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“The quantity of things that could be read in a little piece of smooth and empty wood overwhelmed Kublai; Polo was already talkinig about ebony forests, about rafts laden with logs…of women at the windows…”

Calvino’s novel, Invisible Cities seems a literary manifestation of this little piece of wood—it seems, in other words, to contain multitudes of vastly different potential meanings and interpretations. Multitudes which, are there in one minute and the next gone, swallowed by the wood’s seemingly empty surface. (But that hardly means they can’t appear again). The work functions as a kind of blueprint, the physical structure of which is provided by each particular reader’s particular imagination. It is a novel of contradictions, dichotomies, parallelism and paradox. Though each vignette focuses on the unique structure and infrastructure of each city, Calvino also implies that the varieties of form do not matter, implying that all the cities are actually one city, and that they are no city, that they do not exist unless they are inhabited, by thoughts or otherwise. In fact there is no variety, no uniqueness: each city is simply a string in a net, a piece in a chessboard that draws its form from its relation to the other such strings and pieces. Each piece acquires meaning via relation to another. Rather than building meaning along a traditional linear trajectory his work instead mimics the chaotic, jumbled process of everyday thought to inform us, that, in fact, our lives, like these fragments, do not have a plot, or a history. According to Calvino, history is impossible or at least unknowable due to the unreliability of memory. Plot is a mechanism we’ve invented to console ourselves of our specific place in the universe. The truth of our experience, rather, arises from the interaction of disparate elements (memory, language, space, speech, etc) that come together to form a picture. A picture, of course, that arises in one moment, only to be gone the next, and reappear many moments later.

– Zoe Goldstein