Sunday, November 4, 2012
Invisible Cities - book review
Kublai Khan, having ravished lands and treasures in an immense empire, having submitted men and cities over incommensurable distances, sometimes gets a little sad in the evenings when he's not exactly sure what he's acquired, not totally convinced all the bloodshed was worth it, not persuaded he can keep the empire, and mostly confused about what his empire really holds.
What is the purest value of what his empire has to offer?
Marco Polo knows! A spice merchant by trade, dreamer by nature, he's been everywhere and has had a lot of time to reflect on such matters. Polo sits in the evenings with our melancholy emperor and shows him the fine structure of those most wondrous cities that populate the empire.
Excepting a few passages where the Khan and Polo dialog back and forth, and Polo acting so smart one is sure the Khan will strangle him eventually, most of the chapters are descriptions of cities.
But what cities are these? Roaming through those chapters are like roaming through a dream, where one suspects that on some level all of this makes sense, only not in any way about a city. Describing a city, its inhabitants, its past and destiny, its fears and hopes, Polo is describing something else, that sometimes resembles the paradoxes and contradictions of the human psyche, sometimes the barriers and tunnels of language itself, sometimes the poetry of cohabitation, sometimes the dualities and ambivalence of ambition.
The cities are sometimes blueprints, sometimes metaphors, sometimes memories.
Having read Invisible Cities, one is unsure of what one has read, uncertain what one will remember of it, wondering how to describe it.