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Book: Invisible Cities

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More quotes in the extended entry. Some favorites:

"Futures not achieved are only branches of the past: dead branches."

"Elsewhere is a negative mirror. The traveler recognizes the little that is his, discovering the much he has not had and will never have."

"Also in Raissa, city of sadness, there runs an invisible thread that binds one living being to another for a moment, then unravels, then is stretched again between moving points as it draws new and rapid patterns so that at every second the unhappy city contains a happy city unaware of its own existence."

This quote I like because it is actually fairly close to modern understanding of the biology of memory: "Memory's images, once they are fixed in words, are erased," Polo said. "Perhaps I am afraid of losing Venice all at once, if I speak of it. Or perhaps, speaking of other cities, I have already lost it, little by little."

To quote from Steven Johnson:

For a long time, memory researchers assumed that memories were like volumes stored in a library. When your brain remembered something, it was simply searching through the stacks and then reading aloud from whatever passage it discovered. But some scientists now believe that memories effectively get rewritten every time they're activated, thanks to a process called reconsolidation. To create a synaptic connection between two neurons the associative link that is at the heart of all neuronal learning you need protein synthesis. Studies on rats suggest that if you block protein synthesis during the execution of learned behavior pushing a lever to get food, for instance the learned behavior disappears. It appears that instead of simply recalling a memory that had been forged days or months ago, the brain is forging it all over again, in a new associative context. In a sense, when we remember something, we create a new memory, one that is shaped by the changes that have happened to our brain since the memory last occurred to us.

Update: for actual analysis, go see meta's notes

Selected quotes

p. 28

All this so that Marco Polo could explain or imagine explaining or be imagined explaining or succeed finally in explaining to himself that what he sought was always something lying ahead, and even if it was a matter of the past it was a past that changed gradually as he advanced on his journey, because the traveler's past changes according to the route he has followed: not the immediate past, that is, to which each day that goes by adds a day, but the more remote past. Arriving at each new city the traveler finds again a past of his that he did not know he had: the foreignness of what you no longer are or no longer possess lies in wait for you in foreign, unpossessed places.

p.28

"Futures not achieved are only branches of the past: dead branches."

"Journeys to relive your past" = "Journeys to recover your future"

"Elsewhere is a negative mirror. The traveler recognizes the little that is his, discovering the much he has not had and will never have."

p. 34

"This -- some say -- confirms the hypothesis that each man bears in is mind a city made only of differences, a city without figures and without form, and the individual cities fill it up."

p. 60

And Marco answered: "While, at a sign from you, sire, the unique and final city raises its stainless walls I am collecting the ashes of the other possible cities that vanish to make room for it, cities that can never be rebuilt or remembered. When you know at last the residue of unhappiness for which no precious stone can compensate, you will be able to calculate te exact number of carats toward which that final diamond must strive. Otherwise, your calculations will be mistaken from the very start."

p. 87 (Calvino is remarkably close to modern theories on memory storage/retrieval)

"Memory's images, once they are fixed in words, are erased," Polo said. "Perhaps I am afraid of losing Venice all at once, if I speak of it. Or perhaps, speaking of other cities, I have already lost it, little by little."

p. 95

I thought: "You reach a moment in life when, among the people you have known, the dead outnumber the living. And the mind refuses to accept more faces, more expressions: on every new face you encounter, it print the old forms, for each one it finds the most suitable mask."

p. 112

Intent on piling up its carats of perfection, Beersheba takes for virtue what is now a grim mania to fill the empty vessel of itself; the city does not know that its only moments of generous abandon are those when it becomes detached from itself, when it lets go, expands. Still, at the zenith of Beersheba there gravitates a celestial body that sines with all the city's riches, enclosed in the treasury of cast-off things: a planet a-flutter with potato peels, broken umbrellas, old socks, candy wrappings, paved with tram tickets, fingernail-cuttings and pared calluses, eggshells. This is the celestial city, and in its heaves long-tailed comets fly past, released to rotate in space from the only free and happy action of the citizens of Bersheba, a city which, only when it shits, is not miserly, calculating, greedy.

p. 132

The quantity of things that could be read in a little piece of smooth and empty wood overwhelmed Kublai; Polo was already talking about ebony forests, about rafts laden with logs that come down the rivers, of docks, of women at the windows..."

p. 135 "It is not the voice that commands the story: it is the ear."

p. 135

"At times I feel your voice is reaching me from far away, while I am prisoner of a gaudy and unlivable present, where all forms of human society have reached an extreme of their cycle and there is no imagining what new forms they may assume. And I hear, from your voice, the invisible reasons which make cities live, through which perhaps, once dead, they will come to life again."

p. 137

"Traveling, you realize that differences are lost: each city takes to resembling all cities, places exchange their form, order, distances, a shapeless dust cloud invades the continents. Your atlas preserves the differences intact: that assortment of qualities which are like the letter in a name."

p. 142

[...] Then the Laudomia of the dead and that of the unborn are like the two bulbs of an hourglass which is not turned over; each passage between birth and death is a grain of sand that passes the neck, and there will be a last inhabitant of Laudomia born, a last grain to fall, which is now at the top of the pile, waiting.

p. 149

"Also in Raissa, city of sadness, there runs an invisible thread that binds one living being to another for a moment, then unravels, then is stretched again between moving points as it draws new and rapid patterns so that at every second the unhappy city contains a happy city unaware of its own existence."

Dictionary

incunabula: 1. A book printed before 1501; an incunable. 2. An artifact of an early period.

demijohns: A large, narrow-necked bottle made of glass or earthenware, usually encased in wickerwork

stevedores: One who is employed in the loading or unloading of ships.

raffia: An African palm tree (Raphia ruffia) having large leaves that yield a useful fiber.

ephebe: A youth between 18 and 20 years of age in ancient Greece.

sirocco: A hot humid south or southeast wind of southern Italy, Sicily, and the Mediterranean islands, originating in the Sahara Desert as a dry dusty wind but becoming moist as it passes over the Mediterranean.

belvedere: A roofed structure, especially a small pavilion or tower on top of a building, situated so as to command a wide view.

odalisque: A concubine or woman slave in a harem

damascened: To decorate (metal) with wavy patterns of inlay or etching

marten: Any of several principally arboreal carnivorous mammals of the genus Martes, related to the weasel, mainly inhabiting northern forests, and having a slender body, bushy tail, and soft fur.

Levantine: The countries bordering on the eastern Mediterranean Sea from Turkey to Egypt.

noria: A water wheel with buckets attached to its rim, used to raise water from a stream, especially for transfer to an irrigation channel.

calcareous: Composed of, containing, or characteristic of calcium carbonate, calcium, or limestone; chalky.

logogriph: A word puzzle, such as an anagram or one in which clues are given in a set of verses.

Comments (1)

Ling:

Very interesting. I enjoyed reading this entry and am about to start on the book. Thank you.

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This page contains a single entry from kwc blog posted on January 1, 2005 10:53 PM.

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