My emblem for lightness is the image of a cloud. The thing about a cloud I find interesting, is that as a kid, you imagine jumping up on clouds as if they are cotton ball fluffs in the sky. However, at some point you grow up, lose your innocence, and you realize clouds are nothing more than particles of dust, that if you jumped onto one, you would fall right through until you crashed into the ground. Gravity would take a hold of you. However, if you think about a cloud, those particles of dust have to be light enough to defy gravity. They have to be light enough to practically float. Therefore, the image of a cloud is so light, it could not possible sustain any more weight. Once it compiles too many rain particles, a cloud bursts. It is now too heavy.
A cloud, like letters, has a sort of lifespan. A cloud, also like letters, implies a sort of dream. The dream is that clouds hold weight- that they could hold us. The dream of letters, is that they hold meaning. However, letters and clouds are light. If you jumped on a cloud, you would fall. It is only through stringing letters and words together that weight can be formed. It is only through rain particles compiling in a cloud, that weight can be obtained – but, ironically, this weight is the demise to the cloud.
There is something nice in the lightness, in this knowing that things don’t really last, that, like a dream, they don’t hold long-lasting implications. If something is light, it can’t touch us. It can’t hurt us. Light things are easier to cope with than heavier ones. If we can keep ourselves trapped in the lightness of a dream, in the lightness of language, thought, visual images – we can defy the burden of weight. At least until the next storm.
The beginning of this section of her book, opens up with a quote by Gyorgy Kepes (147):
Transparency means a simultaneous perception of different spatial locations…The position of the transparent figures has equivocal meaning as one sees each figure now as the closer, now as the farther one.
Visually, this E-lit exemplifies transparency. The “Dreamlife of Letters” is this idea that the life of a letter is finite, it is limited, that soon the letter will become transparent and will die off. And when this happens, the next letter will jump in, only to eventually be replaced by another. Because a letter cannot last, it is light. Visually, we see the letters fade into the background and lose their weight – they become transparent. Something that is transparent, cannot stick. It will fade. It is often hard to notice or grasp or touch. Like fog, you can’t put your hands around it and hold onto it. Instead, the letters, like the fog, will slip out of reach.
However, this idea that transparency can add complexity and “simultaneous perception of different spatial locations” is interesting if you think about the idea of a dream. Since this whole E-lit is playing off of the idea that letters have a sort of dreamlife, then the fact that they drift in and out of our consciousness, illustrates a tendency of dreams. In our dreams, there can be a sort of complexity with what is going on – we often have many different thoughts occurring simultaneously. These thoughts flit across our mind, but their dreamlife is short. They, too, will fade like the letters in the E-lit piece. In dreams, brief ideas or words will form, and will morph into other ideas or words, but none of them ever really last. And when you wake up, they have usually faded from your memory. There is a sort of lightness to our dreams – they cannot stay in our minds. They don’t hold enough weight. Just like “The Dreamlife of Letters,” they become transparent.
My E-lit example of lightness is “The Dreamlife of Letters” by Brian Kim Stefans. In this E-lit piece, we are visually shown images of letters, in alphabetical order. Therefore, our first images are ones that start with the letter ‘A.” Different words that start with “A” flit around the screen – they twirl, they swirl, they glide, they float. All these letters, and the ease in which they morph into one word to the next, illustrate a sort of lightness of language, as well as a lightness of thought. The idea that one word can easily transform into another, which can disappear in the blink of an eye to be shifted into something entirely different, illustrates that our thoughts are often not held down by gravity – they are subject to change. There is a definite lack of gravity, or weight, in this e-lit piece.
This E-lit also hints at the idea that letters, or words, alone, are not enough to form a heavy enough weight. You often need more than just a letter or a couple words for the meaning to stick. Often, you need a sentence, a complete thought. Lightness is what is obtained when thoughts are broken up and dissected into their smallest, or lightest, parts. The fact that this E-lit is entitled, “The Dreamlife of Letters,” is fascinating, because dreaming can be seen as a sort of escape from the heavy burdens of everyday life. When you dream, you can feel lighter. The scenes in dreams morph quickly form one thing to another, and they often don’t form coherent thoughts. And the lifespan of a dream is short-lived – it ultimately does not hold much weight, because in a couple hours you wake up and the dream bubble has burst.
I wrote this recently on my other blog: I think the key to words and the formation of them – the stringing together of letters and words to form thoughts and sentences – is awareness. It is about awareness of what it means to speaker and what it might mean to audience. It is awareness of multiple meanings and implied meaning and intended meaning. Words are gray. They are foggy and sometimes you have to blink a couple times to even maybe catch a glimpse of meaning. Words don’t always make sense. And that is kind of the beauty of words. It is also the frustration. Sometimes I just want to throw books against walls and listen to the sounds they make as they fall to the ground, as gravity takes control of them. I want, for a moment, to take away the heaviness of the words – for one second to make them light. But nothing lasts – and so the words must fall and collapse and become as confusing as ever. And I just have to smile.
Calvino describes lightness in a couple different ways. He mentions a lightness of language. In this case, the words themselves are light in meaning, texture, in the context they are used. Therefore, a lightness of language implies a sort of lightness of thought. The words you use don’t hold much weight, they are subject to change, they do not last long enough to have much impact. The second idea of lightness has to do with the idea that a train of thought might be heavy, but the parts of it – the smaller ideas or words that make it up, are lighter. Letters, themselves, are light, but you can string them together in a way to create weight. Words and sentences can create tangible thoughts. A train of thought is comprised of subtle elements at work, light elements – and it is only through the process of tying these elements together, that a sort of weight is formed. Calvino reflects upon a third aspect: a visual image that acquires emblematic value. This image epitomizes the idea of lightness, or in other words, the absence of weight. There is this idea that we feel the absence or presence of lightness based off of the absence or presence of weight. We can only really experience lightness when we have disregarded the heaviness. If we can dissect the weight long enough, then maybe we can shed some “light” on a subject.
Looking back at some books I have read, I have definitely noticed the idea of lightness present in them. It is so interesting now to see how many of my favorite books illustrate this idea. Jodi Picoult is one of my favorite writers, so I will probably mention her a couple times in this blog. Right now I am thinking about one of her newer books entitled Handle with Care. The first chapter opens with the following:
Things break all the time. Glass, dishes, and fingernails. Cars and contracts and potato chips. You can break a record, a horse, a dollar. You can break the ice. There are coffee breaks and lunch breaks and prison breaks. Day breaks, waves break, voices break. Chains can be broken. So can silence, and fever.
For the last two months of my pregnancy, I made lists of these things, in the hopes that it would make your birth easier.
On the night before you were born, I sat up in bed with something to add to my list. I rummaged in my nightstand for a pencil and paper, but Sean put his warm hand on my leg. Charlette? he asked. Is everything okay?
Before I could answer, he pulled me into his arms, flush against him, and I fell asleep feeling safe, forgetting to write down what I had dreamed.
It wasn’t until weeks later, when you were here, that I remembered what had awakened me that night: fault lines. These are the places where the earth breaks apart. These are the spots where earthquakes originate, where volcanoes are born. Or in other words: the world is crumbling under us; it’s the solid ground beneath our feet that’s an illusion.
From this opener, we already get this sense that things are fallible; they are not always as strong or heavy as we think they are. They hold weight, yes, but this weight can break.Often times, there is only this illusion that our weight can be upheld. There is a lightness at heart in knowing we are safe, or at least thinking we are. However, there is also this idea that things are destined to break overtime, that the weight of the world will get to them.
The main storyline in this novel has to do with a young girl who is born with osteogenesis imperfecta, a disease that makes her bones brittle and very easy to break. She is subjected to suffering hundreds of broken bones and a lifetime of pain. She is so light, so fragile – it is hard for her not to get hurt. Often times she is in a a wheelchair, because she is too light to even support her own weight. However, she has this lightness of mind, this optimism of spirit. She is light at heart, despite the heaviness and severity of her condition.
On my other blog, I have a page where I analyze a picture in terms of its “lightness.” However, an interesting twist is that the photo has only achieved lightness because it has been manipulated. This idea of manipulation, in a way, can take away from the lightness. But try not to think about that. Instead, focus on the ways in which the manipulation gives life to the photo. Young at Heart.