Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities – guest post by VisuaLingual

This month, we are featuring guest posts from some of our favorite local bloggers.  Our second installment comes from the folks at VisuaLingual, which is a) a design and print studio in Over the Rhine, b) a unique and totally charming Etsy shop, and c) an absolutely must-read local web log.

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When we were invited to write a guest post for Stacked, our immediate thought was to relate words to pictures. As graphic designers, we’re avid readers, but we also obsess over images, and especially the synergy between the two. So, we’d to like share some passages from one of our favorite books, Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, and pair them up with examples of work from some of our favorite artists. Invisible Cities is a compact, esoteric volume in which the young Marco Polo recounts to Kublai Khan some cities he has visited on his travels. The places Polo describes are fantastic and conjure up wild visions. If you haven’t read the book, we highly recommend it. It may make you see real cities in a new light!

I thought: “If Adelma is a city I am seeing in a dream, where you encounter only the dead, the dream frightens me. If Adelma is a real city, inhabited by living people, I need only continue looking at them and the resemblances will dissolve, alien faces will appear, bearing anguish. In either case it is best for me not to insist on staring at them.

i didnt hear you arrive, i didnt hear you go by Daniel DangerDaniel Danger

When you have forded the river, when you have crossed the mountain pass, you suddenly find before you the city of Moriana, its alabaster gates transparent in the sunlight, its coral columns supporting pediments encrusted with serpentine, its villas all of glass like aquariums where the shadows of dancing girls with silvery scales swim beneath the medusa-shaped chandeliers.

Skinner House by David JonasonDavid Jonason

After a seven days’ march through woodland, the traveler directed toward Baucis cannot see the city and yet he has arrived. The slender stilts that rise from the ground at a great distance from one another and are lost above the clouds support the city. You climb them with ladders.

Louise Nevelson Sculpture in Downtown CincinnatiLouise Nevelson

The order of the eras’ succession has been lost; that a first Clarice existed is a widespread belief, but there are no proofs to support it. The capitals could have been in the chicken runs before they were in the temples, the marble urns could have been planted with basil before they were filled with dead bones. Only this is known for sure: a given number of objects is shifted within a given space, at times submerged by a quantity of new objects, at times worn out and not replaced; the rule is to shuffle them each time, then try to assemble them. Perhaps Clarice has always been only a confusion of chipped gimcracks, ill-assorted, obsolete.

Amanda Smith

No one is more inclined than Eusapia to enjoy life and flee care. And to make the leap from life to death less abrupt, the inhabitants have constructed an identical copy of their city, underground. All corpses, dried in such a way that the skeleton remains sheathed in yellow skin, are carried down there, to continue their former activities.

Asylum 4 by Garrett PruterGarrett Pruter

Your gaze scans the streets as if they were written pages: the city says everything you must think, makes you repeat her discourse, and while you believe you are visiting Tamara you are only recording the names with which she defines herself and all her parts.

However the city may really be, beneath this thick coating of signs, whatever it may contain or conceal, you leave Tamara without having discovered it.

Margaret Kilgallen

This year, finally, as I raise the curtain, the window frames only an expanse of faces: from one corner to the other, at all levels and all distances, those round, motionless, entirely flat faces are seen, with a hint of smile, and in their midst, many hands, grasping the shoulders of those in the front. Even the sky has disappeared. I might as well leave the window.

Jim Flora

In Eudoxia, which spreads both upward and down, with winding alleys, steps, dead ends, hovels, a carpet is preserved in which you can observe the city’s true form. […] It is easy to get lost in Eudoxia: but when you concentrate and stare at the carpet, you recognize the street you were seeking in a crimson or indigo or magenta thread which, in a wide loop, brings you to the purple enclosure that is your real destination.

landscape rug by Liz EeuwesLiz Eeuwes

The traveler roams all around and has nothing but doubts: he is unable to distinguish the features of the city, the features he keeps distinct in his mind also mingle. He infers this: if existence in all its moments is all of itself, Zoe is the place of indivisible existence. But why, then, does the city exist? What line separates the inside from the outside, the rumble of wheels from the howl of wolves?

Woodlot Mansion by Luke PainterLuke Painter

Andria was built so artfully that its every street follows a planet’s orbit, and the buildings and the places of community life repeat the order of the constellations and the position of the most luminous stars: Antares, Alpheratz, Capricorn, the Cepheids. The city’s calendar is so regulated that jobs and offices and ceremonies are arranged in a map corresponding to the firmament on that date: and thus the days on earth and the nights in the sky reflect each other.

quilt by Jimmy McBrideJimmy McBride

So if I wished to describe Aglaura to you, sticking to what I personally saw and experienced, I should have to tell you that it is a colorless city, without character, planted there at random. But this would not be true, either: at certain hours, in certain places along the street, you see opening before you the hint of something unmistakable, rare, perhaps magnificent; you would like to say what it is, but everything previously said of Aglaura imprisons your words and obliges you to repeat rather than say.

drawing by Nigel PeakeNigel Peake

It also happens that, if you move along Marozia’s compact walls, when you least expect it, you see a crack open and a different city appear. Then, an instant later, it has already vanished. Perhaps everything lies in knowing what words to speak, what actions to perform, and in what order and rhythm; or else someone’s gaze, answer, gesture is enough; it is enough for someone to do something for the sheer pleasure of doing it, and for his pleasure to become the pleasure of others: at that moment, all spaces change, all heights, distances; the city is transfigured, becomes crystalline, transparent as a dragonfly.

Time is the Enemy (Revisited) by DzineDzine

This is the foundation of the city: a net which serves as passage and as support. All the rest, instead of rising up, is hung below: rope ladders, hammocks, houses made like sacks, clothes hangers, terraces like gondolas, skins, of water, gas jets, spits, baskets on string, dumb-waiters, showers trapezes and rings for children’s games, cable cars, chandeliers, pots with trailing plants.

Suspended over the abyss, the life of Octavia’s inhabitants is less certain than in other cities. They know the net will last only so long.

Interdependence by Amy CaseyAmy Casey


Published in: on September 20, 2010 at 8:30 am  Comments (3)  

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3 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. […] morning, dear readers! Please head on over to Stacked, to check out my guest post. Stacked is the blog of the Mercantile Library, a membership library located in downtown […]

  2. Nice post Maya, I enjoyed it.
    What a terrific idea Chris, we get to see our favorite bloggers in a new light.

  3. This was fun! You’re right, Schwartz — now we know that you don’t just go out; you read books, too. ;)

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