In Italo Calvino’s (1874) Invisible Cities, the emperor Kublai Khan asked his guest, the traveller Marco Polo, whether his understanding of himself, of the world, and of his place within it is inevitably predicated on his own history. Polo replied that “the more he was lost in unfamiliar quarters of distant cities, the more he understood the other cities he had crossed to arrive at” (Tan, 1999). Kublai Khan interrupted him with the question: “You advance always with your head turned back? Is what you see always behind you? Does your journey take place only in the past?” (Tan, 1999). Polo replied that what he sought was always lying ahead of him, even if it was a matter of the past. Arriving at each new city, the traveler again finds a past that he did not know he had. The foreignness of what he no longer is or no longer possesses waits for him in foreign places.
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Tan, F. (1999). Facing forward (video still), single screen projection, 11:00 minutes, sound, color.