Paul M. Willenberg
8 January, 1996
Senior Honors English
The Solipsistic Consciousness’ Reality
Through its Manifisting Dialectic
Kublai Kahn seeks greater consciousness. Even from the first line, “The Emperor of the Tartars does continue listening to the young Venetian with greater attention and curiosity than he shows any other messenger or explorer of his,” Kublai Kahn isolates Marco Polo because he is external from the Kingdom. The Kahn is Kahn of his Kingdom and thereby exists as the manifestation of his empire because his empire is only what he perceives. It is not that he sees what he wants, per se, but that he knows he can only see what he knows. Once we internalize a feeling or emotion we can then use it to qualify not only the things will encounter but to qualify our memory. Therefore he pays close attention to Marco Polo because Polo is a completely external reality unaffected by the Kahn. Polo becomes the catalyst for Kahn to explore a new level of exploration. The Kahn realizes what Polo represents while Polo is there. All of his revelations about cities and consciousness come as a result of the external force of Polo. Kublai Kahn, however, seems foolish. Polo is an opportunity to expand his options for qualifying and interpreting future and past ideas, objects, feelings or emotions. If it were true that we can only know what we already know then we would be born with an essence, a pre-programmed consciousness. Not so. We develop consciousness through interaction with external realities. We then add these to our ammunition to interpret more realities. Thus, Calvino suggests the past qualifies the future. We cannot be conscious and live from moment to moment, e.g., Meursault. He lacks definitive awareness because he lacks accurate interpretation and perception.
Each city exists as a separate, dynamic reality. Similarly, individual people have their own internal, individual, dynamic realities. If we think we know that there exists a difference between those other realities or cities or les autres, then we can call ourselves conscious. The cities explain Kahn’s quest for knowledge.
The chapters parallel the progression of communication between the Kahn and Polo. In order to be aware of self we must remember ourselves in a previous state. Calvino suggests there is no self that is not dynamic. We must also desire to be self aware. We could have many feelings and emotions but consciousness only accompanies the desire to become aware of our emotions and feelings. Calvino proposes that we are self aware because we want to be. Going back to other, external realities, we then have the desire to communicate not only our feelings and emotions but what we feel we have gained by them. Calvino submits that we think other people want to hear our perception of the external reality. Perhaps we cannot comprehend the essence of another’s interpretation since we can only learn through what we already know. When we choose to communicate we must interpret our perception of reality into signs (sometimes these signs are language) and then the interpreter must translate that into their qualification system. Thus signs become thin or narrow. The interpreter has a very thin or narrow perception of my original feeling emotion or idea. Realizing this terrible irony, the Kahn and Polo decide to trade: “From now on I shall describe the cities and you will tell me if they exist and are as I conceive them” (43). Because they recognize the utter futility of communication, they trade. What a consciousness sees or perceives with their senses and wishes to communicate must be translated into names. These names do not describe the object, idea, emotion, or feeling of the namer or of the interpreter, but the names are a common, imperfect medium for communication. Thus, the middle, or the external realities becomes “dead”. It ceases to matter because it does not exist in anyone’s consciousness except the “sky”. Chair: I perceive it, you perceive it, but it does not perceive itself. Even if it did have a consciousness of its own existence, it would be different from its true essence. Calvino affirms that essence is meaningless because of interpretation. The Kahn and Polo sit and have complete and total freedom of interpretation because perception becomes the only reality. Because our realities are constantly changing, that is, we continually perceive new things that we can use to qualify still more things, then our perception of reality not only becomes dynamic, but “continuous”. Everything I do or think affects my perception of reality, my consciousness. Thus, my, interpretation is hidden from every other individual reality. You cannot know my consciousness because it would be impossible for you to fully comprehend it. My dynamic, continuous reality not only transcends time and space, but is unique to me, it is mine.