26 thoughts before turning 26 – 5. Desire

“Finally he comes to Isidora, a city where the buildings have spiral staircases encrusted with spiral seashells, where perfect telescopes and violins are made, where the foreigner hesitating between two women always encounters a third, where cockfights degenerate into bloody brawls among the bettors. He was thinking of all these things when he desired a city. Isidora, therefore, is the city of his dreams: with one difference. The dreamed-of city contained him as a young man; he arrives at Isidora in his old age. In the square there is the wall where the old men sit and watch the young go by; he is seated in a row with them. Desires are already memories.” (Italo Calvino: Invisible Cities)

So Isidora is my favourite one among the 55 cities in Calvino’s Invisible Cities – it’s a projection of desire (the word itself is desirable), and “desire are already memories”. Thus desire we could not have, if we really want to eliminate the past, otherwise it would be cheating, not on anybody else but ourselves. But I doubt it that it’s really possible, for everything turns into memories and eventually obliterates themselves. And even in their existence, memories are not the past themselves – they are projections of human desires, or desires of the past. The real past only realises itself in the absence of the desire, hence the death of whoever projects that desire – in a way, a kind of Hegelian murder.

“Desires are already memories.”

And what’s so fantastic about Invisible Cities, thus marvellous of Calvino, is that … None of these cities is real, and thus wonderful, as if life itself.

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