Wednesday, September 13, 2006

A new perspective on Calvino's beautiful cities and insight into the U.S.A

As I read Calvino's descriptions of cities in his work I couldn't help but form pictures in my head of these beautiful places. Even the city of Leonia, which told of a city hidden by trash, conveyed such beauty through Calvino's description. After I read the excerpt from Augustine's The City of God which described the difference between the earthly cities and the heavenly cities I couldn't help but think back to Calvino's gorgeous descriptions of the earthly cities. I thought, if these earthly cities are already so beautiful, how can the heavenly cities that Augustine talks of possibly appear?

Augustine's description of the city of Jerusalem was particularly striking for me. He identifies the fact that earthy cities were not created simply for the sake of being there but rather to prepare those on Earth for making the journey to the heavenly city. He states,"One part of the earthly city, by symbolizing something other than itself, has been made into an image of the Heavenly City; and so it is in bindage, because it was established not for its own sake, but in order to serve as a symbol of another city." This was my favorite sentence of the entire passage, not just because of its poignant structure but rather because this idea is amazing. All the beauty that Calvino describes in his cities is only a mere reflection of the beauty in the Heavenly City. So as Calvino points out that all cities have similarities and differences, Augustine furthers his point so as to describe a city that encompasses all the similarities and differences of those which Calvino describes.

Later, on page 638 I read "Of strife and peace in the earthly city" which described how although the earthly city is viewed as one it can be divided against itself. It was interesting how this later passage was exemplified by the Roman brothers Remus and Romulus, Remus who was slain by Romulus, yet could be so easily applied to our daily life. The United States immediately came to mind when I read how the city ," seeks to be victorious over other nations even though it is itself captive by vices." Our nation seeks to fight wars that are not ours to fight yet when disaster strikes our own nation (hurricane Katrina), our government is the last to help. Later in that section Augustine discusses that ,"triumph itself brings death." When earthly cities win a war or gain X amount of power, they are left craving more. Earthly cities have and will always be power hungry and in a constant state of war. Both Rome and the United States have held extreme amounts of power but ultimately these could have been any other cities which relates back to Calvino's theme of anonymity between the cities. A description of one city could be a description of one thousand others, it just depends on the reader's personal experience.

The description that Augustine gives of earthly cities is one of beauty such as the one Calvino gave us but in addition displays how those beautiful, earthly cities have flaws which do not occur in the Heavenly City. I wonder how Calvino would tackle the task of how he believes Heavenly Cities would appear in contrast to earthly cities due to his already high opinion of those earthly cities. I believe that the view each person living on earth has of the Heavenly City is somewhat different. Some people may not actually hold a view due to their lack of religious beliefs but others may believe that the Heavenly City is the reason that they were put into the earthly city. The view of the Heavenly City is completely dependent on your personal preference.