I hide in my middleness overlookable, a noiseless witness hanging over families like a forgotten Mickey Mouse balloon
smiling though no one is paying me to I am coming home, Orlando he greets me:
a catcall from a beat-up truck snake tongue but slower
a voice that drags like a stranger’s hand on my back
I will come home to someone my man is the one who brings me hotel soap shiny and papered labeled until placeless piling on my shelf my precious
my lonesome body made clean and still alone but clean
my disaster spreading like a suburban housing development eating the land under us
spreading like the terror on his face the man next to me stiffening the air getting even staler the plane rattling between clouds his face squeezing like an orange in an invisible fist until we go down and everything stops.
I want to dictate the means and the end of my being.
I have built a life-long habit of ignoring my body as a form of resistance. Trying to prove my adaptability and inner strength, I’ve spent years shoving the most basic of human needs to the back of my consciousness, suppressing physical exhaustion, hunger, and pain. Maybe it comes from a reluctance to submit to my body. Sometimes I think I need ultimate control over my existence. I don’t want to waste a moment that could be used for something more productive or exciting on something as banal as the body. And yet, here I am, trying to process and come to terms with my corporeal form.
I’ve pushed my body to its limits—how long can I go without water? Food? Sleep? Just how much do I actually need to survive? I forget what my body needs to feel good, and I lose track of the warning signs. Confused as to why I’ve been fainting every few days, I realize that I haven’t been hydrating.
My psychiatrist asks me if I ignore my body’s needs as a form of stoicism. “Stoicism?” I ask. “Maybe you’ve heard it portrayed as having grit,” she elaborates. Bending to the will of my body feels absurd—what does it say about me and my strength if I must give in to this form, a form explicitly for my own use? Shouldn’t I be able to force my body to submit to my intellect? Much better to bravely endure the repercussions of exerting my power over my body than to listen to its needs.
In the same way that my body is perceived as a healthy body, although I have been carrying chronic illness around with me for upward of eight months, my body is perceived as a woman’s body, despite the fact that I feel unconnected to womanhood. My friend tells me that, after meeting me, her mother tells her: “I look at Clio and I just see a woman.” This plays in my head every time I look in the mirror for a month or so, then it’s relegated to the intrusive thoughts that show up every now and then when I’m feeling particularly anxious about my gender presentation. How do I reconcile the way people perceive me and the way I feel? This same mother is never able to get my pronouns right, and doesn’t hear her mistakes—but upon meeting a more masc-presenting friend, immediately catches on to gendering them correctly. I go home and cry. Am I not trans enough? Do I not look trans enough?
In this nebulous area of non-binary-ness that doesn’t present androgyny in its traditional form—AFAB people dressing masculinely and embracing masculine traits—I feel lost. My friend makes a post on Instagram about people being tripped up about her gender, and my heart sinks with the realization that I would love that experience; to have someone stumble over my pronouns (“he—they? she?”), or call me sir and then wrinkle their brow and squint a little. I feel so limited in this body that is so excessively feminine. Even when I’m binding, even with my hair buzzed short, nobody ever thinks twice about their perception of me.
The way my body looks is perceived and gendered so differently from who I am, and yet I feel no desire to change it. What is the point of rejecting womanhood if there’s no physical, perceived manifestation of said rejection? The amount to which I choose to perform my gender shifts as easily as a breeze. Some days I wish to have no body at all.
II. MY BODY AS SPECIMEN
In the beginning, I’m not too concerned. It’s August. Waves of numbness spread through my face and I can’t move my head without feeling so dizzy that I collapse, but this isn’t the first time. My friend drives me to urgent care and they take two vials of blood. A mono spot (negative), and a complete blood count (normal). On the off chance that I have Lyme a second time, they give me doxycycline, which my body can’t keep down. Three days later, I go to Cleveland Clinic.
I’m apprehensive about going to the doctor—they always call me Madeline, no matter how many times I clarify, and the number of times they refer to me as a woman is exhausting. This time I am on the fence about coming out to the doctor as non-binary. Maybe they’ll write something in my file, and I’ll never have to deal with this again.
“I’m not a woman,” I begin to explain. “So you want to be a man?” the doctor asks me after I tell her I’m non-binary.
“No, not at all! I’m not a man or a woman. I’m a third gender, non-binary. Not on the binary.” I stumble through a second explanation, already regretting the decision to come out. It sounds clumsy and I feel like a zoological attraction that she suddenly doesn’t understand, rather than someone she can relate to.
Later, I check my file online.
NOTE: Patient is non-binary and would like to be addressed as Ze (instead of he or she)
HPI: Madeline Cleo Shwartz (goes by Cleo) is a 19 year old non-binary female presenting today to establish care and address new onset intermittent dizziness and facial numbness. She recently moved from NY to Cleveland for college.
Not only did I never ask for the pronoun “ze,” the file goes on to use “she” for me throughout the entire document. Although this is the first of many doctor appointments, it is the last time I come out.
They take seven vials of blood from me. Everything comes back normal, except the Lyme, which has results that don’t make sense. Due to the Lyme results, they refer me to the Infectious Diseases specialist. I put off making an appointment for six weeks, emotionally exhausted from the last appointment and overwhelmed by the chaos of September. When I go to my mom’s for October break, I realize I am so fatigued that I can only spend an hour or two out of bed each day. I call Cleveland Clinic, but the earliest they can get me in to see the Infectious Diseases specialist is December 6. I spend the next six weeks deeply exhausted and pushing myself to live a normal life, pushing myself to the very edge of my limits.
Throughout this whole ordeal, I feel crazy. Nothing feels normal, and yet nobody can find anything wrong with me. And fatigue is too nebulous and invisible: Everyone at Oberlin is tired all the time, and I don’t know if I’m being overdramatic or if this is real. Doctors—including my psychiatrist—keep asking me if my fatigue is depression-related (maybe because I’m trans?) but I know what that feels like and I’m mentally stable. I need there to be something wrong with me, some diagnosis, so I can get some closure with this illness.
On December 6th, they take thirteen vials of blood. I am finally diagnosed with mono, with evidence of past Lyme. I push through finals, with one emergency incomplete. I feel defeated, helpless, and alone in my exhaustion. I see another doctor in New York after I spend two weeks bedridden with no signs of improvement. She takes another seven vials of blood from me. After twenty-nine vials of blood, four doctors, and five months, I am finally told that I have healed from three types of mono, all of which I had at the same time throughout fall semester, without knowing. Now I have post-viral fatigue, an unexplained affliction that can last months, or years.
Twenty-nine vials of blood, four doctors—it felt like a lot while it was happening, but it isn’t until February that the quantity really hits me, with the arrival of a steep medical bill my insurance won’t cover. In addition to other medical debt my family had been struck with in the fall semester, this feels like a slap in the face. Impostor syndrome comes rushing back. Did I really need all that testing? I could have just endured, evoking the stoicism I had internalized for years prior to this extended illness? And with no way to quantify my fatigue or the degree to which I have healed, it is hard not to feel self-indulgent and, in some ways, useless as I attempt to scale back my commitments and workload.
III. MY BODY AS INCANTATION AND RITUAL
At the end of December I move into my friend’s apartment in Brooklyn. It has a skylight, and I can keep it just as clean as I like because for a blissful month, I will be alone. After spending several weeks practically bedridden at my mother’s home, I sacrifice her care in exchange for the independence and agency solo living will allow me. And with this newfound independence I find the space and time to learn my body. After spending months detachedly ignoring my illness, I suddenly am allowed to lean into it. I mourn the loss of my ignorant trust in my body, and I mourn the time lost putting my life on hold.
But I find the edges of my form stretching, filling this body up; imagining shapes and pouring my body into them. I spend more time naked and I take long, hot baths, moisturizing afterwards. Treating my body tenderly allows for a new burgeoning of love where before there had been only a distaste. When I can stand for long enough, I cook complete, beautiful meals. I drink liters and liters of water, as constant as breathing.
And most of all, I sleep. Fitfully at first—hyper-realistic nightmares flood my subconscious and shake me awake, cold and sweaty. I reach for the glass of water by my bed and blearily knock it all over my nightstand, soaking my journal. And then, after a time, more peacefully. Dreamless sleep.
Awakening from this dreamless sleep feels like stepping onto a new planet. I move slowly and cautiously, hyper-aware of my breathing and balance, holding onto the wall and chairs as my body adjusts. When I take risks and push myself to walk unsupported, I faint and have to rebuild my confidence. Falling again and again is humbling—a necessary reminder of how fragile I am.
In January, I have just enough energy to take on one activity a day. Most days this is something like lunch with a friend; sometimes it’s more ambitious, like a paper-making workshop. And yet somehow I no longer feel useless and alone, as I did throughout December. I am learning a lot. I know how to feel when I am hungry, or dehydrated, or physically exhausted, in ways that hadn’t yet become intuitive for me before this illness. This body that had been background noise for so long, almost two decades, reveals itself to me as rich with so much more than pure utility.
It is hard to internalize the idea that my fingertip is just as much me as my mind. This merging of self, or extension of self from intellectual to physical, starts to take place as I begin to dance alone in my living room. Soon it becomes compulsive: a daily ritual. I dance until I can’t breathe, which at first is a laughably short period of time but it grows longer. Being able to express an emotion or thought by moving my body in a certain way allows me to recenter my sense of self in the body. Rather than journaling, I move viscerally, bypassing intellectual processing. My fingertips become as saturated with emotion as my mind, as the rest of me. I drip heavy with emotion.
IV. MY BODY AS PERFORMANCE
The growing understanding of my body’s physical limitations coincides with a renewed interest in my gender identity and expression. I cut my hair again, despite knowing that my body is unequivocally perceived as that of a woman. A physical rejection of femininity feels impossible to me, and I make very little effort to counter that, perhaps because I know that no matter what lengths I go to there is no chance that people will see me otherwise. My mother likes to remind me that I am on the cutting edge of social development; that I should be patient with the general public. Patience is hard to summon. Despite my frustration with the inability of most to see me as non-binary, my gender doesn’t seem as tied to my physical presentation as others would expect. And then what is gender? Is it the way I am talked about? Is it relevant to the people I kiss and the kinds of relationships I engage in? I am comforted by the theory that all gender is performative, but it is hard to break from the societal narrative that informs me that mine is especially so.
In the same way that passing as healthy in a society that stigmatizes the chronically ill is a privilege, I recognize that passing as cis allows me a lot of ease in the way I navigate a transphobic world. It can be difficult to weigh the pain of pretending to be what I am not against the pain of the bigotry directed at who I am. “I look at Clio and all I see is a woman.” These are the moments that I mistrust my own sense of my gender. What if this is a phase after all? What if I am really a girl? The cisheteropatriarchy is extremely talented at seeding that kind of self-doubt. I value my femininity and the empathy and tenderness that has been nurtured in me, but I don’t know how much of this is truly who I am and how much of it was taught into me. I don’t know how to delineate between true identity and a reaction to my environment. And is there even a delineation? It is impossible to remove myself from my environment, so perhaps my true identity is only a reaction to my environment. I struggle to feel my gender throughout my body despite having learned, over the course of January, to channel my sense of emotional self throughout my physical self. Perhaps I had been dealing with my gender identity through the same lens of stoicism I had used to understand my body. This chasm between body and gender is a fundamental disconnect that feels insurmountable. I try anyway.
V. MY BODY AS MIRROR
This is what I grapple with as I heal, so slowly it is nearly imperceptible, or rather only perceptible over the course of several months. There are no day-to-day little successes. The healing is not an uphill battle—it is a slog. It is like finally turning a corner and crashing into a glass wall, finding myself thrown backwards, bruised. Trying to figure out my relationship to gender surprises me in how accurately it parallels this. I find one way to think about my presentation, or the way I’m perceived, or my relationships to others, and as soon as I turn that corner and hit that wall, I am thrown back into chaos. I had imagined that I’d move linearly from confusion to an innate understanding of my gender identity, but the more I come to terms with the limitations of my body and my being, the more unclear I become.
My gender is invisible and yet integral to my identity and experience of this world; simultaneously, my illness creates limitations for me that can’t be seen by the untrained eye. I am reluctant to let this chronic illness define my identity and so I downplay it—but it feels so much a part of me that the fact that it can’t be seen sometimes feels like an injustice to its significance in my life.
One function of the mirror is to establish a relation between the human and its reality. In the same way, I see my gendered reality reflected back at me in my chronic illness. Because of the peace I must make with my body throughout this chronic illness, I am able to establish a more concrete understanding of the way my gender affects my interactions with the world. Seeing this mirrored reflection of my struggle with gender identity has shocked me. I never expected to find understanding of either in the other, and yet coming to terms with the limitations of my body in both respects takes a similar kind of emotional work. I am in no way resolved about either experience; rather, I am actively working to sort through them in tandem.
At the beginning of September, I start to grow my hair out. I wake up in April and am consumed by the urge to shave it all off. Dead weight is suddenly gone and I feel reborn. For the period of time that I adjust to my buzzed head, I have no way of grounding myself in reality. I look in the mirror and don’t recognize myself. It is immensely comforting.
Dario Voltolini is a contemporary Italian writer, the author of novels, short story collections, radio plays, travel narratives, and a range of nonfiction texts. His literary works often dwell on human relationships in an urban, post-industrial world to find profound meaning underneath the most prosaic occurrences. The theme of the writer’s task in a global, overpopulated world emerges in “Berenice and the Taboo: On Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities.” In this essay Voltolini reflects on Calvino’s famous novel taking the last city, the “hidden city” of Berenice, as his starting point. Voltolini discusses the question of Time (and its manifestations) as Calvino’s Other, and taming—or representing—that otherness as the writer’s task. When I read this essay in Italian I was captivated by its ideas, by its close reading of Calvino’s text and its broader implications for literature and society in general. Translating it in to English posed a single challenge: capturing Voltolini’s thought, rendering it legible, while also preserving his original language, his own “agile, incisive, sparkling” imagery.
In this essay I examine a particular aspect of Calvino’s poetics—his self-representation as a writer—that I have always deemed problematic. What I have in mind is a certain unresolved tension which afflicts me as a writer too, and perhaps for this reason I tend to notice it in the work of others. This tension arises from the general problem underlying the relationship between the writer and the Other, or better yet, to put it more abstractly, the writer’s relationship with otherness.
Berenice, the last city in Invisible Cities, exemplifies this tension: Highlighting specific themes elaborated in Calvino’s characteristic style, themes still resonant today with the depth and complexity of their implications. Berenice has much to give and to reveal to those of us who deal with meaning—that is, those of us who write. In Berenice, Calvino explores the relationship between the city of the just and the city of the unjust. He depicts it as the progressive nesting of the city of the just within the city of the unjust, but within the nested city the seed of injustice already germinates, and inside the city of the unjust, in turn, germinates the seed of justice, and so it continues in an infinite game of mirrors. It seems to be an idea borrowed from the mathematical theory of recursion. Here is a brief quote from Berenice to illustrate this process:
[I]n the seed of the city of the just, a malignant seed is hidden, in its turn: the certainty and pride of being in the right—and of being more just than many others who call themselves more just than the just. This seed ferments in rancor, rivalry, resentment; the natural desire of revenge on the unjust is colored by a yearning to be in their place and to act as they do. Another unjust city, though different from the first, is digging out its space within the double sheath of the unjust and just Berenices.
Having said this, I do not wish your eyes to catch a distorted image, so I must draw your attention to an intrinsic quality of this unjust city germinating secretly inside the secret just city: and this is the possible awakening—as if in an excited opening of the windows—of a later love for justice, not yet subjected to rules, capable of reassembling a city still more just than it was before it became the vessel of injustice. But if you peer deeper into this new germ of justice you can discern a tiny spot that is spreading like the growing tendency to impose what is just through what is unjust, and perhaps this is the germ of an immense metropolis.
Besides the fascinating image of a city nesting successively in itself its own opposites, I am always struck by something else. I am not a Calvino scholar, but as a writer I hear a call which in my own writing I have repeatedly tried to ignore or avoid so as to be able to do my work—because when you come this close to a planet as large as Calvino’s you risk being pulled away from your own course by its gravitational force. But in the end, I must confront this call, and I can begin doing it here.
So let me first discuss what disturbs me: Calvino’s unresolved tension, his persistent stumbling block. The telltale move which always takes me by surprise is when Marco Polo concludes his narrative: “From my words you will have reached the conclusion that the real Berenice is a temporal succession of different cities, alternately just and unjust. But what I wanted to warn you about is something else: All the future Berenices are already present in this instant, wrapped one within the other, confined, crammed, inextricable.”1
Calvino’s double construction is curious. On the one hand, a remarkable recursive progression over time; on the other, the complete negation of time itself as suggested by the coexistence of all future Berenices within an undifferentiated present moment devoid of temporal movement. This is not merely a question of rhetoric—there is something else. Here, in my opinion, is Calvino’s taboo subject, the blind spot of his otherwise astute and penetrating eye. Why construct this sequence unfolding in time only to invalidate it in the end? What kind of operation is Calvino performing? What kind of logic underlies his discourse? Marco Polo is right to suspect that Kublai Khan “has reached the conclusion that the real Berenice is a temporal succession of different cities.”2 In fact, Marco Polo has just stated it! Not only has he told Kublai Khan precisely that, he has already conveyed this idea through the dynamic images used to describe Berenice: wheels will jam, a new mechanism will arrive, a cuisine evoking an ancient golden age, fermenting rancors, a city digging out its space, the awakening of a love for justice, a city more just that it was before it became unjust, a tiny spot spreading, a growing tendency—and from these data it is possible to deduce the future Berenice. The outcome of these dynamic transformations is even more striking: Calvino’s vision of an immense metropolis as the rhetorical and narrative realization of the germinating Berenices. An initial tension already inhabits the text here. Berenice’s game of mirrors is infinite, but the city’s realization as an immense metropolis stands in direct contradiction to it. Calvino seems to hypothesize a qualitative discontinuity. The nesting of the just city within the unjust one does not proceed in a straight line (or even in a half line, from the golden age onward), but rather leads to a discontinuity (the metropolis), an entirely different formation.
This initial tension is subservient to the real, central tension in Calvino: the tension between a process occurring gradually over time (the recursion of the just and the unjust Berenices) and a condition of complete immobility—the city Marco Polo reveals to Kublai Khan at the end. The figure of the metropolis bridges these two opposite visions. The figure of the metropolis works as a rhetorical linchpin allowing Marco Polo (Calvino) to negotiate the vertiginous slippage between the premise of Berenice’s existence and the text’s conclusion which invalidates this very premise. This is Calvino battling his own taboo: time. The irrational course of Marco Polo’s narrative already underscores this ongoing battle. Calvino cannot fight fairly either. The match evolves in three phases: 1) a city reverses into its opposite and vice versa, in a progression that is temporal, but otherwise flat and infinitely identical to itself; 2) even if that were not so, even if this progression did not unfold as infinitely identical to itself, but instead culminated in a qualitative change such as an immense (infinite) metropolis, then all of its reversals would occur simultaneously; 3) Berenice indeed is a point devoid of time where nothing can ever unfold and yet everything unfolds all at once, inextricably so, without any movement, as in a photograph.
It is both curious and symptomatic that to reach this conclusion Calvino invents the striking image of “yes” and “no” wrapped one within the other. First, he offers us an infinite game of mirrors over time, then he tells us that it is not so, that in fact everything happens all at once. What is he actually negating? The negation seems to imply an overt, ongoing dispute between Calvino and time. And for any narrator, time is not a trifle; for any narrator, time is the most important matter.
Now, I’d like to take a step to the side, to move the knight, as it were. I’d like to revisit the first of his American Lectures, the cross on which, in my opinion, Calvino crucified himself, exploring the familiar concept of lightness. By now, citing Calvino on lightness has become a routine, almost Pavlovian practice. At the beginning of the lecture, Calvino claims, as I recall, to feel a strong tension between the opacity, weight, brevity, and rigidity of the world and the language, the literature he wanted to create—picaresque, lively, agile, incisive, versatile, sparkling, polished like silver. He claims to perceive an already irremediable difference between what should have been his literary material (the world, everyday life) and his own writing. He claims he does not want to peer inside this heavy, inert mass, because it would be like staring at the Medusa’s eyes—he would turn to stone. And thus he invents, following the myth’s logic, the possibility of looking at this world indirectly, by way of mirrors, reflections, and triangulations.
Not as a critic or scholar, but personally, I believe that Invisible Cities provides the most convincing example of Calvino’s game of mirrors. This game enables him to attain what cannot be looked at directly. What cannot be looked at directly Calvino renders in the image of the weight of the world, and this weight is what I referred to earlier as otherness. Calvino knows he is not free from the obligation to deal with this otherness—no writer ever is—but he deals with it indirectly. He weaves webs, sets traps to get the better of it; always in search of solutions as incomplete, uncertain, or variable as they may be. He turns to already existing literary and scientific discourses, that is, to already established representations of otherness. Here in a nutshell is the metaliterary Calvino, while in his confrontation with temporality— which is the most petrifying aspect of otherness—we find the metanarrative Calvino.
For Calvino, contingency, mortality, limitation, uniqueness, and nothingness constitute total otherness—our private human Medusa—which he holds captive through his game of infinite possibilities, or at least he tries to. And in Invisible Cities he is more successful than anywhere else. In If on a Winter’s Night A Traveler, Calvino again plays the game of possibilities but he takes it to the extreme, to the point where the game itself reveals its limits. His attempt to create a collection of cities, as if arranged on a chessboard of his own invention, is also the attempt to tell, to narrate, to inscribe allpossible cities. In the logic of set theory, all the real cities—past, present, and future—exist within the set of all possible cities. Any given real city is one of all possible cities. But the game does not work if we substitute “imaginable” for “possible.”
If we could imagine by way of literary creation, by way of the genius of invention, all the possible cities, then we would be able to imagine all the real cities, past, present, and future (and perhaps this is Calvino’s insight). It doesn’t work this way, however. There exist cities that were not imaginable before. The set of all imaginable things and the set of all the real things do not coincide completely but rather overlap in increasingly disturbing ways. There are unimaginable things that do occur. And therefore, if we could have full and total visibility of time and space, backward and forward, present, past, and future; if we could describe everything that exists, even by means of chessboard combinations, then we would really fence in everything that exists. We would deliver a blow to the Medusa; she would be the one afraid to look. Everything would be reflecting surfaces. We would have put the Medusa in check.
But this is impossible to do. And the sign of its impossibility lies in the question of time: Time as the site of otherness and not as quantity. Destructive time, time that gives birth and inflicts death, time that allows or rather brings about transformation. Time as the site of discontinuity and catastrophe, of the new and the unforeseeable, of our infinite ignorance and epistemic myopia.
Let me give a banal example. I don’t have the exact number but I know that today, for the first time in human history, 60 percent of the global population lives in cities. It used to be that city dwellers were a minority and now the reverse is true. So will this new condition produce qualitative change? We cannot foresee this even within the progression of all possible Berenices containing “yes” and “no” always within the same plane. Does the immense metropolis presuppose immobility or exactly the opposite? We cannot know, but we can dread it. We use literary combinatorics to pursue facts, but to no avail. This is a dramatically real yet exquisitely theoretical game of chess which appeals to anyone harboring the illusion that it is possible to impose immobility on the multiform and thus harness it once and for all. In a book someone gave me just this morning, Calvino says: “We raise our eyes from the page only to peer into darkness.”3
What is the main point then? How do we come to grips with Calvino’s call? What are the vertiginous dynamics still facing us today, especially us writers, all those riddles not resolved but posed by Calvino? The main point is that when faced with the irreducibility, illegibility, and otherness of facts or reality, we respond in different ways. Calvino’s way is to turn elsewhere in search of notions of otherness already established, made familiar, and therefore acting as a shield (weapon) against the Medusa. This is the game of mirrors I was referring to earlier.
For the author of Invisible Cities, the ideal city is the legible city. I remember reading that for Calvino, Paris was the champion among all cities. Paris was to him a legible city—he would walk around reading whatever interested him directly from the walls, from the streets. Paris for Calvino was a city enmeshed in writing, a cultural city, a text. Of course, it is obvious that the legibility of Paris derives from the fact that it is a much perused (written) city.
But the task of the writer, or one of the tasks in any case, is to confront total illegibility and otherness, to commit to rendering them more legible. To write is to make legible. The line, the threshold Calvino stood on (it will always remain a threshold since death stopped him when he was about to cross over and announce his new direction, for it is clear Calvino was on the verge of a new direction) is the demarcation line between otherness reduced to legibility (familiarity) and the reconfiguration of the already legible into further legibility. Calvino often intentionally thematized this very line, debating it and problematizing it. And this problem of (il)legibility, already founded on a tension, is grafted onto the question of temporality, which I suggest is Calvino’s own taboo, and thus opens space for new inquiries into his narrative. As a writer, Calvino was rent by infinite tensions, by unexpected fissures. Nonetheless, he did his best to offer us, in addition to his works and life, his interpretations and his biography. And yet, he still remains one of the most mysterious writers of the twentieth century. Although in his various essays, Calvino time and again battles with obscurity, illegibility, opacity, and otherness, it is in his clearest crystals that the darkest abyss opens. Perhaps because displaced, negated, or left behind. And Invisible Cities is his diamond.
1Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities. Trans. William Weaver. (Harcourt, 1974), 162-3. English translation modified slightly to reflect better the original wording.