The Buried City of Argia

Sand Casting

For a thing simply to be present, to be, it must exert itself against all other being that is external to it. Our physical selves cut a space out of existence in the shape of our physical selves. And constantly we collide with the world around us. Again, Martin Heidegger: “The being-there of historical man means: to be posited as the breach into which the preponderant power of being bursts in its appearing, in order that this breach itself should shatter against being.” I think this means that external being pours into the observing subject as phenomenon, and in doing so it crashes against the essence of the subject. The identity of the subject impedes the course of being, yet being washes around it like a stream around a rock; it inundates it and slowly erodes it.

When I read the passage above and considered its meaning, I was reminded of a literary image I had come across at some point of a society encased within the earth. Its citizens inhabited an environment that was solid rather than spatial, and they moved about by pushing themselves incrementally through a thick medium of stone and soil, like earthworms. I had a very difficult time finding the image in my books. After spending a few hours looking through all of Borges’s work, I began to think I had dreamed the idea up myself, even though that would have taken strength of imagination which I probably do not possess. I ended up finding it late last night in Italo Calvino’s Imaginary Cities. The place is called Argia:

“What makes Argia different from other cities is that it has earth instead of air. The streets are completely filled with dirt, clay packs the rooms to the ceiling, on every stair another stairway is set in negative, over the roofs of the houses hang layers of rocky terrain like skies with clouds.”

We forget that existence presses against us and jostles us around wherever we go. The buried city of Argia is an exaggeration of this.

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