13 November 2009


Filed under: Fiction — ktismatics @ 3:51 pm

Marco Polo describes a bridge, stone by stone.

“But which is the stone that supports the bridge?” Kublai Khan asks.

“The bridge is not supported by one stone or another,” Marco answers, “but by the line of the arch that they form.”

Kublai Khan remains silent, reflecting. Then he adds: “Why do you speak to me of the stones? It is only the arch that matters to me.”

Polo answers: “Without stones there is no arch.”

– from Invisible Cities by Italo Calvino, 1972



  1. …and without gaze there are neither stones nor the arch, unless we discuss some kind of afterlife


    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 13 November 2009 @ 5:09 pm

  2. The gaze in this case is an imaginary one, since the book is fictional as is this conversation between Kublai Khan and Marco Polo. This fictional Polo tells us that, even when he’s describing other cities real and imaginary, he’s always thinking about his home town of Venice. So is he thinking of the bridges of Venice when he holds this particular discussion with Khan? And is Italo Calvino also thinking about Venice as he writes the words and assigns them to his fictional Polo?

    Given the way Invisible Cities is structured, I might have expected Polo to take a different tack here. He might have described a city spanning the water crisscrossed by two different kinds of bridge. For one kind the bridgeness resides in the stones; for the other kind, bridgeness is in the line of the arch. Then he would describe the different ways in which these two different kinds of bridges fall apart with the passage of time.


    Comment by john doyle — 14 November 2009 @ 8:43 am

  3. well it sounded like a nod to objectology, for the stones have a life of their own independent of the arch


    Comment by the voice of parodic reason — 14 November 2009 @ 11:37 am

  4. Yes, the objectology caused me to write up this vignette, but there are other ways of exploring it. That Calvino presents this particular subject for an imaginary 13th-century conversation highlights the essentially medieval texture of the objectology project. Have you ever been to Venice, vopr? I’d think it would be right on the trail from Serbia to Holland.


    Comment by john doyle — 14 November 2009 @ 6:49 pm

  5. […] The second is from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities (1972), courtesy of Ktismatics: […]


    Pingback by Emergence x2 | Dead Voles — 7 December 2012 @ 2:21 pm

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