Tag Archives: visual

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 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.