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Whilst paging through a library copy, of an English translation, of Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, I came across some handwritten text in the book. It was inscribed in pencil across pages 77-78, around Trading Cities 4 and Cities & Eyes 3, in a cramped, miniscule handwriting. I inspected the volume closely. It was printed in 1973. There was no further evidence of the hand anywhere else in the book. The entry read as follows:

Cities and Ears 9

The city of Auris comes into being only when its Source sounds – a hole in the ground, believed to be infinitely deep, that emits sublime sonic vibrations every time a star is born in The River of Heaven. Polyrhythmic beating frequencies give rise to complex harmonic interference patterns, forming latticed networks that result in a modulating sonic architecture of strange loops and tangled hierarchies. A central library crystallises out of these shimmering resonances, within it, an archive of sonic texts that tell the stories of the universe – its past, present and future. The population of Auris is made up of pilgrims, individuals from far and wide, who have been divinely guided to the city, through the Bush of Ghosts, by navigating the signs revealed to them in the skies and in their dreams. Time (space) reverberates and echoes for these people as they inhabit the nascent city space. They devote their lives to the study the of library, fully aware that each individual’s embodied experience of the texts is different to the next. Ritualised city councils with flattened hierarchies are convened, where individuals improvise, performing their interpretations, provocations and extrapolations of what they have experienced in their studies, through song. These interpolated sonic narratives affect the structure of the city; the vibrations constantly refashion the archive into transient contemporary forms, truths of the present, only to continue changing furthermore. The people believe that agency and freedom can only be realised through the understanding of the plural nature of space (time), its multiplicity. When the next star is born and the Source sounds again, another Auris echoes, with a different modulating resonance and new relationalities emerge. No two manifestations of the city are the same, and each library is unique to its sounding. Inhabitants enter the new instance of the city without having left the previous one, continuing the practice of study and song. For this reason, the people of Auris are widely respected for having a deep knowledge of the universe.

I returned to the library the next day to seek out the book again, and to my dismay I could only find a similar looking copy, published in 1978. I still go back to check for it once in a while.

Daniel Bruce Gray – October 2018

  1. Curiously, the first English translation of the book was only published in 1974.

  2. For a comprehensive exploration of these terms in the style of Lewis Carrol, see: Douglas R. Hofstadter, Gödel, Escher, Bach: An Eternal Golden Braid (Hassocks, Sussex: Harvester Press, 1979).

  3. For first hand tales of travels in Bush of Ghosts see: Amos Tutuola, My Life in the Bush of Ghosts (London: Faber & Faber, 2014).

  4. An account of a similarly paradoxical library is presented in “The Library of Babel”. It is believed to contain every possible version of a finite set of texts. The many implications of these claims, however, are still contested. See:  Jorge Luis Borges, “The Library of Babel,” in Labyrinths, ed. Donald A. Yates and James E. Irby (s.l.: Penguin, 1970).

  5. Italo Calvino, Invisible Cities (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1978).






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