Tag Archives: literature

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 Visibility

28 Feb

The fourth quality that Calvino introduces is that of Visibility.

He begins by introducing Purgatorio in which Dante is presented with scenes that act as representations or quotations of examples of sins and virtues. First they are revealed as “bas-reliefs” that appear to move and speak, then they appear as visions projected before his eyes, then as voices in his ear and finally as purely mental images. (pg. 81)

Calvino uses this example as a representation of the imaginative process, of which he says there are two types: (pg. 83)

1) the one that starts with the word and arrives at the visual image

2) the one that starts with the visual image and arrives at its verbal expression

The first of these processes, Calvino says, is what happens when we read normally. “We are brought to witness the scene as if it were taking place before our eyes….” He calls this the “mental cinema.” He is focusing on what happens to the reader when they experience literature. It is just that, an experience. The mind works in such a way that it paints such vivid pictures, that the reader is moved in some emotional fashion, be it to action or just contemplation. It is rare that we do not watch a movie, or even television show that we are not inspired or piqued in some way that a reaction is not elicited. In a day when we have an essentially free method of communication at our fingertips through social media and the internet, we are more inclined than ever to share our thoughts, feelings and reactions to works that exercise our imaginations and emotions.

Independent of, yet relative to Calvino’s second example of Visibility, Ejercicios espirituales, the book of Revelation in the Bible is a strong example of Visibility that elicits an emotional and cognitive reaction, regardless of religious belief.

In Revelation chapter 1, verses 12-16, John is explaining his experience to the Seven Churches. He says, “When I turned to see who was speaking to me, I saw seven gold lampstands. And standing in the middle of the lampstands was someone like the Son of Man. He was wearing a long robe with a gold sash across his chest. His head and his hair were white like wool, as white as snow. And his eyes were like flames of fire. His feet were like polished bronze  refined in a furnace, and his voice thundered like mighty ocean waves. He held seven stars in his right hand, and a sharp two-edged sword came from his mouth. And his face was like the sun in all its brilliance.”

With a parallel to Dante’s Purgatorio, John is relaying a message and describing in the greatest of detail what he has seen. Interwoven into this description are, what I feel to be, his feelings of overwhelmedness and awe. He explicitly states that he “sees” these things, and therefore this cannot but translate into the reader’s imagination as an image or picture.

No matter the piece of work, Visibility is a quality that is inherent in literature. Albeit that some provide more vividness than others, the beauty of literature is just that- its ability to vividly describe a scene and therefore project an experience upon the reader.

I feel as though I share John’s sense of overwhelmedness and awe. Both he and Dante describe their experiences in an awesome way- in the literal meaning of the word- and I cannot help, as a visual learner, having a stronger inclination for an experience when I can use all of my senses to do so because of the Visibility of the work at hand.

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.