Lucas Klein on Dung Kai-cheung's Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City
"No one, wise Kublai,” says Marco Polo in Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities, “knows better than you that the city must never be confused with the words that describe it.” In Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City, Hong Kong’s Dung Kai-cheung writes, “All places are misplaces, and all misplaces are misreadings,” and “The prerequisite for the setting of boundaries on maps is possession of the power to create fiction.”
Calvino’s Invisible Cities has Marco Polo telling Chinese emperor Kublai Khan of the fabulous and fantastical cities he has visited, all named after women, like the idealized Venice (Venus) from which he hails. Dung’s Atlas, meanwhile, tells only of Victoria, a city named after a queen and, coincidentally, the ur-name of central Hong Kong. Coincidentally, because in line with Marco Polo’s admonition not to confuse the city with its verbal representation, despite any resemblance between actual Hong Kong and the city Atlas describes, its placement is misplaced and its maps are inscribed with the power of fiction: historical details mix with the made-up, and fact and the factitious blend in its pages.