The concept ‘Città Continua’ (continuous city) denotes metaphorically both the socio-economic and psychological mechanisms of production, distribution, and consumption of goods, matters, and objects. As a perennial and numbing vortex, it may occur more systematically in an urban sphere, centered around the idea of modern cityscape. It is predicated on the not-so-imaginary idea that a city (or a society) must infinitely renew itself, refashion its goods, throwing away its devices, clothes, or tools, right after their first use. Their value consists in the possibility of being discarded. A ‘continuous city’ is, therefore, the quintessential image of what radical consumerism generates in the physical body of its space and what it obtains through the bodies of its citizens by serving as an engrained desirable biopower. It produces new desires to be exploited, and immediately satisfied.
The concept was firstly ideated by Cuban-born Italian essayist, novelist, and journalist, Italo Calvino, one of the most prolific and influential voices in Italian intellectual culture during the second postwar period from 1940s to 1980s. In much of his work, Calvino has anticipated a variety of Anthropocene categories, socioeconomic, and biopower dynamics that have dramatically shifted considerations on the role of humans, and human productions, the nonhuman worlds (animals, plants, oceans, etc..) and effects on how Italian landscapes and common urban spheres have been transformed, by almost following indirectly all the stages of the Great Acceleration according to many scholars (in particular Serenella Iovino’s works).
Calvino introduces this expression in his acclaimed collection, Le città Invisibili (Invisible Cities, 1972), a compendium of 55 short stories and reflections on modernity and a critical exploration of the role of metropolis and public spaces on human perception, desires, memories, and value-making. The framework of the novel is based on Marco Polo’s Il Milione (The Book of the Marvels of the World, originally published in 1298), one of the first literary travelogues which recounts the socio-cultural encounters between the Italian explorer and many of the today’s Asian populations.
‘Continuous city’ belongs to one of his dystopic and sci-fi short stories, the city of Leonia (a lion) where Calvino crafts an interesting parable on the environmental and social stratifications of a city as an ontological microcosm of human fashioning of unsustainable ecosystems, a body at the mercy of capitalist endeavors, and its historical adaptions, evolution, and discarding mechanisms. A city that refashions itself when it wakes up every morning and never uses the same object twice as a measure of its opulence and infinite possibility of having something new. It is a portrayal of all city-life, its incessant need to advertise and circulate the latest device or object, on a perennial consumerism and cultural homologation visually embodied in the mass proliferation of landfills. Leonia’s angels or saviors, for Calvino, are the trash collector employees who daily clean the city streets from the garbage bags. Ironically the city also lives in a constant state of angst waiting for cataclysmic landslides which will carry on in the valleys of the streets the mountains of discarded objects collected until then.
The example of Leonia deeply relates with our current environmental distress as it concerns issues of trash disposal, overproduction (automotive industries, hi-tech devices, clothing industries, and more), implementation of recycling and repurposing measures, the carbon footprint of overproductions and energy costs, as well as discourses of degrowth and the rethinking of our economic modes of consumption and distribution on a larger global scale. On the category of waste, Calvino’s concept dialogues indirectly with the expression coined by the Italian environmental historian, Marco Armiero, in his book Wasteocene. Stories from the Global Dump (2021) which profoundly scrutinizes images of trash as sociocultural, political, and natural decay, especially in marginalized areas or the so-called underdeveloped countries, also considering the existential impact of colonial and decolonial practices.
Calvino, Italo. Invisible Cities. Translated by William Weaver. London: Secker & Warburg, 1974.
Armiero, Marco. Wasteocene. Stories from the Global Dump. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2021.
Iovino, Serenella. Ecocriticism and Italy. Ecology, Resistance, and Liberation. London: Bloomsbury Academic, 2016.
Iovino, S., Cesaretti, E., and Past, E., editors. Italy and the Environmental Humanities. Natures, Ecologies and Landscapes. Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2018.