Invisible Cities

Decay in Invisible Cities

Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities seems simple in its narrative construction, built on the use of short sections comprised of concise chapters that may better be understood as the tales the explorer Marco Polo tells the emperor Kublai Khan. However, an incisive textual analysis confronts the reader with interpretive challenges, given that Invisible Cities is characterized by its "multi-layered sedimentation of meaning" (Leach 3). The multiple meanings ultimately all relate to a single, overarching theme: the decay caused by colonialism. The author skillfully convinces the reader of the various forms that decay can take and the range of consequences it can have on society, not just the city itself.

The first half of Invisible Cities reads as a sort of riddle, and it is only on page 86 that Marco Polo reveals the riddle. In response to Khan's request for him to speak of Venice, Polo replies "What else do you believe I have been talking to you about?.... Every time I describe a city I am saying something about Venice" (86). Polo, in fact, describes a laundry list of cities, each more unbelievable and fantastic than the last and each, in its own curious way, impossible to inhabit fully. Although Khan is...

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