laila Lalami’s The Other Americans has recently been longlisted for the 2020 Aspen Words Literary Prize. Described on the Aspen Prize’s […]

Apply for SBMEN’s Workshop “Literary Criticism: Judging Dynamic Creative Writing in All Forms”| 23 November

Screen Shot 2019-11-17 at 8.57.48 PM

The Society for Book and Magazine Editors of Nigeria (SBMEN) is calling for applications to its fourth (and last) editing […]

Thanks for signing up!

Never miss out on new posts. Subscribe to a digest, too:

No thanks, I only want the monthly newsletter.