Invisible Cities Illustrated: Artist Illustrates Each and Every City in Italo Calvino’s Classic Novel

If you want to read a book about cities, you still can't do much better than a slim, plotless work of fiction by Italo Calvino wherein the explorer Marco Polo tells the emperor Kublai Khan of what he's seen in his travels across the world. Originally published in Italian in 1972, Invisible Cities has inspired generations of readers, hailing from all across the world themselves, to think in entirely new ways not just about cities but about travel, place, perception, reality, myth, and literature itself. Though very much a work concerned with what's seen only in the imagination, the book has also inspired artists to try their hand at rendering the 55 fictitious cities Polo describes within.

A few years ago we featured "Seeing Calvino," a joint effort by artists Matt Kish, Leighton Connor, Joe Kuth to illustrate, among other elements of the Calvino canon, each and every one of Invisible Cities' fantastical, often impossible collections of structures, lives, and, ideas. More recently, the Peru-based architect and artist Karina Puente has, with her Invisible Cities Project, put herself to work on a similar endeavor. Each of Puente's intricate renderings takes about a week to produce, and as she tells Archdaily, "they are not only drawn – I use different types of paper and draw on each one before cutting them out with exacto knives. All the drawings are composed of layers of paper which are cut out and glued."




At the top we have Puente's city of Dorotea where, bearing in mind the rules of its infrastructural division by gates, drawbridges, and canals and those of the marriages between the trading families that reside there, "you can then work from these facts until you learn everything you wish about the city in the past, present, and future." In the middle is Isaura, a city built on a deep subterranean lake whose gods, "according to some people, live in the depths," and to others live in the associated buckets, pump handles, windmill blades, pipes, and every other built element of this "city that moves entirely upward."

Just above you can see Zobeide, laid out according to a series of dreams of "a woman running at night through an unknown city," pursued but never found, altered to conform to each dream until new arrivals "could not understand what drew these people to Zobeide, this ugly city, this trap." While at first Polo's descriptions of the cities all across Khan's empire may strike readers as completely fantastical, they'll soon hear echoes of the places they live in in these metaphorical metropolises. And if they take a look at Puente's illustrations as they read, they'll see them as well.

Visit Puente's Invisible Cities Project here.

via Archdaily

Related Content:

Invisible Cities Illustrated: Three Artists Paint Every City in Italo Calvino’s Classic Novel

Hear Italo Calvino Read Selections From Invisible Cities, Mr. Palomar & Other Enchanting Fictions

Experience Invisible Cities, an Innovative, Italo Calvino-Inspired Opera Staged in LA’s Union Station

Watch Animations of Two Italo Calvino Stories: “The False Grandmother” and “The Distance from the Moon”

Italo Calvino Offers 14 Reasons We Should Read the Classics

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The American Revolution: A Free Course from Yale University

When you have a little time, you can drop in on a free course that revisits a seminal moment in U.S. history--the American Revolution. Taught by Yale historian Joanne Freeman, the course explores how the Revolution brought about "some remarkable transformations–converting British colonists into American revolutionaries, and a cluster of colonies into a confederation of states with a common cause." You can access the 25 lectures above, or on YouTube and iTunes. Also find a syllabus for the course on this Yale web site.

"The American Revolution" will be added to our list of Free History Courses, a subset of our larger collection, 1,300 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

Related Content:

The History of the World in 46 Lectures From Columbia University

14,000 Free Images from the French Revolution Now Available Online

A Master List of 1,300 Free Courses From Top Universities: 45,000 Hours of Audio/Video Lectures

Flannery O’Connor: Friends Don’t Let Friends Read Ayn Rand (1960)


In a letter dated May 31, 1960, Flannery O'Connor, the author best known for her classic story, "A Good Man is Hard to Find" (listen to her read the story here) penned a letter to her friend, the playwright Maryat Lee. It begins rather abruptly, likely because it's responding to something Maryat said in a previous letter:

I hope you don’t have friends who recommend Ayn Rand to you. The fiction of Ayn Rand is as low as you can get re fiction. I hope you picked it up off the floor of the subway and threw it in the nearest garbage pail. She makes Mickey Spillane look like Dostoevsky.

The letter, which you can read online or find in the book The Habit of Being, then turns to other matters.




O'Connor's critical appraisal of Ayn Rand's books is pretty straightforward. But here's one factoid worth knowing. Mickey Spillane (referenced in O'Connor's letter) was a hugely popular mystery writer, who sold some 225 million books during his lifetime. According to his Washington Post obit, "his specialty was tight-fisted, sadistic revenge stories, often featuring his alcoholic gumshoe Mike Hammer and a cast of evildoers." Critics, appalled by the sex and violence in his books, dismissed his writing. But Ayn Rand defended him. In public, she said that Spillane was underrated. In her book The Romantic Manifesto, Rand put Spillane in some unexpected company when she wrote: "[Victor] Hugo gives me the feeling of entering a cathedral--Dostoevsky gives me the feeling of entering a chamber of horrors, but with a powerful guide--Spillane gives me the feeling of listening to a military band in a public park--Tolstoy gives me the feeling of an unsanitary backyard which I do not care to enter." All of which goes to show that Ayn Rand's literary taste was no better than her literature.

Note: An earlier version of this post appeared on our site in June, 2014.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

Related Content:

When Ayn Rand Collected Social Security & Medicare, After Years of Opposing Benefit Programs

Christopher Hitchens Dismisses the Cult of Ayn Rand: There’s No “Need to Have Essays Advocating Selfishness Among Human Beings; It Requires No Reinforcement”

Ayn Rand Helped the FBI Identify It’s A Wonderful Life as Communist Propaganda

Rare 1959 Audio: Flannery O’Connor Reads ‘A Good Man is Hard to Find’

Flannery O’Connor Reads ‘Some Aspects of the Grotesque in Southern Fiction’ (c. 1960)

The Improbable Time When Orson Welles Interviewed Andy Kaufman (1982)

"Sitcoms are the lowest form of entertainment," declares Andy Kaufman as portrayed by Jim Carrey in Milos Forman's biopic Man on the Moon. "I mean, it's just stupid jokes and canned laughter." The scene comes in the period of Kaufman's life in the late 1970s when, growing ever more well-known on the back of acts like his "Foreign Man" character, he receives an offer to take part in ABC's Taxi. The real-life Kaufman, eventually convinced to join the show's cast, developed the Foreign Man into the unplaceable mechanic Latka Gavras. Quite possibly Taxi's most memorable character, Latka also won the appreciation of no less demanding a cultural figure than Orson Welles.

Guest-hosting the Merv Griffin Show in June of 1982, Welles describes Taxi as a show that has "kept television from being a criminal felony" just before bringing Kaufman on for a brief (and uncharacteristically straightforward) chat. He heaps praise on Kaufman's performance as Latka, adding, "I want to know why it is that you go and wrestle with people when you can act so well." Kaufman had shown up wearing a neck brace, an accessory signifying the end of his stint as a professional wrestler, one of the many inexplicable but somehow compelling choices in a short career that blurred the lines between comedy, performance art, and life itself.




"Nobody ever came from nowhere more completely," Welles says, drawing a big studio-audience laugh with this description of not just Latka but Kaufman as well. Asked how he came up with such a distinctive character voice, Kaufman says only that he "grew up in New York, and you hear a lot of different voices in New York" ("You don't hear that one," replies Welles). He also cites the accents of a high-school friend from South America and a college roommate from Iran. Less than four years later, both Kaufman and Welles would be gone (and actor Ron Glass, looking on from the other side of the couch, joined them this past November).

Or at least both men would be gone if you don't credit the rumors about Kaufman having elaborately faked his death. "I don't know whether it's the innocence of the fellow or the feeling you have that he is not stupider than everybody, but maybe smarter, that adds to the fascination," Welles says. Again he speaks ostensibly of Kaufman's Foreign Man/Latka persona, but his words apply equally to the man who not just played but periodically — and sometimes unpredictably — became him. 33 years after Kaufman's death, or in any case disappearance from life, that fascination remains as strong as ever.

Related Content:

A Look Back at Andy Kaufman: Absurd Comic Performance Artist and Endearing Weirdo

Orson Welles Meets H.G. Wells in 1940: The Legends Discuss War of the Worlds, Citizen Kane, and WWII

Orson Welles’ Last Interview and Final Moments Captured on Film

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

Andy Warhol’s 15 Minutes: Discover the Postmodern MTV Variety Show That Made Warhol a Star in the Television Age (1985-87)

“In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes,” said Andy Warhol. Actually, no, he didn’t. But Warhol suggested to photographer Nat Finkelstein that everyone wanted to be famous, to which Finkelstein added, “yeah, for 15 minutes.” It’s a slightly different meaning. (The idea first appeared in its well-known form in a 1968 program for a Warhol exhibition in Sweden.)

Is it true that everyone wants to be famous? It’s certainly true that Andy Warhol wanted to, and for much longer than 15 minutes. Like the hardest-working YouTube celebrity today, he didn’t wait to be discovered but set about making it happen himself.




But while he achieved pop art stardom in the 60s, Warhol truly longed to be on TV, a dream that took a little longer to materialize. His first program, a New York public-access interview show, debuted in 1979, then a second version in 1980 (see Richard Berlin interview Frank Zappa on Andy Warhol’s T.V. in 1983). Over a period of four years, he brought on a host of major celebrities, but attracted a necessarily limited audience.

In ’81, Warhol finally got a mainstream TV break when he “made his way to NBC,” notes Alexxa Gotthardt, “with a series of spots for Saturday Night Live…. Warhol’s foray into television allowed him to become even more of a celebrity himself." His persistent efforts paid dividends when he joined the nascent 1985 MTV lineup with one of its first non-music-video shows, Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes.

As you can see in the promo at the top of the post, the show promised a “ride downtown” and a “ride to the wild side.” It did not disappoint. A sort of postmodern variety show, the program “put everybody together,” explains Andy Warhol Museum curator Geralyn Huxley, “The high and the low. The rich and the famous. The struggling artists and the rising stars.” Just above, you can see Ian McKellen recite Shakespeare while garage rockers the Fleshtones play some psychedelic grooves behind him.

Above, see Debbie Harry interview Courtney Love, “a flamboyant rising star,” just come from the success of Sid and Nancy.  Further down, the Ramones bitch about the state of rock and roll in 1987, then play “Bonzo Goes to Bitburg,” a scathing response to Ronald Reagan’s disturbing visit to Germany on the 40th anniversary of V-E Day. (The song contains the line, “You’re a politician don’t become one of Hitler’s children.”) These are but a tiny sampling of the many hundreds of artists who traipsed through the soundstage of Warhol’s show: dozens of people appeared in a single episode—as many as 30 guests in some of the later shows.

Running for two years, until his death in 1987, Andy Warhol’s Fifteen Minutes introduced millions of people to the artist in just the way he’d always wanted. “More and more kids were watching MTV,” says his producer Vincent Fremont. “I don’t know if they knew that Andy was a famous artist, but to them he was certainly a television personality.” And on TV, Warhol wrote in 1975, a person “has all the space anyone could ever want, right there in the television box.” If you're Andy Warhol, you also have all the celebrity guests anyone could ever want.

See a complete list of the five episodes that aired between 1985 and 1987—full of stars, rising stars, and scores of fascinating unknowns—at Warholstars.org.

via Artsy

Related Content:

Andy Warhol Hosts Frank Zappa on His Cable TV Show, and Later Recalls, “I Hated Him More Than Ever” After the Show

Andy Warhol’s Brief Moment of Professional Wrestling Fame (1985)

The Case for Andy Warhol in Three Minutes

The Big Ideas Behind Andy Warhol’s Art, and How They Can Help Us Build a Better World

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

What Is a Life-Changing Realization You Wish You’d Had Sooner in Life?

The calendar date may be arbitrary, a quirk of history that could have been otherwise—but it’s no coincidence, I think, that New Year’s produces a reflective mood, a time of looking both backward and forward, especially in those parts of the world currently held in winter’s chill and dark, awaiting the thaw of spring. The turn of the Gregorian calendar seems to beg us to produce some sober wisdom amidst the revelry of the holidays: to account for what we’ve learned, ruminate on intentions, take general stock of our personal stores.

It’s also a time when we connect with our younger selves (many of us having just spent a few days visiting parents, hometowns, and childhood bedrooms). Those younger selves can seem callow and naïve in hindsight, and though it’s hardly any use living with regret, we might wish with some degree of rue that we could have handled some things better—and applied the hard-won realizations of the present much earlier. It’s a common enough sentiment, handled perfectly in The Faces’ “Ooh La La.”




I wish, for example, that I had learned how to meditate years before I did. It might have saved my young, moody, impulsive self a world a grief. (But then again, without that grief, would I have ever learned to meditate?) Recently, a MetaFilter user revisited a post from 2013 that asked the question ("What is a life changing realization that you wish you'd had sooner?") to the internet community at large. The responses ranged from the fairly generic (“it’s okay if you don’t want to be friends with your exes”) to the personal, specific, and colorful. See a sampling of the answers below from both the original 2013 thread and the recent 2017 repost:

Love leaves scars. And that's a good thing. We want to be permanently affected by the ones that we love. Otherwise, it's not really love. And like any other scar, it begins as a painful wound, goes through the period of laudable pus during which you drain out all the bad stuff, and then, eventually, heals to a painless but visible scar.

This seems kinda silly, but a couple of years ago I realized that I am under no obligation to finish a book that I don't like. As a reader, that was such an epiphany! 

The most important and dangerous tool in the lives of average people is compound interest.

Behaviour is driven by emotion, not rational thought: instead of trying to force myself to do things by berating myself, I get my emotions in order first by synthesising the feeling of having already done it. My procrastination has been radically reduced, and I'm freer to get on and do the things I need to do.

Take other people’s head injuries seriously. Someone who’s just had a blow to the brain is not qualified to judge whether it is “no big deal.” 

Honor the parts of yourself that are elusive and mysterious and maybe unintelligible to other people. Whether that means embracing an identity like "queer nonbinary trans woman" or becoming more comfortable with crying and not knowing why or not having opinions and answers at hand... Practice not knowing. 

I’m partial to these offerings because I find them moving, funny, or conversant with whatever meager wisdom I like to think I’ve acquired after much trial and error. But what about you? As 2017 winds to a close—a year fraught with more stress and anxiety than most—which answers leap out to you? Or, if you’re brave and feel like sharing, what would you like to pass on to your younger, more bumbling self if you could go back and have a sit-down with him or her? Please pass along your thoughts and wisdom in the comments below.

via MetaFilter

Related Content:

Will You Really Achieve Happiness If You Finally Win the Rat Race? Don’t Answer the Question Until You’ve Watched Steve Cutts’ New Animation

“Try Again. Fail Again. Fail Better”: How Samuel Beckett Created the Unlikely Mantra That Inspires Entrepreneurs Today

Watch “Alike,” a Poignant Short Animated Film About the Enduring Conflict Between Creativity and Conformity

Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Mark Twain on Why “Travel is Fatal to Prejudice, Bigotry and Narrow-Mindedness, and Many of Our People Need It Sorely on These Accounts” (1869)

Public Domain image via Wikimedia Commons

Humanity has come up with many negative stereotypes of Americans, some of them not entirely groundless: the widely held belief, for example, that Americans don't get out much. I admit the truth of that one as an American myself — albeit an American who now lives in Asia — because I certainly did drag my feet on getting a passport and getting out there in the world at first. Perhaps I can take comfort in the fact that no less a colossus of American letters began his international travels even later than I did, though when he did get around to it, he got even more out of it: not only The Innocents Abroad, one of the best-loved travel books of all time, but an insight into what makes travel so vital a pursuit in the first place.

The travels Mark Twain recounts in the book began in 1867 on the chartered vessel Quaker City, which took him and a group of his countrymen through Europe and the Holy Land, an itinerary including a stop at the 1867 Paris Exhibition and journeys through the Papal States to Rome and through the Black Sea to Odessa, all followable on a hypertext map at the University of Virginia's Mark Twain in His Times page. "In his account Mark Twain assumes two alternate roles," says the Library of America, "at times the no-nonsense American who refuses to automatically venerate the famous sights of the Old World (preferring Lake Tahoe to Lake Como), or at times the put-upon simpleton, a gullible victim of flatterers and 'frauds,' and an awe-struck admirer of Russian royalty."




Whether you read The Innocents Abroad in the Library of America's edition or in one of a variety of free formats downloadable from Project Gutenberg, you'll eventually come to Twain's justification for the entire project: not the writing project with its handsome remuneration and name-making popularity, but the project of travel itself. Though many elements of the Old World experience, as well as prolonged exposure to his fellow Americans, put his formidable complaining ability to the test, the "breezy, shrewd, and comical manipulator of English idioms and America’s mythologies about itself and its relation to the past" (as the Library of America describes him) ultimately admits that

I have no fault to find with the manner in which our excursion was conducted. Its programme was faithfully carried out—a thing which surprised me, for great enterprises usually promise vastly more than they perform. It would be well if such an excursion could be gotten up every year and the system regularly inaugurated. Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things can not be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.

Distinctly Twainian words, of course, but many other writers have since also tried to express the uniquely mind-expanding properties of spending time outside your homeland. As Rudyard Kipling memorably put it to his own countrymen, a few decades after The Innocents Abroad, in "The English Flag," "What should they know of England who only England know?"

Or as one writer friend of mine, well-known for the globalized nature of his books and well as of his own identity, once said, "If Americans don't travel, we're like a man who lives in a hovel assuming everyone else lives in a worse hovel." But it always comes back to Twain, who knew that "nothing so liberalizes a man and expands the kindly instincts that nature put in him as travel and contact with many kinds of people" — and who also knew that nobody quite realized "what a consummate ass he can become until he goes abroad." We can all think of much worse reasons to head across the ocean than that.

Related Content:

Mark Twain Makes a List of 60 American Comfort Foods He Missed While Traveling Abroad (1880)

A Journey Back in Time: Vintage Travelogues

Free: Read 9 Travel Books Online by Monty Python’s Michael Palin

Petite Planète: Discover Chris Marker’s Influential 1950s Travel Photobook Series

Join Clive James on His Classic Television Trips to Paris, LA, Tokyo, Rio, Cairo & Beyond

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

« Go BackMore in this category... »
Quantcast