Tag Archives: Calvino

Exact: Experience

21 Apr

My experience with The Giving Tree in terms of being exact is that of an appreciation for the precision with which each picture is drawn and sentence is written. As more of  a poet than a writer of works at length, Shel Silverstein is a true wordsmith and master of conciseness while still managing to convey such power and depth. If it were not for his exact and deliberate choice of words, syntax and grammatical expression, The Giving Tree would be just another children’s story about a boy, his imagination and experiences with a tree as a friend.

Calvino expresses his definition of exactness or exactitude in terms of literature being an “evocation of clear, incisive, memorable visual images” (pg. 56) Silverstein achieves just that as he manages to imply so much more than there is to this story in actual words. Within the 25 pages  are what could possibly be at least three chapters of a story because of the richness each simple line incorporates. But it is not just the individual lines of text and context that allow for depth, but is the tension and pregnant pauses between each of the thoughts and lines that allow the reader to process and take in the experience. Not only are the words exact, but also are the placement of the words on the page in terms of spacing and indention. They become a part of the artwork and provide further support for the dramatic sense of the writing.

One of the most exact portions of the book that is also one of the greatest points of heightened emotion is on the page that reads,

“But time went by.

[next page] And the boy grew older.”

The break in lines between these pages and the realization of sadness by the tree, and therefore the reader, is the first point of conflict experienced by the reader and is most definitely deliberate by Silverstein.

It is all of these aspects combined, the exactitude of word choice, placement and precise but minimal drawings that allow for the imagination to fabricate the missing pieces of the story in terms of visual elements. These things, according to Calvino, define the characteristic of being exact and allow the reader an experience of empathy, sympathy and love for these characters.


Light: Experience

21 Apr

The Giving Tree offers much that represents the characteristic of being light and most of this lightness is in an aesthetic sense in terms of text and pictures. Each page is full of open, white space with the exception of a few words and lines that make the outlines of the tree and the boy. Not only is there a great deal of white space, but everything is in black and white- there is no color to be found, save for on the cover of the book. This lack of abundant text, art and color on each page leaves no option but to leave the reader with a sense of weightlessness- that this book is truly a light read.

Not only do the pages provide a sense of lightness, the quality of being light, but this book can also be read in less than three minutes- a “light” experience and not a cumbersome or daunting task. Calvino expresses what he feels to be light in terms of its antonym form- weightlessness. And while I do feel this book does provide lightness through its aesthetic attributes, it does weigh heavily on the heart in terms of emotions. This story is such that Silverstein ropes in the reader with just the right expression and wording in a most simple form. The connection developed between the tree and the boy, the boy and the tree and the reader and these characters is such a strong bond that one feels as though they are a part of the story. The reader experiences the sense of love, loyalty and imagination that is prevalent throughout the story through these relationships, and as these are some of the strongest emotions that humans can feel, an immense sense of weight, or heavy heartedness is felt when the boy is gone for such an extended period of time. When he comes back and takes and takes, multiple times, one feels a sense of empathy for the tree because we know that the tree cannot really be happy in her lonesome state.

From these observations, it is apparent that Silverstein has created a paradox through the juxtaposition of the sense of lightness prevalent in the aesthetics of the story and the great sense of weight from the emotional involvement invested by the reader. I feel as though the combination of these two attributes really contribute to the success of this story because of its ability to appeal to children as a story to which they can relate because of the boy’s active imagination and playful spirit, as well as the ability to appeal to adults because of its deeper meaning and emotional relevance to the characteristic of unconditional giving that we learn to develop as we love those around us.

Calvino’s Multiplicity

1 Mar

The final quality of writing on which Calvino lectures is Multiplicity.

He first introduces the concept of Multiplicity not with a definition, but rather with an example.

An excerpt from the novel That Awful Mess of the Via Merulana by Carlo Gadda:

“He sustained, among other things, that the unforeseen catastrophes are never the consequence or the effect, if you prefer, of a single motive, of a cause singular; but they are rather like a whirlpool, a cyclonic point of depression in the consciousness of the world, towards which a whole multitude of converging causes have contributed.” (pg. 103)

Calvino later goes on to explain that he is lecturing on “…the contemporary novel as an encyclopedia, as a method of knowledge, and above all as a network of connections between the events, the people, and the things of the world.” (pg.105) In other words, Multiplicity.

I feel as though the term “network” is the important one in this definition because Gadda in his writings composes in such a way that he tries to incorporate as many subjects as possible that begin with the central point and wind up elsewhere. Gadda’s personal enthusiasm for engineering and other subjects such as philosophy help to explain why he tried to describe the world as a “knot.” An eccentric character, Gadda expressed all of his anxieties through his writing, and did so by babbling on until his thoughts were tangled and it was nearly impossible to find the a way back to the initial idea.

Calvino does not expressly say that his emblem for Multiplicity is an encyclopedia, but I feel as though it is safe to say that this is what he emphasizes as a representation of his quality. Like an encyclopedia, Multiplicity is truly characterized by a plethora of information all in one place, almost in an overwhelming sense. Calvino does explicitly  say, however, that he would like to pass to the next millennium a literature that has absorbed the taste for mental orderliness and exactitude, the intelligence of poetry, but at the same time the science of philosophy. This would not be possible without some sense of Multiplicity, even if the education and collection of these concepts and thoughts was over a period of time through a varying number of works of literature and media.

The aspect of Multiplicity to which I most closely relate, or from which I obtain the greatest aesthetic, is that of its attribute of being overwhelming. In terms of literature that I have personally experienced, Jane Eyre is what comes to mind when I think of Multiplicity. Although there is an underlying and relatively easily detectable storyline, the text itself is rich with details and seemingly unnecessary thoughts or descriptions to the point where the reader has to return and read each line over again. Even though I may prefer more concise stories and appreciate when the sequence of events is of a timely fashion, I personally have a tendency toward Multiplicity- the overstock of information and details in a singular point.

Calvino’s Exactitude

26 Feb

The third quality that Calvino presents is Exactitude. According to Calvino, Exactitude means three things above all:

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

The polarity of Exactitude is defined by its contrast with vagueness, or lack of detail. Calvino expresses through other literary examples the quality of Exactitude. For example, he draws upon Leopardi who maintained that the more vague and imprecise language is, the more poetic it becomes. I interpret this to mean not that language with exact meaning cannot be poetic, but that it simply comes across as being more factual and straight forward than that of language that paints a picture with flowery and extraneous details.

The emblem chosen by Calvino for Exactitude is a crystal. He chooses this because of its geometric composition which is based on the contrast of order and disorder. He says that a work of literature is a portion of the universe in which the existent work crystallizes into a form and acquires meaning, that it is then alive as an organism.

An example I feel demonstrates Calvino’s quality of Exactitude are the Harry Potter books. Not only have they come alive as a living organism due to widespread popularity, but they perfectly demonstrate each of the three attributes that Calvino expresses as defining Exactitude. There is most definitely a well-defined and calculated plan as there are seven books in the series, each of which is part of the whole saga, yet is conclusive and directive in and of itself; there are undoubtedly vivid, clear and memorable images painted for the reader through exceptional description, yet J.K. Rowling still leaves room for the imagination to fill in the gaps; and finally the language is so precise in choice of words and expression that the reader has no question as to the happenings of the current thought or overall point to the story. This achievement is especially commendable because of the way that Rowling constructs each story so that it is in a way a mystery or puzzle until events unfold so that the story comes full circle for the reader.

Calvino’s Quickness

25 Feb

The second quality Calvino introduces is Quickness. Through an initial example of the story of Charlamagne, Calvino demonstrates that Quickness can be provided by a narrative link in order to move the tale along. In the story, the ring is the narrative link that provides the movement and determines the relationships among the characters surrounding it.

According to Calvino, Quickness is not a value in itself. Rather it is a singular characteristic that is used to convey a sense of narrative time that is akin to delayed, cyclic or motionless time. As such, the other examples Calvino draws on to demonstrate Quickness, or lack thereof, are a variety of time-keeping methods to prove a point that Quickness can be pertinent to good storytelling.

The emblem Calvino chooses to exemplify the quality of Quickness is the horse. He sees it as an emblem of speed- literally, figuratively and of the mind as well. He emphasizes that the horse runs through the course of literature’s history as representing power, strength and, of course, speed and makes the claim that the horse even heralds the problematics of our technological viewpoints.

I personally feel as though Quickness is an extremely important aspect of a piece of literature. Where as I, as a detail-oriented person, appreciate a great deal of details and information in a piece of work, I also appreciate the movement of a storyline so that engagement does not run stale because of an over abundance of unnecessary information. For me, this type of distraction is a turn-off when it comes to a story, and when a lack of quickness is the case I am discouraged from reading. Therefore I tend to lean toward a preference of Quickness rather than a motionless storyline.

An example of literature I feel demonstrates Quickness is The Giving Tree by Shel Silverstein. While many children’s books can be characterized by the quality of Quickness, I feel as though this one especially captures it because of the concise and yet meaningful message. Each page has a very words, one or two sentences at most, but it does not lack for story. The argument can also be made that the story is successful with so few words because of the pictures, but I feel as though the pictures are merely a supplement and not a main contributing factor for the story. The relationship between the boy and the tree is quick in terms of words and lines, but the meaning is full and the message is timeless.

E-Lit Example

25 Feb

The E-Lit example I chose to represent Quickness is Code Movie 1 by Giselle Bieguelman. I feel as though this is a perfect example of the quality of Quickness because of the obvious and explicit rapidity of the code’s movement. A unique feature of the E-Lit work is that although each “image”moves and transforms extremely quickly, the desired effect and position is achieved so that the viewer understands what each frame is.

Not only is the work itself a representation of Quickness, but so is the concept which is being represented by this piece of work, that of computer processing. Computer processing is a series of events in the hardware of a computer that works with the software component, to decode a message and perform and action, thus creating a series of events or “storyline.” This is similar to what Calvino says about Quickness and its ability to move a story along and bring together different characters (or run different software programs, perform simultaneous actions on a computer) in story as well as determine their relationships, as demonstrated by the tale of Charlamagne.

The busy-ness of the piece is a perfect representation of what happens in the process of a computer’s many actions and directly parallels the speed and continuity of multi-faceted stories in literature.



20 Feb

The analogy that I chose to represent Quickness is a roller coaster. I feel as though a roller coaster not only represents the quality Quickness in terms of speed for obvious reasons, but it is also representative of the literary interpretation of Quickness as Calvino discusses.

Roller coasters can reach speeds up to 100 mph at given times during the course of the track depending on its structural design and resulting physics. The average time for a roller coaster ride is between one and one and a half minutes. In this short time span, the riders can experience an array of twists, turns, cycles and flips over several hundreds of feet of track. I feel as though this can be paralleled with Calvino’s representation of Quickness in that a story takes place over a limited number of chapters, in concise phrasing so that the reader can experience a great amount of detail in a relatively short span of pages. As previously mentioned, I favor the quality of Quickness over a lengthy, drawn-out process. This may be attributed to my tendencies for impatience, however, there is no disputing that Quickness can be appreciated by just about anyone, no matter their scale of patience.