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Category Archives: 2. Quickness

This category is for Calvino’s Memo of Quickness.

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.


I think the best analogy for Quickness would be the portrayal of light-speed in popular science fiction. In the film Star Wars, starships are able to make a “jump” into the hyperspace dimension, and traverse the galaxy in a short amount of time by flying at light-speed or faster.


Narratively speaking, the plot device of light-speed travel also allows the stories to progress much more quickly, as characters can reach destinations, and thus plot points, as a much faster pace than without. Because the characters can travel so quickly, the story gets to the point without unnecessary filler and digression — another goal of Quickness.

The emblem I think best suits Quickness is that of light. Light is a massless group of photons that travel at three hundred million meters per second, and is thought to be the fastest thing in the universe. What better object is there to convey speed than the fastest of them all?

Light is also used a concept that can mean a revelation of ideas. This has many places in English expression, such as “shedding light on the subject” or “bring these ideas to light.” When a comic character has an idea, the visual signifier is to place an illuminated light bulb over his head.


Ironically, I think the E-Lit work that best manifests Quickness is “Star Wars, One Letter at a Time” by Brian Kim Stefans. This work literally plays the entire screenplay of the film Star Wars letter by letter, punctuation included, on a white background with black typewriter font. In addition, the piece has lots of sound effects that a typewrite would make, giving it a cute electronic charm.


Because reading the work requires a practiced ability of spelling as each letter pops on the screen, the reader is forced to keep up with the pace if he/she hopes to understand the script, which goes back to the notion of Quickness. The reader has to synchronize with the mental quickness of the piece to understand it, and this is another crucial difference between print and E-Lit: in print, the reader can control the speed at which he reads the author’s thoughts, but in E-Lit he cannot. In Stefans’ piece, the reader is keeping up with a simulation of Lucas actually typing the script, so he is literally synchronizing with the author.

“Star Wars, One Letter at a Time” can be found here.

Hayles makes the argument that one essential feature that E-Lit must have is fluidity. Print literature has natural fluidity, because the words of the piece will flow naturally on the page. Unlike print, E-Lit can be disjointed and temporally complex, so significant effort is required by the author to guide the reader through the piece. Sometimes the author will have to nest links in a chronological order so the reader can “turn the page,” or the author will have to dictate the chronology of the piece through other devices.

Fortunately, Stefans’ piece does not suffer from disjoints and he doesn’t have to guide the reader will links. The piece flows exactly as a piece of print would, because it is emulating a real piece of print, just in a letter-by-letter fashion. It is simple enough that anyone can experience it without a significant amount of electracy required, making it a great example of fluidity.

(Continue on to Memo 3. Exactitude.)