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Old 03-31-2021, 08:42 AM   #21 (permalink)
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Bummer, your questions sparked some pretty interesting conversation. Catch you on the next one.
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Old 03-31-2021, 09:36 AM   #22 (permalink)
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Yeah I agree it's pointless to finish a book you don't like, but I think it's a pity, you were a valuable discussion partner. The strange thing is that I really feel like it's also enjoyable on an intuitive or emotional level. That's actually part of what I like so much about it, I have thoughts about that which I'll share later. Of course you can still discuss the general vibe of the book and the bits you've read if you want!
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Old 03-31-2021, 01:36 PM   #23 (permalink)
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This is for people who like to spend time pondering what the meaning of particular sentences is.
my favorite type of prose! I went looking for an intelligent (spoiler free) take on it and found one.



I'm doing a chapter (or so) a day.
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Old 03-31-2021, 02:03 PM   #24 (permalink)
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here are some general thoughts, I'll keep up the spoilering for now

Spoiler for blah:

I went into the book expecting something very dense, a lot of food for thought in few words, which I got. But at the same time I didn't expect how evocative it is. What I mean is how deeply these cities imprint themselves in your head, how vivid an impression they leave even with such short chapters: each city description is like a tiny fairy tale which completely sucked me in. So I feel like there are two levels: you can stop and ponder over every sentence, but as an enchanting dreamscape of places and moods it works too (and you can catch the mood of a city without deeply analysing its detailed implications). I was really impressed and pleased with that, that kind of multilevel enjoyment is how I like any kind of art best, and I think it's done very gracefully. It's all thanks to Calvino's gorgeous writing style of course. The fun thing is that his city descriptions, in their evocativeness, work like the emblems of Marco Polo.

I'm also delighted with the mathematical structure of the book, and even on a smaller scale many of the descriptions of cities are patterned and surreal in a way which reminded me very strongly of Escher's drawings. I think that's another reason I felt so receptive to the book's enchantment; as a kid I used to look at those drawings and daydream about them for hours on end. Calvino's reasoning and insights are also combine the analytical and creative in a mathematical way. Sometimes that typical pattern of insights according to analogies and juxtapositions becomes predictable, but in a way similar to the luminous moment of seeing where a mathematical argument is going before the conclusion is reached, which is satisfying.

ps. the structure reminds me of electron shells in an atom, which is funny considering the comment about crystal structures and molecules in the conversation starting chapter 4. I don't think it's intentional (it's a stretch without particular meaning on my part anyway) but it's fun. Compare these:



pps: my favourite city is Chloe
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Old 04-03-2021, 07:03 AM   #25 (permalink)
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Minor quibble: Despite the valiant effort I think we're missing something in the translation. MM, you say (in your spoiler), quite rightly, that the novel is evocative and I agree but English tends to flatten the ornamental nature of Italian. I wish I had a dual language edition of Cities. Sometimes I feel the Weaver translation drops the ball in situations where I just know Calvino means to make a graceful play.
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Old 04-03-2021, 07:53 AM   #26 (permalink)
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That's actually a really good point. I don't know any Italian, but this is one of those books where you wish you could read the original.

Actually I thought about recommending my favourite Dutch book for this but I refrained from it because I think it wouldn't work in English
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Old 04-03-2021, 09:12 AM   #27 (permalink)
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Minor quibble: Despite the valiant effort I think we're missing something in the translation. MM, you say (in your spoiler), quite rightly, that the novel is evocative and I agree but English tends to flatten the ornamental nature of Italian. I wish I had a dual language edition of Cities. Sometimes I feel the Weaver translation drops the ball in situations where I just know Calvino means to make a graceful play.
I found an Italian text online so you can do a comparison. I think it's virtually impossible to make a 100% correct translation but from what I gathered from my copy, the translation is quite good. The serbo-croatian one took some liberties that maybe captured the meaning better but who knows what the meaning is! I certainly didn't.
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Old 04-03-2021, 09:14 AM   #28 (permalink)
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I'd love to read it in Italian too but that'd be a ways off for me. I've been more focused on reading Spanish due to my obsession with magical realism as of late.

Any passages or chapters in particular that you feel dropped the ball, ando?

Note: not much to spoil really but I'm dropping the spoiler tags moving forward.

This is a reread for me so I'm taking copious notes this time around after just drinking it in the first time and adi was right about the dissertation level aspect of "fully" understanding the novel. Because of that it's been slower going for me than expected. Though certain themes begin to settle into the narrative over time (namely condemning the inherently restrictive nature of urban sprawl/metropolises, memories/desires conflicting with and overriding reality, and the risk of increasingly bellicose undertones required to maintain these), it's so multi-faceted and each thread gives you tonnes to pull on.

One thing I picked up on that I didn't quite notice before—and an interpretation that's been inconsistent so I'm not too sure of its veracity—is that many of the cities are described similarly to physical body parts and structures. When describing the physical features of Zora (Cities and Memories 4) for example, it seems like the city is divided into similar regions as our brain lobes. I̶s̶i̶d̶o̶r̶a̶ ̶(̶C̶i̶t̶i̶e̶s̶ ̶a̶n̶d̶ ̶M̶e̶m̶o̶r̶i̶e̶s̶ ̶2̶)̶ Anastasia (Cities and Desires 2): has concentric canals that are reminiscent of the relationship between the pupil, the iris, and the whites of the eyes, irrigated by tearducts. The toy globes of alternate realities in Fedora recall synapses. Dorothea's canals that subdivide and nourish the whole city is similar to the heart and circulatory system. Some of the Thin Cities (the most perplexing passages in the book imo) are reminiscent of circulatory and nervous systems. Would love to see if anyone else noticed similar trends (or thinks my thoughts are dumb af; Dorothea and the Thin Cities felt like a bit of a stretch).

I'll pop back in with some more macro interpretations once I finish it. I have thoughts on the mathematical structure that I want to verify before I blurt.

Btw, here is Calvino talking about his writing process for Invisible Cities in a way that's both enlightening and unnecessarily cryptic lol: https://thisiscitycentric.files.word...cture-1983.pdf
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Old 04-03-2021, 11:41 AM   #29 (permalink)
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Any passages or chapters in particular that you feel dropped the ball, ando?
Yes, and there are general piccadillos that I won't elaborate on since I haven't finished the book. But MM's admiration for the city of Chloe made me jump to that particular chapter (yes, I cheated, though despite her marvelous illustration of the novel's momemtum/mathematical build, I don't really think order is vitally important). In one passage of that chatper all about a city of utter appearances and little or no human connection Marco spots a woman "showing her full age". Now, what? It can't have that literal meaning in Italian. Only a man could write that! It seems awkward and ill timed given the varied, splendid but entirely superficial descriptions of people, entirely apropos given the city, surrounding the woman and the description on the page. But that blip has to have been made in the translation. Just feels wrong. And a bit stupid. A tree can show its full age. But a woman? In a glance?

I downloaded a digital copy of the original Italian version (Mondadori Books). Should be interesting.

Thanks for the Calvino article on the book. I'll read it once I'm finished. Don't want him messing with my initial encounter with it!
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Old 04-03-2021, 12:49 PM   #30 (permalink)
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on Frown's post: I think the body interpretation is cool, I hadn't noticed that. I agree Dorothea seems a stretch but with this book and the symbolism of cities as states of mind I wouldn't be surprised if some of them are meant that way. Do you have any specific ideas about the meaning these metaphors would have? The concentric canal city isn't Isidora, but that city does contain interesting shapes that I was wondering about: spirals and curves (the violins). I think the theme here is escalation and amplification (also curves and phallic telescopes -> desire?) possibly relating to how things are inflated in our memories and legends of the past?

on ando's post: I agree that that's peculiar, I hadn't paid attention to that. I definitely think the order in which to read the chapters isn't important, but maybe I'm missing something there.
I see Chloe in a different way though: I associate it with shyness and social inhibitions and how our fantasies and tension between people can build up because of that. Even without daring to approach people, there is always the nonverbal, almost electric interaction of things like exchanged glances or even sensing someone's presence. And even apart from the social aspect it holds up as a general contemplation on dreamworlds. Of course that interpretation is heavily influenced by my own personality and experience (I think your focus is also valid and interesting because it shows how strongly I'm tied to my perspective, and actually I think escaping our own view and seeing things in different ways is what many of these cities are partly about). But it's also my favourite city for that reason; I relate to it the most.
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