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Monthly Archives: February 2009

Multiplicity, Calvino’s final completed Memo, views “the novel as an encyclopedia, method of knowledge, and a method of connections.” I take this to mean the novel functions as a compilation of allusions to the rest of our world and culture. Imagine any novel and think of just how many allusions and references to Earth it contains. Carlo Emilio Gadda represented the world as a tangled knot of these references, because everything in the world linked to everything else in some way, either close or distant.

Because of this, Calvino has a particular love for overambitious novels that try to pack in as many references and allusions to things as possible. This creates an even more complex network within the story and truly gives it life.


A perfect analogy to describe Multiplicity is the use of tags and links in internet culture. Hyperlinks allow the world wide web’s user interface to become even more streamlined than print, allowing instant access to new information by merely clicking on it. Links can lead to an infinite number of pages, wherever the mind wishes to go.


A website like specializes in links as conduits of information. On can spend hours on the site, clicking between links and reading endless amount of information that seems to be growing at an exponential rate. It’s a constantly growing hive of information that I think is one great example of Multiplicity one can find on the web.

The best emblem to depict Multiplicity would have to be a simple encyclopedia. It perfectly describes the concept Calvino describes of having a wealth of references that refer to things from our culture. An encyclopedia is itself a knot of information, used to refer to important things in society that require explanation. It is a gateway to general knowledge about the world.


While I used’s linking process as my analogy, the site was inspired by the inadequacy of print encyclopedias, and those were probably inspired by the amount of references novels would make. Readers wanted a source of knowledge they could refer to when a novel made a passing allusion to something they knew nothing about; thus, the encyclopedia was born.

“Rice” by geniwate serves as an excellent example of the nature of Multiplicity. The piece is posed as a collage of images and cultural logos focusing on themes and current events from Vietnam. It is dripping with cultural reference, as I find myself wondering what some them are, ignorant as I am on the history of Vietnam.


I think because these references are unknown to me, that makes them all the more alluring. Clearly some are supposed to refer to dark or disturbing events, because the tone of the work implies it. I assume someone who knew more than I about Vietnam would be more emotionally affected by it, rather than intrigued. Whichever the case, the references and icons in the work are representative allusions to the culture of the country and period, insights to that time.

“Rice” can be found here.

Hayles points out in her book that George Landow and Jay David Bolter stressed that the hyperlink is the defining feature of electronic literature. And I agree, the hyperlink adds a completely new dimension to literature, one previously unavailable to print. Prior to E-Lit, the best option print had available to it was a table of contents, or perhaps the narrative choices offered by a Choose Your Own Adventure novel. Hyperlinks drastically increase the speed and digression of discourse, allowing a reader to peruse a multitude of topics in a random order and sometimes simultaneously.

Critics argue that readers are limited to following scripted links in E-Lit, but to me this is hypocritical. I could also argue that readers are only limited by what the author has printed on the page, as opposed to what he has coded into the scripts, so I don’t think that argument has any merit. Literary works will always be defined and restricted by the author’s imagination, whether they are print or electronic. Links simply allow for more freedom and disjointed continuity, as opposed to print texts which are strictly linear. The hyperlink is indeed crucial to the formation of E-Lit and a piece’s Multiplicity.

Calvino describes Quickness as “a question of looking for the unique expression.” In other words, I think he means being as concise as possible and having a sequence in the narrative, which leads to complete clarity in the discourse. He begins the lecture by focusing on the legend of Charlemagne and, despite how many variations of the story there are, they all manage to tell a similar tale that is held together by essential narrative links.

Moreover, Calvino focuses on the “mental speed” of literature, or the speed at which thoughts and ideas expressed by the author enter the reader’s mind. This aspect is controlled by the author in what he chooses to write and how he writes it. By removing digression and increasing conciseness, the author can improve his Quickness.

Calvino describes Visibility by saying “a story is the union of a spontaneous logic of images and a plan carried out on the basis of rational intention.” The main emphasis here is that of the imagination. Calvino says that he always starts a story by expanding from an image that struck him as particularly meaningful. He argues there are two types: words that then become an image (such as reading), and an image being formed into words (writing).

Storobinksi believed there were two definitions of imagination: it could either be an instrument of knowledge, or the soul of the world. Calvino states he sides with the latter choice.

Following from what Calvino believes, I think both the reader and the author have a certain responsibility to each other. The author needs to be able to convey images through words, and the reader needs to be able to take those words and form them back into images.

One analogy that immediately struck me as suitable for the author-reader relationship in Visibility was the compression of images on the computer. Suppose an artist creates a vast, beautiful image and he wants to send it to a friend online. However, the image is too big to send, so he has to compress it. He compresses his image so it is smaller, and the computer turns it into a simple code that can be transferred much more easily. The image is sent, and the author’s friend opens the file and decompresses the code, and he is able to see the image.


In my mind, this is very analogous to the process of converting images in the mind into type, an then the reader converting those words back into images. And if the author doesn’t have a good grasp on the Visibility of his work, it will suffer and the reader will have a hard time conjuring (or decompressing) the images.

Calvino made a really great metaphor pertaining to Visibility. He said “letters and punctuation are grains of sand in a shifting dune.” So, my immediate thought was that a great emblem for Visibility would be a quantity of sand.


Sand can pretty much be formed into anything, either naturally or by man. It has that amazing property of being able to take any form. I think one reason the Sandman got his name is because he creates dreams as he puts people to sleep, dreams that can take any form (and not just because he sprinkles sand in your eyes while you sleep).

Also, sand was crucial in the development of languages. Before there was paper or things to write on, I’m sure early humans drew pictures in the sand to communicate. Then, as languages developed, they began writing those codes in the sand. It’s quite possible code itself was conceived in the dirt. Now, languages are similar to sand in that the words and symbols can be moved around until they are just right. For these reasons, sand is a terrific emblem for the concept of Visibility because it allows ideas to take shape.

“Carving in Possibilities” by Deena Larsen is a great example of Visibility. Her piece uses the mouse to carve a picture of the statue of David out of an initially blurry image. Each point of progress in the picture has a line of text that goes with it. Gradually, by reading each line, the blurry image takes shape to form David’s statue.


Not only is that statue a clear evocation of Visibility, the captions are as well. Each line is a thought that somehow relates to David from varying points of view. From the combination of these excerpts, the reader gets an image of not only what David looks like, but people’s disposition of him as well. It’s a very generative piece that creates both a visual and personal construct of David.

“Carving in Possibilities” can be found here.