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.