A Great Book_Invisible Cities
by Yousef Khatib
“In Invisible Cities Marco Polo conjures up cities of magical times for his host, the Chinese ruler Kublai Khan, but gradually it becomes clear that he is actually describing one city: Venice. As Gore Vidal wrote ‘Of all tasks, describing the contents of a book is the most difficult and in the case of a marvellous invention like Invisible Cities, perfectly irrelevant.” (Unknown) “The book I would choose as pillow and plate, alone on a desert island” (J Winterson) “A subtle and beautiful meditation” (Sunday Times)- Although classified as fiction, this book has been taught in the Department of Architecture at Birzeit University in Palestine, as well as in most architecture schools around the globe.
When Mark Dorrian; the Forbes Chair of Architecture at Edinburgh University and my thesis supervisor gave me that book on 11/20/12 as a belated-birthday gift, I thought: “Damn it Mark! Why are you so cool?” Basically the book illustrates by words invisibles and imaginary landscapes that are all -actually- one city: Venice. “All cities and people are the same. Chicago, Ramallah, Marseilles, Amsterdam, Athens, London, Toulouse, Edinburgh, Bethlehem, Newcastle, Paris, LA, NYC, Jericho, Exarchia, Armilia, Eutropia, Laputa, Procopia…etc”
“The book explores imagination and the imaginable through the descriptions of cities by an explorer, Marco Polo. The book is framed as a conversation between the aging and busy emperor Kublai Khan, who constantly has merchants coming to describe the state of his expanding and vast empire, and Polo. The majority of the book consists of brief prose poems describing 55 cities, apparently narrated by Polo. Short dialogues between the two characters are interspersed every five to ten cities and are used to discuss various ideas presented by the cities on a wide range of topics including linguistics and human nature. The book is structured around an interlocking pattern of numbered sections, while the length of each section’s title graphically outlines a continuously oscillating sine wave, or perhaps a city skyline. The interludes between Khan and Polo are no less poetically constructed than the cities, and form a framing device that plays with the natural complexity of language and stories…Marco Polo and Kublai Khan do not speak the same language. When Polo is explaining the various cities, he uses objects from the city to tell the story. The implication is that each character understands the other through their own interpretation of what they are saying. They literally are not speaking the same language, which leaves many decisions for the individual reader.” (wikipedia.com)
Read it! To buy the book: http://www.amazon.co.uk/Invisible-Cities-Vintage-Classics-Calvino/dp/0099429837
Check Mark Dorrian’ s latest works at: http://www.metis-architecture.com
Yousef Khatib is an architect, photographer and graphic-designer, author and former faculty-member at the Department of Architecture at Birzeit University.
He can be reached at yalkhatib@Birzeit.edu
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