Tier 3 Content
Typography: Advancing Ideas through Content, Sources, and Systems Mediation
with guest artists: Ben Day – Thomas Detrie – Kenneth Hiebert
| Arnold Holland | Course Coordinator | aholland@fullerton.edu |

From Invisible Cities. Italo Calvino. Harcourt. NYC NY. 1974.

[In a garden sit the aged Kublai Khan and the young Marco Polo. Kublai Khan has sensed the end of his empire coming soon. Marco Polo diverts the emperor with tales of the cities he has seen in his travels around the empire.]

Kublai Khan had noticed that Marco Polo's cities resembled one another, as if the passage from one to another involved not a journey but a change of elements. Now, from each city Marco described to him the Great Khan's mind set out on its own, and after dismantling the city piece by piece, he reconstructed it in other ways, substituting components, shifting them, inverting them.

Marco, meanwhile, continued reporting his journey, but the emperor was no longer listening.

Kublai interrupted him: 'From now on I shall describe the cities and you will tell me if they exist and are as I have conceived them. I shall begin by asking you about a city of stairs, exposed to the sirocco, on a half-moon bay. Now I shall list some of the wonders it contains: a glass tank high as a cathedral so people can follow the swimming and flying of the swallow fish and draw auguries from them; a palm tree which lays the harp with its fronds in the wind; a square with a horseshoe marble table around it, a marble tablecloth, set with foods and beverages also of marble.'

'Sire, your mind has been wandering. This is precisely the city I was telling you about when you interrupted me.'

'You know it? Where is it? What is its Name?'

'It has neither name nor place. I shall repeat the reason why I was describing it to you: from the number of imaginable cities we must exclude those whose elements are assembled without a connecting thread, an inner rule, a perspective, a discourse, With cities, it is as with dreams: everything imaginable can be dreamed, but even the most unexpected dream is a rebus that conceals a desire or, its reverse, a fear. Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.'

'I have neither desires nor fears,' the Khan declared, 'and my dreams are composed either by my mind or by chance.'

'Cities also believe they are the work of the mind or of chance, but neither the one nor the other suffices to hold up their walls. You take delight not in a city's seven of seventy wonders, but in the answer it gives to a question of yours.'

'Or the question it asks you, forcing you to answer, like Thebes through the mouth of the Sphinx.'

POLO: ...Perhaps the terraces of this garden overlook only the lake of our mind.

KUBLAI: ...and however far our troubled enterprises as warriors and merchants may take us, we both harbor within ourselves this silent shade, this conversation of pauses, this evening that is always the same.

POLO: Unless the opposite hypothesis is correct: that those who strive in camps and ports exist only because we two think of them, here, enclosed among these bamboo hedges, motionless since time began.

KUBLAI: Unless toil, shouts, sores, stink do not exist; and only this azalea bush.

POLO: Unless porters, stonecutters, rubbish collectors, cooks cleaning the lights of chickens, washerwomen bent over stones, mothers stirring rice as they nurse their infants, exist only because we think them.

KUBLAI: To tell the truth, I never think them.

POLO: Then they do not exist.

KUBLAI: To me this conjecture does not seem to suit our purposes. Without them we could never remain here swaying, cocooned in our hammocks.

POLO: Then the hypothesis must be rejected. So the other hypothesis is true: they exist and we do not.

KUBLAI: We have proved that if we were here, we would not be.

POLO: And here, in fact, we are.

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| Thomas Detrie | detrie@asu.edu | http://www.public.asu.edu/~detrie/ | Rev 01 Jun 2003 ThD |