Multiplicity

Calvino describes multiplicity as a quality of writing that seems to use infinite details and descriptions.  He compares the contemporary novel to an encyclopedia, so filled with facts it hardly resembles a work of prose.

“Whatever the starting point, the matter in hand spreads out and out, encompassing even vaster horizons, and if it were permitted to go on further and further in every direction, it would end up embracing the entire universe.” (Calvino 107).

He refers to Carlo Emilio Gadda as a writer who puts everything into his work causing him to lose sight of the purpose of the novel and replace it with an encyclopedia of his knowledge.

Thinking of multiplicity has brought a novel called Mr. Wilson’s Cabinet of  Wonder (by Lawrence Weschler) to mind.  A wonder cabinet is a type of museum for fascinating and unlikely things, usually thought to be fiction or exaggerations.  This novel explains the findings in Mr. Wilson’s wonder cabinet and gives scientific analysis.  Half the time it was very much like an encyclopedia to me.  Even though overall it was a good book, it could really drag along.  We can lose the story in the mass of facts.

Advertisements

Visibility

Calvino describes visibility as two types of imaginative processes: one that starts with the visual image and arrives at its verbal expression and one that starts with the word and arrives at the visual image. Visibility describes the ability to match an image of the imagination with words that describe it. Calvino tells about his youth when he would look at pictures from the Felix the Cat comic strip but not be able to read them. He’d make up his own stories, putting his own words to the vision.

Calvino has a visual image to all of his stories. For example, he envisions a suit of armor that moves and speaks as if someone were inside. Once he has his visual, he can set about writing the story.

This makes me think of the Choose Your Own Adventure novels I used to read in elementary school. You, the reader, come to a crossroads and must choose what you next action will be. You’re not completely in control of your outcome but your vision changes the results with every choice. One of the versions I owned was Journey Under the Sea by R.A. Montgomery.

Exactitude

Exactitude can be described as the opposite of vague. For some reason this is the best I can do on a description without pulling out a thesaurus. It’s just the way I think about it. With a little outside assistance I can explain it as clarity, preciseness, or specificity. It is when the writer puts thought into every word and places it in a fixed order for an “exact” reason. Vagueness can be created when a writer has so much to say that they do not take the time to focus in on the details. But details, the ones that are deeply thought out, can be what give flavor to a piece. At least this is what Calvino says.
Calvino describes exactitude in three ways:
1). a well-defined and well-calculated plan for the work in question
2). an evocation of clear, incisive, memorable visual images
3). a language as precise as possible both in choice of words and in expression of the subtleties of thought and imagination
(Calvino 55-56)
Calvino uses the crystal as an emblem to represent exactitude. “The crystal, with its precise faceting and its ability to refract light, is the model of perfection that I have always cherished as an emblem” (70). A crystal grows as if it were living but belongs to the mineral world, a bridge between the two.

I feel that poetry embodies exactitude, being that every single word is put there after careful planning and thought. If the poet is creating a rhyme, they are limited in the words they can chose from in order to continue with the desired effect. While I could probably type a page about my day in less than 10 minutes, a haiku poem about my day could take significantly longer. Haikus are very exact, down to the number of syllables a line can have.
Here is an example of a Haiku written by a 10-year-old from Georgia named Irven.
The winter is over
Spring is here hurray good cheer!
I am glad it’s here!

Quickness

Quickness is a writing quality based on pacing.  How compact can one make a sentence without it ever losing meaning?

“Quickness of style and thought means above all agility, mobility, and ease, all qualities that go with writing where it is natural to digress, to jump from one subject to another, to lose the thread a hundred times and find it again after a hundred more twists and turns” (Calvino 46).  Calvino stresses the importance of a rhythm to writing that keeps the piece organized and focused.

Time can be manipulated however an author pleases.  A year can pass by in an instant.  Calvino tells the story of a king who asks Chuang-tzu to draw a crab.  He spends 10 years without ever beginning the drawing and at the end of these 10 years “Chuang-tzu took up his brush and, in an instant, with a single stroke, he drew a perfect crab, the

most perfect crab ever seen” (Calvino 54).  I love this story because it shows how it took both 10 years and an instant simultaneously to draw a crab; two conflicting time periods.  This is Calvino’s representation of his own personal motto, Festina lente or “Hurry Slowly,” symbolized by an emblem of a dolphin twisted around an anchor as shown here.

Calvino uses the horse as an emblem to describe quickness.  It isn’t just physical speed that he is concerned with but speed of the mind.  “Speed…it is most pleasurable in itself; that is the vivacity, the energy, the strength, the sheer life of such a feeling.  Indeed it almost gives you an idea of the infinite—elevates the soul, fortifies it” (Calvino 41).

Calvino discusses how the folktale is representative of quickness because of the relativity of time within the story.  Details are not important and nothing is included that doesn’t have a necessary function in the plot.  Take this story, for example.

Who Is King Of The Forest?

A Tale from India

When Tiger jumped on Fox, Fox cried out, “How dare you attack the King of the Jungle!”

Tiger looked at him in amazement, “Nonsense! You are not King!”

“Certainly I am,” replied Fox, “All the animals run from me in terror! If you want proof, come with me.” Fox went into the forest with Tiger at his heels. When they came to a herd of deer, the deer saw Tiger behind Fox and ran in all directions.

They came to a group of monkeys. The monkeys saw Tiger behind Fox and they fled. Fox turned to Tiger and said, “Do you need more proof than that? See how the animals flee at the very sight me?!”

“I’m surprised, but I’ve seen it with my own eyes. Forgive me for attacking you, Great King.” Tiger bowed low and with great ceremony he let Fox go.

This story is made to be told orally where details can’t be remembered.  Rather than details, it stresses repetition.  The tiger and the fox approach different groups of animals but the same scenario plays out.  The story is not disinteresting due to its length.

Lightness

Lightness does not refer to the intensity of light within a room but rather represents writing that is the opposite of heaviness and density.  Lightness is the ease with which the words come off the page.  No translator is necessary.  The writing is simple, straight-forward, and to the point.

Calvino argues that lightness is difficult to achieve.  The entire world around us is extremely heavy, after all.  Refering to Milan Kundera’s “The Unbearable Lightness of Being,” Calvino tells us that everything we choose in life for its lightness soon reveals its true, unbearable weight.

“One should be light like a bird, and not like a feather” (Calvino 15).  Here he says that light writing may feel effortless but the writer actually puts much effort into it.  A feather does not naturally float, but falls like all objects.  A bird, however, can soar high into the sky.  Work is exhorted in order to look as though the wind carries it along.

Calvino tells of a part of a story by the Florentine Poet Guido Cavalcanti which is emblematic of lightness.  “The sudden agile leap of the poet-philosopher who raises himself above the weight of the world, showing that with all his gravity he has the secret of lightness and that what many consider to be the vitality of the times-noisy, aggressive, revving and roaring—belongs to the realm of death, like a cemetery for rusty old cars” (12).  In his weightless leap over a grave he leaves behind all the density of the world.

One novel that I feel particularly demonstrates the quality of Lightness is The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff.
This novel discusses philosophy in a light and simple way. Winnie the Pooh is a silly children’s book character, yet he is used to explain something more complex and aimed at adults.

“When you discard arrogance, complexity, and a few other things that get in the way, sooner or later you will discover that simple, childlike, and mysterious secret known to those of the Uncarved Block: Life is fun.”