My emblem for exactitude is a musical instrument. With a musical instrument, you can blow in the instrument a certain way, push down on a particular key, make a note shorter, more staccato, or make it longer and slurred – you can control the way in which the sound comes out into the world. The sound comes out in an exact way.
For many years, I played the piano. You can create tone, rhythm, a certain vibe. If you want the music to sound jazzy, certain beat and chord combinations help create this mood. If you want something to sound slow and connected, you can step on a peddle to make the notes blur from one to the next.
I also played the flute for a long time. With the flute, you can blow into the instrument stronger to create a louder sound. You can barely blow in it at all, and the sound will be soft. Based on how fast your move your tongue to create notes, the notes can come out fast and clipped or long and smooth. With this instrument, like with other instruments, you can create an exact sound, emotion, atmosphere.
Much like the E-lit piece that used different texture, or landscapes, to evoke a particular image, an instrument can control mood, as well. To a degree, you can make that instrument obedient, or exact, much in the way Ella behaves in the novel and movie. Music has power in its exactitude – it has the power to move, to sway, to make people think in a certain manner. Like a crystal can create an exact shape and reflect images, an instrument can create an exact sound and reflect a mood. Words, images, music – they speak in exact ways. They say something specific. They say a lot.
An analogy of exactitude can be seen in the book Ella Enchanted, as well as the movie based off of the book. In this story, Ella is cursed to be obedient. She must do whatever she is ordered. However, in many ways, you could say she was cursed to be exact. She must do exactly what others tell her to do, whether this is to repeat a phrase, steal some jewels, clean the house. This is taking the idea of exactitude to a twisted level. Her ability to partake in exactitude, literally eliminates her ability to have ultimate freedom of choice. Her exactitude is confining. It is precise, but also constricting.
An excerpt from the book (pages 74-45):
“Sing more softly, Ella. They can hear you in Ayortha.”
I became inaudible.
“Not so soft. The rest of us would like to hear your sweet tones.”
I sang too loud again, although not so much as before. Music Mistress had to spend a quarter hour inching me along to the desire volume.
“Life your feet, young ladies. This is a spirited gavotte.”
And so on. It was a tiresome game, but I had to play it or feel a complete puppet.”
In this scene, it becomes clear how literally, and exactly, Ella responds to what people tell her to do. Because she responds in such an exact fashion, the people who tell her to do certain things, must be just as exact in their speech, to get her to follow suit. When the teacher tells the girls to lift their feet, Ella’s literally lifts up high. She does what she is asked, but in a fashion more exact than the mistress desired. Like the E-lit piece uses imagery to show exactly what they want the word to convey, people use orders to get Ella to act in the exact manner they desire.
This scene also hints at the idea that exactitude can take time to acquire. As Calvino mentioned, it is a well-planned out idea. It takes time to be that precise and know exactly what to say. The notion that it takes the teacher a quarter hour to inch Ella to the desired volume, implies a process that can be lengthy if you want ultimate precision, or exactitude.
Another analogy of exactitude is seen in crisis line couseling. I volunteer as a phone counselor at a crisis center. I work on crisis lines, suicide hotlines. In training, they teach us how to do emotional paraphrasing, or in order words, being able to pinpoint an exact emotion someone is feeling and verbalize it back to them. We must be precise in our perceptions of these emotions and precise is recounting them back to our clients. However, this sort of exactitude does not just mean parroting back what has been said – it is about understanding the emotion enough, to word it differently, but still capture the essence of how that person is feeling.
For example, let’s say someone says the following:
I just can’t take it anymore! They drive me crazy. Everything is happening so fast and I feel like no one gets it!
An exact way to respond to this could be the following:
Life is just spiraling out of control and you feel so alone.
These are not the same exact words that the client uttered, but, they capture the same idea. They illustrate a sort of exactitude. They enable rapport between client and volunteer. If the client feels understood, like the volunteer is on the same page as them, effective communication has been achieved.
This E-lit piece plays with the idea of texture to create certain emotions or thoughts about an image. In Ellen Lupton’s book about graphic design, she writes about how you can use text to create emphasis. She writes: “Used well texture supports the main image and furthers the visual concept” (68). She talks about how the texture can convey a mood. During the “Wordscapes” section of this E-lit piece, for the letter “W,” we are presented with the word “WORRY.” However, it is the texture, itself, that really emphasizes this exact idea. Lines are emitted out of the word, adding tension to the image. The lines ripple outwards in a manner that creates a perpetual anxiety. Hence, we feel worried. An exact mood is evoked.
The tension in this piece is illustrated even more while viewing this E-lit on the actual site. When doing so, the lines actually move outwards from the word “WORRY” in a ceaseless and tedious manner. It is like they are emitting signals that summon the viewer to become worried. There is no relaxation or peace in this visual; it is all about being in a state of utmost anxiety. Nothing stands still and calm.
The section on Texture in Lupton’s book opens up with the following quote by Rick Valicenti (53):
If you touch something (it is likely) someone will feel it.
If you feel something (it is likely) someone will be touched.
In the book, Lupton provides examples of how texture can create emphasis. The visuals she provides, are much like the ones seen in the E-lit piece.
In these images, you can see how feelings of hope and anxiety are conveyed through the texture of the image. In “Wordscapes,” the following technique is being utilized to form an emotional landscape that mimics the meaning of the word, itself. There is definitely this idea in the E-lit that the texture of the piece evokes certain emotions, as well as this idea that if you feel these emotions, someone else will be touched by them. The idea of texture is that touch is related to feeling something – whether it is physical or emotion, or usually both. You will feel something. You will be touched.
“Wordscapes and Letterscapes” by Peter Cho is an E-lit piece that illustrates the idea of exactitude. If letters are the most exact, or precise, form of language, then the section entitled “Letterscapes” is a great example that illustrates how even a letter can create a clear image. In this interactive section, all the letters are floating around in a space-like fashion. They look a bit like stars. When you click on a letter, it zooms into focus. If you hold down on this particular letter and try to move it, the letter moves in a particular fashion. The way in which it moves illustrates something specific about the image, itself. It helps the viewer create an exact thought about that letter. The letter is not just a letter. It means something. And the meaning is precisely derived. However, once you let go of the letter, it returns back to its normal position. Despite altered form, in the end, the letter returns back to its initial stage. The exact image is preserved.
“Wordscapes” also shows floating letters, but this time when you click on a letter, it shows a word starting with that letter. The word takes on an image that visually represents the meaning of the word, creating an exact thought about this word. For example, the letter “V” shows the word “VANISH.” In this case, the letters literally vanish in and out of sight. Another example is the letter “G”. For this letter, it spells “GO.” There is a stream of arrows moving towards the word. The arrows then form the word, and then stream on out of it. This illustrates a sort of movement forward, a sort of going somewhere. We are being presented with an exact word, image, and thought.
Exactitude of language stems from exactitude of letters, words, and the images they can portray. Therefore, this E-lit example visually illustrates this idea. There is this notion that words and letters form landscapes. They create an exact landscape that grounds the word or letter and gives it life.
When I think of exactitude, I think of language that is precise. I think of carefully formed thoughts. At the core, I think of specific attention to letters, word choice, sentence construction. I imagine a keyboard laid out on a table. I can see the letters on the keyboard, the “G” and ‘H” in the middle and how a sort of letter hierarchy has determined that these letters are important ones and deserve a prime time spot on the keyboard.
Exactitude of language implies an exactitude of thought. Words have been carefully sculpted. They have been set, left to dry, harden, and form. They say something specific.
Calvino defines exactitude as the following:
1. “a well-defined and well-calculated plan for the work in question (55)”
2. “an evocation of clear, incisive, memorable visual images (55)”
3. “a language as precise as possible both in choice of words and in expression of the subtleties of thought and imagination (56)”
Successful exactitude in literature can create clear images of the idea trying to be conveyed. This goes along with Calvino’s idea that the crystal is an emblem of exactitude. A crystal is geometric in form, precisely faceted. It can reflect a clear image of the surrounding environment. It creates a sort of clarity, a sort of exactitude.
Calvino wants a story told as straight-forward as possible. He wants it all laid out and out-lined. It is planned. Exactitude is not gray and murky. It is clear. It is about pushing that exact key on the keyboard to form the exact word you want, the complete thought. It is about knowing what you want to say and how to say it.
As a writer, myself, I know how hard it can be to find that exact word, or words, that will create the image I want. It is about figuring out how stringing certain words together will create sounds, images, meanings. It can be hard to have a certain thought in mind and try to find a way to write about this thought to make sure it is clearly portrayed to an audience. But that is sort of the fun, creating a sort of order out of chaos. There are so many meanings, words, thoughts, that can be formed. But figuring out a sort of order to all of this, and being able to convey it in an exact fashion, now that is skill. Crystals might cost a lot to buy, but precise language – to me, that is priceless.
Grounding Calvino’s definition of Exactitude in my own experience with print literature, an author I think really embodies this quality is Jodi Picoult. Her novels have clear goals – they are controversial, they make you think, they address something sticky, and make you go on in there and take a stand. There is a precise goal in her work. She has a way with words, where she can create vivid images, which she has researched, thought about, perfected. She uses, which Calvino says is “a language as precise as possible both in choice of words and in expression of the subtleties of thought and imagination.” She pays special attention to the subtleties of thought and imagination. She may have a precise idea she is trying to convey, but she is aware that thoughts and imagination also come into play. She is very aware of the psychological implications of her words, of the psychology of her characters, her readers.
The cover synopsis for the book entitled Nineteen Minutes starts off with the following paragraph:
In nineteen minutes, you can mow the front lawn, color your hair, watch a third of a hockey game. In nineteen minutes, you can bake scones or get a tooth filled by a dentist; you can fold laundry for a family of five…. In nineteen minutes, you can stop the world, or you can just jump off it. In nineteen minutes, you can get revenge.
Jodi Picoult is creating an exact image here, an exact tone. We get this idea that a lot can happen in just nineteen minutes. She provides us with precise examples. And yet, she lets us use our imagination. She tells us you can stop the world, jump off it, get revenge. She makes us wonder what someone could do in just nineteen minutes, besides the obvious activities mentioned above. She plants a precise thought in our mind, and then lets us do with it what we want.