Tag Archives: layers


When I think of quickness, I think about the stream of consciousness novel, which came into its own at the beginning of the twentieth century. Authors writing in this style wished to craft prose that captured the fragmentation and simultaneity of thought: in essence, consciousness itself. To the Lighthouse by Virginia Woolf is my favorite novel in this genre.

download (2) On a basic level, it tells the story of the Ramsay family and their activities at a seaside cottage, but it also encompasses World War One, the beginnings of the feminist movement, Lily Briscoe’s struggle to find her voice as an artist, new discoveries in quantum physics, and questions of faith and humanity’s place in the universe.

Woolf’s writing style can be difficult to comprehend at first; sometimes it feels as if she’s moving through the story a little too quickly. She constantly changes narrators and points of view, and she distorts our sense of linear time: the first half of the book covers the events of a single day, while all of World War One merits only a few pages. However, the quickness of the novel comes precisely from Woolf’s relentless drive to continue through the story. We experience one event after the other at lightning speed until all of a sudden, we arrive at the end, when Lily Briscoe fulfills her artistic vision in a sudden frenzy of creation and inspiration.

This novel, which moves along at a brisk clip, exemplifies quickness and efficiency of style in narrative. Woolf is clear and succinct: each paragraph is carefully crafted to evoke vivid images and further Woolf’s goal of emulating consciousness in prose.

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I noticed a connection between quickness and layering in graphic design. Just as the words in Ah appeared on the screen in layers, so do artists create layers in space (in a collage, for instance) and time (as in a piece of music). Layers indicate simultaneity and complexity in a composition: a choral work will produce a much richer sound if written in four part harmony instead of  unison.


Another good example of layering in everyday life is a city map. A map consists of many different representations of data all superimposed on one another. For instance, this map of London includes graphs of the landscape, highways, railroad tracks, roads, Metro stations, and other buildings of interest. Layering allows cartographers to represent this information simultaneously in a condensed format that is easily accessible to readers.


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