Jeanette Winterson describes Calvino’s book Invisible Cities as the book she would choose “as pillow and plate, alone on a desert island.” This semester the students of the First Year Studies look at a close reading of Invisible Cities, in a way to encounter a visual language, its play of memory, its ability to transcend the written word and its ability to make prose into poetry.
We began the class by reflecting on Integrative Seminar I, the areas of study we explored, our relationship with the material and our renewed relationship with our cityscape. Through this we were able to begin thinking about the elements that allow for ‘ownership’ of a city – how do we own our city? how do we encounter it? does it share its secrets with us? These questions helped us lead the discussion to the idea of memory, impressions, imprinting and the emotions of the city that emerge out of our interactions with it. The students and I talked about the different ways in which the city comes to be through poetry and prose, and we read passages from The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock by T S Eliot, and the ways in which the protagonist reflects on the nature of the self through his encounters with the city. We began by reading a few passages from Invisible Cities, laying out our first impressions of the language, questioned its use of imagery and metaphor and discussed the importance of the voice…who was speaking? Were these impressions seen from far away or from the by lanes of the spaces. Did the voice matter? I spoke with the students about a passage from the Ramayana of Valmiki, where Hanuman, who flies across the oceans first sees the mighty city of Lanka with its staircases of crystal, its floors of precious stones and its latticed windows that let the moonlight filter through.
Using these as milestones the students began to lay out the language of description and the ways in which it spoke to the reader. The students reinterpreted the story by standing inside the city space.
Assignment: Choose a story and write a minimum of 500 words to retell the story as a voice of an inhabitant.