Monday, April 23, 2012

Readings: A Route on the Map: Italo Calvino and Double Edge Theatre

Photographs of The Grand Parade; Maria Baranova

In our Readings series, we offer selections from visual and printed texts that offer perspectives, expand dialogues, and challenge assumptions. Today we feature the photography of Maria Baranova,  from Double Edge Theatre's rehearsals for The Grand Parade (of the Twentieth Century): "an original, multi-disciplinary piece of theatre" that imagines the life and art of Marc Chagall alongside the shifting cultural tides of the last century. The piece is directed by Stacy Klein, with music composed by Alexander Bakshi.
Alongside this work, we offer the closing paragraphs of Invisible Cities, the seminal story cycle by Italo Calvino consisting of a series of conversations between Marco Polo and Kublai Khan. Polo's ever-expanding descriptions of magical and diverse cities is revealed, by the close of the book, to be facets of a single place.


The Great Khan's atlas contains also the maps of the promised lands visited in thought but not yet discovered or founded: New Atlantis, Utopia, the City of the Sun, Oceana, TamoƩ, New Harmony, New Lanarck, Icaria.

Kublai asked Marco: "You, who go about exploring and who see signs, can tell me towards which of these futures the favouring winds are driving us." 

"For these ports I could not draw a route on the map or set a date for the landing. At times all I need is a brief glimpse, an opening in the midst of an incongruous landscape, a glint of lights in the fog, the dialogue of two passersby meeting in the crowd, and I think that, setting out from there, I will put together, piece by piece, the perfect city, made of fragments mixed with the rest, of instants separated by intervals, of signals one sends out, not knowing who receives them. If I tell you that the city towards which my journey tends is discontinuous in space and time, now scattered, now more condensed, you must not believe the search for it can stop. Perhaps while we speak, it is rising, scattered, within the confines of your empire; you can search for it, but only in the way I have said."

Already the Great Khan was leafing through his atlas, over the maps of the cities that menace in nightmares and maledictions: Enoch, Babylon, Yahooland, Butua, Brave New World. 

He said: "It is all useless, if the last landing-place can only be the infernal city, and it is there that, in ever-narrowing circles, the current is drawing us."

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 recognise who and what, in the midst of the inferno, are not inferno, then make them endure, give them space."

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