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:
Soundpoems by Jörg Piringer is a great example of Calvino’s exactitude. In Soundpoems, animated letters, the smallest building blocks of language, combine in particular ways to create literature. According to Calvino, literature is the fulfillment of language. Piringer’s minimalist approach to poetry takes us to the fundamental units of language: letters and phonemes. His combination of programming and sound is exquisite: the skill required to create this type of animation is specialized and exact.
Furthermore, by breaking language down into its smallest building blocks, Piringer asks us to consider the arrangement of letters and sounds in a new way. We tend to take language for granted: our environments are saturated with written and spoken words. The combination of letters, sounds, and animation puts a whole new spin on the phrase “poetry in motion” and reminds us that language is alive, dynamic, and exact.
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.
Quickness refers to the style and structure of a story. Literature with this quality follows a logical narrative pattern. Calvino says the events “rhyme,” meaning they parallel each other to create a cohesive story, thereby making the narrative more effective. It is the rhythm of narrative time, above all, which determines the quality of the storytelling. Calvino believes that folktales exemplify quickness.
“The very first characteristic of a folktale is economy of expression.The most outlandish adventures are recounted with an eye fixed on the bare essentials.”
Further, quickness is a mode of thought, “a question of quick adjustment, of agility of both thought and expression.” Calvino quotes from the scientist Gallileo, who said, “Good thinking means quickness, agility in reasoning, economy in argument, but also the use of imaginative examples.”
Calvino compares quickness to the Roman god Mercury, who, as messenger of the gods, moves quickly and with alacrity. Literature must do the same; it must “aim at the maximum concentration of poetry and thought.” Calvino’s own personal motto and emblem are taken from the Venetian printer Aldus Manutius. Festina Lente, or “hurry slowly,” is Calvino’s touchstone for all his literary works. It is symbolized by the dolphin twined around an anchor.
My example of quickness is the short animated film Paperman. The story moves with alacrity from one scene to the next, all without words, yet none of the meaning is lost. The images speak for themselves and make the narrative smooth and streamlined. Click on the link below to watch.