Italo Calvino

Invisible Cities

Not the labile mists of memory nor the dark transparence, but the charring of burned lives that forms a scab on the city, the sponge swollen with vital matter that no longer flows, the jam of past, present, future that blocks existences calcified in the illusion of movement: this is what you would find at the end of your journey. p.99

And Polo said: The inferno of the living is not something that will be; if there is one, it is what is already here, the inferno where we live every day, that we form by being together. There are two ways to escape suffering it. The first is easy for many: accept the inferno and become such a part of it that you can no longer see it. The second is risky and demands constant vigilance and apprehension: seek and learn to recognize who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space. p.165

If on a Winter's Night a Traveler

Long novels written today are perhaps a contradiction: the dimension of time has been shattered, we cannot love or think except in fragments of time each of which goes off along its own trajectory and immediately disappears. We can rediscover the continuity of time only in the novels of that period when time no longer seemed stopped and did not yet seem to have exploded, a period that lasted no more than a hundred years. 8

Getting rid of the suitcase was to be the first condition for re-establishing the previous situation: previous to everything that happened afterward. This is what I mean when I say that I would like to swim against the stream of time: I would like to erase the consequences of certain events and restore an additional condition. But every moment of my life brings with it an accumulation of new facts, and each of these facts brings with it new consequences; so the more I seek to return to the zero moment from which I set out, the further I move away from it: though all my actions are bent on erasing the consequences of previous actions and though I manage to achieve appreciable results in this erasure enough to open my heart to hopes of immediate relief, I must, however, bear in mind that my every move to erase previous events, which complicate the situation worse than before and which I will then, in their turn try to erase. Therefore I must calculate carefully every move so as to achieve the maximum of erasure with the minimum of recomplication. 16

It's all very well for me to tell myself there are no provincial cities any more and perhaps there never were any: all places communicate instantly with all other places, a sense of isolation is felt only during the trip between one place and the other, that is, when you are in no place. I, in fact, find myself without a here or an elsewhere, recognized as an outsider by the nonoutsiders at least as clearly as I recognize the nonoutsiders and envy them. Yes, envy. I am looking from the outside at the life of an ordinary evening in an ordinary little city, and I realize I am cut off from ordinary evenings for God knows how long, and I think of thousands of cities like these, of hundreds of thousands of lighted places where at this hour people allow the evenings darkness to descend and have none of the thoughts in their head that I have in mind; maybe they have other thoughts that aren't at all enviable, but at this moment I would be willing to trade with any one of them. 17

There were many that day seeking refuge in the city: those who feared the spreading of riots and looting and those instead who had their own good reasons for not being found in the path of reactionary armies; those who sought protection under the fragile legality of the Provisional council and those who wanted only to hid in the confusion in order to act undisturbed against the law, whether new or old. Each felt his personal survival was at stake, and precisely where any talk of solidarity would have seemed out of place, because what counted was clawing and biting to clear a path for yourself, there was nevertheless a kind of common ground and understanding established, so that in the face of obstacles, efforts were united and all understand one another without too many words. 81

Perhaps it is this story that is a bridge over the voice, and as it advances it flings forward news and sensations and emotions to create a ground of upsets both collective and individual in the midst of which a path can be opened while we remain in the dark about many circumstances both historical and geographical. 82

In the midst of the revolutions which that windy winter swept the streets of one capital like gusts of the north wind, a secret revolution was being born, which would transform the powers of bodies and sexes: this Irina believed, and she had succeeded in imposing this belief not only on Valerian, who, a district judge's son with a degree in political economy, follower of Indian sages and Swiss theosophists, was the preordained adept of every doctrine within the confines of the conceivable, but also on me, who came from such a harder school, on me, who knew that in a short time the future was going to be decided between the Revolutionary Tribunal and the Whites' Court martial, and that two firing squads, one on one side and one on the other were waiting with their weapons at order arms. 88