Keynote Lecture 6

Invisible Cities

Invisible Cities is a novel or rather series of descriptions by Italian journalist Italo Calvino. I had never heard of this book before but this lecture was certainly enough to sell it to me. It sounds very intriguing.

The idea is that the book takes you through these 55 cities that have incredible variety. It is a novel that doesn’t seem to have any kind a storyline but this does not mean it is without narrative. It’s just trying to figure out this difference between a narrative and a storyline if there even is one. To me a narrative is just a connection of things, an account of sorts that is told in some way but does not necessarily have to go anywhere. There could, for example be a narrative about how I was writing something but since it’s a narrative and not a storyline, it doesn’t really need to conclude, it’s just about me writing something. However I think a storyline is more concerned with flow and movement and getting from the beginning to the middle to the end. And that’s why without having read it, I would assume from the information given to me about the book in the lecture, that this novel is a narrative but has no particular story.

Enough about that though, I think the exciting part lies within the cities that are described. It’s an enticing labour of the imagination because there’s something about it that’s really ambitious and I like it when people are ambitious with words and this book is ambitious and it’s important and exciting because it’s an enquiry into the way we should live and it seeks both the questions and answers needed to figure it out.

I realise that I still haven’t mentioned any of the cities but I do want to mention the city that gave me the most immediate and in some ways intense reaction. Argia, a city with earth instead of air, a city of pure sensation and a feeling of intense suffocation. This concept for a city struck me the most because it had a physical impact on me. It made need to take a deep breath, I felt a strong urge to focus on breathing and even when thinking about it in order to write this blog post i’m finding myself a little shorter of breath than I was. I also interesting in the name of the city. Argia. It’s sound, when you say it out loud, is reminiscent of arduous, which breathing certainly becomes when I think about it for too long. It reminds me of argentum, which is where our modern day word for sliver comes from and is why silver is Ag on the periodic table. Argia is also a figure in Greek mythology, she married Polynices, the son of Oedipus and was the daughter of King Andrastus. But this is not the only Argia in Greek mythology because there are actually four characters that go by this name in the myths but they’re only very minor characters and appear only to serve as wives. There is also a water nymph in the River Tiber who also goes by the name Argia in Roman mythology.

Like I said earlier on, the book is asking questions about how we should live our lives and so these cities that one might initially assume to be purely of fiction actually transcend these boundaries of the page and become things and ideas of reality. It raises a separate issue of the world that we live in.

‘Is the blurring of fiction and reality representative of the world we live in?’ which in this instance I took to mean ‘what is real and what is not?’ Although there are a few ways this question could be discussed. I watched a documentary on BBC iPlayer called Hypernormalisation by a man named Adam Curtis. I didn’t agree with everything in the documentary although I wasn’t sure if the views I disagreed with were being pushed or not because of the nature of the program but it looks at the last 40 years and how we got to this point of not knowing what’s real anymore. I also can’t make this point without mentioning all the fake, misleading and clickbait journalism that plagues the internet especially and the print press as well, Facebook being a perfect breeding ground for these sorts of things.

I would really like to read Invisible Cities so that I can comment further on it, perhaps when I do I could make a new post on it but for now this is what I learned in the lecture and some of what I thought of it.

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