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.
I think my images of LEGOS and letters will guide my visual adaptation of the multiple aspect of the novel. The two units are similar in many ways; they complement each other the way natural language complements code. Both are geared towards some type of constructive problem solving, which reflects the characters’ cooperation.
Again, since there is such a clear relationship between multiplicity and the visual in the novel, I don’t think it will be too difficult to adapt this experience as a blox. I will continue with my practice of making an abstract aspect of the novel concrete through use of a visual motif within the novel.
As with visibility, it’s easy to see how Mr. Penumbra exhibits Calvino’s quality of multiplicity. For one thing, Clay has to tackle the mystery from multiple angles, both high and low tech. He enlists the help of Oliver Groan, archaeology student, to sift through Penumbra’s ancient files and computer system; Grumble, a mysterious hacker who provides him with a makeshift book scanner on short notice; Kat, who has access to Google’s virtually unlimited resources; Neel, who finances most of the crew’s operations; and Penumbra, who is Clay’s window into the world of the Unbroken Spine and the Festina Lente Company.
In addition to the multiple ways to solve a problem, the novel does an excellent job of illustrating the many different methods of acquiring and storing knowledge. It begins with Manutius and his incunabula and ends with Kat and the Google Knowledge Graph. Mr. Penumbra resembles Calvino’s encyclopedic novel in that it explores the way information and language, and the way we process those, change over time and adapt to new technologies and environments. Like the LEGOS I mentioned in my earlier posts, a finite number of letters combines to create a multitude of words and meanings. Mr. Penumbra celebrates this multiplicity of language in its many forms, both print and electronic.
For my adaptation of the novel’s exactitude, I want to hybridize natural language and code in a visual format. The exact qualities of both languages are essential to the composition of this book. This one is a little harder to visualize because so much of the work of language is done behind the scenes: we can visualize a story as we read without having to think too much about the mechanics of the language. Likewise, we can even more easily use a computer without comprehending the tremendously specific code that enables it to run correctly. My blox for exactitude will attempt to make visible that which is normally overlooked.
As I mentioned previously in my blog, there is a direct correlation between exactitude, natural language, and computer programming. Nowhere is this more evident than in Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore. We see it especially it Kat and Neel’s work: Kat’s knowledge of code allows her to solve problems with the utmost precision, while Neel’s skills enable him to make an accurate model of the human body using software.
Exactitude is not the sole domain of digital technology, however. As Penumbra explains to the three friends, Aldus Manutius and others like him developed the first book printing technologies, which required specialized knowledge and attention to detail to operate. He pioneered the field of data science by making information available to readers in a concise, portable, easily replicated format: the book.
As a novel, Mr. Penumbra’s 24-Hour Bookstore pays homage to the pioneers, both past and current, of exactitude in language. As a work of literature in itself, the novel hopes to bridge the gap between the study of print and electronic media by bringing the precision and speed of computers to bear on the wealth of knowledge and history accumulated in print books.
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:
When I started thinking about lightness, the image of ice immediately came to mind. Because of the hydrogen bonds in water molecules, solid water (ice) is actually less dense than liquid water, thus enabling ice to float. This seems counterintuitive, but water is an exceptional molecule. When water freezes, the molecules create a crystal lattice structure which is about 9% less dense than liquid water.
This accords with Calvino’s definition of lightness. The apparently massive ice rises to the top of the liquid water because of chemical interactions at the atomic level. This is similar to how good literature rises above the heaviness of living because of the interaction between language and the human imagination. Good literature seems to defy the laws of this world while at the same time firmly anchoring us in the world through its ability to relate universal human experiences.