This novel has a great many images which are essential to the development of the story. Probably the most important is Clay’s digital model of the bookstore, which helps him solve the mystery of the founder’s puzzle. Using his knowledge of computer programming, Clay creates an interactive model of the books in the store and the patterns in which the patrons check them out. He discovers that the order of the books reveals a pattern shaped like the face of Aldus Manutius, the founder of the Unbroken Spine. Once he solves the puzzle, he is able to delve much deeper into the mysteries of the bookstore.
This visual image was obviously so important to the story that the American cover artist decided to replicate it on the front of the book. If you pick up a copy of the American edition, the little yellow books glow in the dark, just like Clay’s model.
In addition to the major image of the glowing shelves, lesser images such as Kat’s red t-shirt with “BAM!” written on it and Manutius’s dolphin and anchor symbol serve as leitmotifs which hold the story together. Overall, visuals are very important to this novel.
Since I experienced quickness as an auditory property of the book, I face the challenge of finding a way to adapt that experience to the visual medium of the blox. As a musician, I have always associated music with color. For example, a high E is an orange note to me, while the C, D, and E above middle C are more in the green range. This condition is called synesthesia; it means that when my auditory senses are stimulated, it triggers a neurological response which stimulates my visual senses, thus creating my dual experience of sounds and colors. With that in mind, I wish to combine sound and color in my blox, making what was previously an auditory experience into one which is also visual.
The quality of multiplicity lends itself well to Cornell’s aesthetic. After all, what were his boxes but collections of loosely associated artifacts? Going off of that, the novel itself is a compilation of visual images, created by text, which combine to create a story.
As I mentioned in my adaptation post, I would like to make the abstract aspects of the novel, such as the characters’ interdisciplinary approach to problem solving and the multiple ways of organizing and understanding information, concrete through the use of images in my blox. I plan to combine little snippets of text, fragments of LEGO bricks, and lines of computer code to create my blox and mimic the scavenger hunt-esque aesthetic of Cornell’s boxes.
In the British TV series “Sherlock,” Sherlock Holmes explains that the reason he is able to recall vast amounts of information is because he stores it in his “mind palace.” The mind palace, or method of loci, is a real mnemonic device which allows people to store and recall information in their memories through visualization.
First, you construct a mind palace by visualizing a place, real or imaginary, in your mind. When I created my first mind palace, I visualized my childhood bedroom because it was a place I knew intimately. Next, you designate certain objects in the room as “containers,” or places to store whatever pieces of information you wish to remember. You can have as many or as few containers as you want, but the more you have, the larger the amount of information you’ll be able to remember. I chose containers such as my bed, a picture hanging on the wall, and my bookshelf. If I had wanted, I could have made each individual book on my shelf a container, but since this was my first time creating a mind palace, I decided to keep things simple. Finally, you “place” each tidbit of information in its container by associating the image of the container with the information.
To use the mind palace, you mentally “walk through” the location, visualizing the containers as you go. The image of the container should trigger your memory of the information stored within. This takes some practice, but eventually, you can use your mind palace to store everything from your deepest secrets to your weekly grocery list.
I chose the mind palace as my emblem of visibility because within the memory system, the image (the container) precedes the word (the stored information). This correlates with Calvino’s insistence on the supremacy of the image in cultivating the imagination and aiding the memory. Within the mind palace, the image is a powerful evocative force; its visibility enables the recall of more abstract stored information.
Jackson’s combination of minimalist colors and poetic language in my body remind me of the work of graphic artist Julian Peters. Peters takes classic works of poetry and translates them into graphic novels. He uses the same black and white color scheme to add contrast while creating detailed visualizations of the language of the poems, some of which are very abstract.
This is taken from his rendering of T.S. Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” which is my favorite poem. When I was reading this, I noticed the similarities between Jackson’s and Peters’s translation of images into words (Jackson) and words into images (Peters). This is exactly what Calvino describes in his definition of the two types of imaginative processes. In both cases, the visual aspect of the work greatly enhances the linguistic component. Peters’s illustrations greatly added to my enjoyment of the poem, and I look forward to his completion of the Prufrock project.
Follow the link to explore more of Peters’s work:
My emblem of exactitude is The Nightmare Before Christmas, a 1993 claymation film by Tim Burton. To produce a claymation film, the filmmakers have to create movable characters out of clay, then film each small adjustment of the character’s body to create the illusion of continuous motion. This ties in perfectly with my examination of the relationship between literature and animation in the E-Lit Example and Graphic posts.
A claymation film depends a lot on precision, skilled craftsmen, and quality storytelling. The individual frames all add up to one continuous piece which flows smoothly and entertains. Just as Calvino says that literature is the fulfillment of language, so too is film the fulfillment of the static image.
I related Calvino’s exactitude to time and motion in graphic design. This may seem like a bit of a stretch, but I see a connection between exactitude and animation in Soundpoems. Lupton and Phillips say that “Film is a visual art. Designers of motion graphics must think both like painters and typographers and like animators and filmmakers.”
Furthermore, they state that “animation uses sequences of still images to create the optical illusion of movement. The brain retains images for a split-second longer than the images are actually before us, resulting in the illusion of movement when numerous images appear in rapid succession. This phenomenon is called persistence of vision.”
This relates to exactitude because a work of literature, like a book or a film, is composed of smaller elements, like letters or frames, carefully arranged to produce exactly the right kind of effect. Creating such a work of art takes a great deal of finesse and attention to detail, which Calvino would call exactitude.
I think my body: a WunderKammer by Shelley Jackson captures Calvino’s visibility. Jackson uses a chalk drawing of her body to tell the story of her life. She uses each body part as a springboard to tell stories about her adolescence, her sexual awakening, and her ultimate acceptance and celebration of her own body. Her body is at once a map, a timeline, and a living museum, and it all begins with the image.
I chose my body as my example of visibility because in this work, as in the comics Calvino read as a child, the story really begins with the visual image. The image also provides us with the opportunity to create our own stories by drawing on our own experiences and imagining a multitude of alternate narratives.
In his memo on visibility, Calvino explains that there are two types of imaginative processes: one which begins with the word and ends with a visual image, and one which begins with the image and ends with the word. Calvino says that the imagination which begins with the image is the one which achieves “knowledge of the most profound meaning.” For Calvino, the image takes priority over the word because the image gives birth to literature in the imagination. Thus, visualization, imagination, and thinking in terms of images are essential to creating good literature.
Of all Calvino’s qualities, visibility is the one which resonates most with me. Maybe it’s because I remember a moment similar to the one he describes in his memo when he would make up stories for the characters in his comic books before he could read the captions beneath the pictures. For me, this book was St. George and the Dragon by Margaret Hodges and illustrated by Trina Schart Hyman. Hyman won a Caldecott Medal for her illustrations, which captivated me as a child. I would pore over the book for hours, lost in a world of my own fantasy where I could imagine my own adventures beside Una and the Red Cross Knight.
I remember telling my mom years later that I was actually disappointed when I learned to read the text of the book because it collapsed my multitude of adventures into a single, fixed narrative. The pictures in that book were a formative part of my education–they taught me that my imagination has no limits, and I have only to keep my eyes open and be attentive to detail in order to notice the beauty all around me.
The three components of Calvino’s exactitude are:
- A well-defined and well-calculated plan for the work in question
- An evocation of clear, incisive, memorable visual images
- A language as precise as possible both in choice of words and in expression of the subtleties of thought and imagination
He believes that literature is the fulfillment of language and defines good literature as “straining toward exactitude.” Literature is meant to create order out of a chaotic universe, as is science, Calvino says. Both are methods of knowledge that attempt to organize the world and define it in precise, constant terms. In science and in literature, we must be able to derive universal, infinite laws from particular, finite instances of those laws.
Exactitude reminds me of a sonnet, a poem which follows strict rules concerning meter and rhyme. There are two types of sonnets, Italian and Shakespearean, each with different rhyme schemes, but both are fourteen lines long and written in iambic pentameter. Sonnets are challenging to write because the poet must work within these constraints, but they are nevertheless rewarding. It takes an extraordinary amount of discipline and skill–what Calvino would call exactitude–to write a good sonnet. I chose one of my favorites, Shakespeare’s “Sonnet 116,” as my example. As you read it, think about how the sonnet implements the three elements of exactitude listed above.
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.