Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Augustine and Calvino

I agree with Lucy in that there are a great deal of similarities in Augustine and Calvino. Immediately I noticed that in City of God, much like in Invisible Cities, the cities discussed dealt primarily with the ends, the purpose, of the city. Augustine divided the two groups, what he calls the two cities, according to their destination: Heaven or Hell. Calvino repeated refers to cities based on what they do. He discusses the ways in which the city functions in the every day and in many cases ponders the eventual demise of the city based on how it lives. Leonia is a perfect example in that Calvino describes the way in which the people throw out their lives each day and goes on to tell us that eventually they will be buried in their own past. Similarly, Augustine tries to show how those who live in the City of God and focus their lives on pure things and will triumph. People from the earthly city may find their way to the City of God, but if they remain they will perish. These outcomes are largely based on the choices the city's people make in daily life.

Further, both authors think of the cities they recount in terms of its population. For Calvino, this is done by refering to the character and the culture of the cities. He tells his tales by temporarily becoming a member of the community and uses his experience among the people to bring the city to life for Khan. Polo uses the unique qualities and habits of the people of the cities to make them stand out, to make them memorable. Unlike Augustine, he also uses architecture and physical features to create an image, but the lasting pictures the reader takes away are of the woman walking a puma and the people communicating without words. Since Augustine's cities are defined purely by the people of which is it made, he must create a strong and distinct culture to differentiate his two cities. In this case they represent those who are 'evil' and focus their lives on the material world and those who have transcended such base things. Augustine's cities are not physical places but frames of mind.

Considering that both authors use the people to frame the city (and in Augustine's case, creates a 'city' out of people), what does that say about the nature of cities? Is one still a member of a city once one leaves it if one maintains the lifestyle unique to that city? In many cases, it would be easy to tell a New Yorker, even if they happen to be in L.A. If half of the people of New York would move to L.A and vice versa, those two cities may become unrecognizable although they remain in same physical space with the same name. These two very different authors writing in vastly differing societal contexts come to similar conclusions as to what the important elements of a city are. It would suggest that a city may not be determined by a separate space but by the customs of those who inhabit it and the direction they are steering the city in the future.