I used to not believe people when they said we live in a small world. For me, it always seemed frighteningly large. When I was younger, my backyard was enough of an adventure. There was the tool shed in the corner, the pool, the plethora of plants and flowers. There was also this little wooden square thing attached to our house I would like to climb on top of and look over the fence to spy on the neighbors. It was a big world, my backyard. When I added the front yard and then the whole neighborhood to it, the world just seemed to grow.
But then one day, I realized that everything is relative. It is all about perspective. To little me, everything and everyone seemed giant. Mom and dad were huge – and if I wanted to see the world better, I could ask them to hold me in their arms so I could see over people’s heads or even just out the window. I learned to jump on the kitchen counter to reach the cups. Mom always used to yell at me when there were scuff marks on the counter after. However, I grew up and with that, I got taller and wiser and probably a bit more cynical. I could see out the window, and sometimes I saw things I didn’t want to see, maybe shouldn’t have seen. But I did.
And then one day, I went to college, and I realized that even on a huge campus like the University of Florida, I will run into multiple people I know on any given day. The campus is not so large. The world is not so large. I ran into people I knew in Italy and Costa Rica and people were shocked when I told them this. I was shocked when I encountered these situations. But, now, I think I can just chalk it up to the fact that the world is much smaller than it seems. And, this, I believe is due to our interconnectedness. We all live in the same world, and, therefore, are bond to have connections. Life is all about connections.
Calvino describes the concept of multiplicity as a web. We are all a part of this web, some of our lines overlapping, some just barely touching, some lines we may never be aware of now, maybe ever. And some we could not live without being close to. These are the people who really matter. However, this idea of a web, makes the idea of connectedness or multiplicity inevitable. With a web, you are literally stuck in the web. It is hard to get out of the web. With multiplicity, it is hard not to encounter it, engage in it, experience it. Multiplicity exists. Bottom line.
In My Sister’s Keeper, we have a tale told from multiple perspectives – mother, father, lawyer, guardian ad litem, sister, brother, other sister. The book is constantly switching perspectives. However, the interesting thing Jodi Picoult is doing, is she is telling the same tale from multiple viewpoints. Readers get the same story, but in many different ways. Each character has a unique voice and story to tell, but these stories and these voices are still connected to all the others. Here is where the notion of being an individual and yet being a part of something so much bigger, comes into play. Human beings may have autonomous thoughts, but they are not autonomous, because they are, inevitably, connected to others.
An interesting concept in this book, is the notion that one can’t define oneself without defining oneself in relation to others. Anna defines herself in terms of Kate. One can go so far to say, that Anna only exists because of Kate. Therefore, she can never be seen as a single entity, because she is so closely intertwined with another. They share the same genetic information and Kate depends on Anna to live. Therefore, Kate is just as connected to Anna, as Anna is to Kate. Both have this sort of symbiotic relationship.
Meanwhile, the idea of a sort of domino effect can be seen in this storyline. When one person starts to fall, it has an effect on everyone. When one person sets something into motion, it causes everyone’s world to collapse. When Kate gets cancer, the whole family’s world is affected. When Anna decides to go to court, the impact is felt by all the characters in the novel. Here the idea of multiplicity is ever-present: one person’s actions will most definitely effect many other people. The lives of these characters are so intertwined, that something felt by one of them, will eventually touch all of them.
Another idea of multiplicity in this story, is the idea that people will see what they want to see. The mother sees Kate as being sick and, therefore, the number one priority. As a result, Anna feels invisible. She feels like she is not important, that what she has to say does not matter. Here is the idea that how much attention one chooses to apply to someone, will be felt by everyone. If one spends more attention on one of their daughters, the other, will most definitely feel this imbalance.
The idea of multiplicity implies that no action will go unnoticed. And someone who feels like his or her actions are going unnoticed, will go to great lengths to make them noticed. People have this need to feel connected, to feel like they matter. And this novel is about asserting one’s connections to others, and yet choosing when to speak and when not to. It is about choice – having the choose to interact with others, having the choice to be connected, and yet realizing that, inevitably, it isn’t really a choice. It is life. We are connected, whether we want to be or not.
I am sitting outside right now. The breeze is nice. The sky is blue with just the right amount of cloud. And I am trying to think of a good opening for the idea of multiplicity, this idea that everything is connected, or repeated, or branches off from a common point. It reminded me of something I wrote a month ago. I think, in a way, this writing illustrates the idea of multiplicity:
When I woke up yesterday morning, it hit me! I have been having this somewhat reoccurring dream my whole life. I don’t know why it took me so long to come to that conclusion. Usually it is because I forget my dreams, or I don’t think hard enough to remember them. Or maybe a bit of both. But anyway, when I woke up from the dream yesterday I was struck by the familiarity of it, so much so that I wondered if it was real. That is when I realized it was because I had had this dream before – multiple times.
So here is the part of the dream that is the same: In order to get to a place (usually it is Miami, I think – or at least it was this time around) I have to drive on this road. Except the road has two giant gaps in it. It goes straight and solid for a while, but then, during this one section where it is going over the ocean (or a waterway of some sort) there is a giant chunk of the road missing, followed by a small chunk of road, and then another chunk is missing, followed by the complete rest of the road. Therefore, there are these two giant gaps. The point is you have to fearlessly be able to drive fast enough to leap over the water and land on the rest of the road. If you don’t, you will fall – sometimes there is netting to catch you, but it doesn’t really do much, because the car is so heavy. Sometimes you just plunge to your death. The thing is, if someone else is driving, I don’t get as worried. It is when I have to make this drive, that I freak out and freeze.
I could sit here for hours and try to psychoanalyze my dream. Am I afraid of losing control, of falling and crashing? Am I afraid to just drive, to just be, and not think too much? These things seem like they could apply. But then I think about the fact that it is a dream – it is only a dream. Freud said that “dreams are the royal roads to the unconscious.” Well my royal road is fragmented and flawed. What does that say about me?
I know that is a long excerpt, but I think, in a way, it illustrates the idea of multiplicity – this repeating of thoughts, this intertwining of ideas, this notion that something is not solitary or limited to happening once. It was very weird to realize that this dream had been a multiple occurrence for me. But it was also a comfort to accept this, to know that at its core, there was a solid thread, a template of sorts. It also highlights the idea that life is complex, composed of many storylines, many confusing thoughts. However if we can find some point of reference, have something solid to hold on to – like the realization that the dream is a sort of constant – than we can start to pick away at the multiplicity, the complexity.
Calvino describes multiplicity much in this manner. He started off his introduction by discussing some of Gadda’s theories. Gadda compared multiplicity to the idea of an encyclopedia, “as a method of knowledge, and above all as a network of connections between the events, the people, and the things of the world” (105).
Likewise, Calvino describes multiplicity as a network of links, as a sort of system. Calvino writes: “The grand challenge for literature is to be capable of weaving together the various branches of knowledge, the various “codes,” into a manifold and multifaceted vision of the world” (112).
A literary example of multiplicity would be Orlando, by Virginia Woolf. Orlando lives “multiple” lives throughout time. She plays many parts, acquires a large history – she makes connections with many people. These connections, for the most part, change, but for a point in time, they were there. Orlando’s history is a sort of system, or network of these connections. The world around her – the landscape, technology, people – they all change. However, the one constant, the center of this system, is Orlando, herself. She does not age. Like the “I,” in the E-lit piece, Orlando is the center in this ever-changing landscape. While the “you,” and “we’s” are altered, she, for the most part, is not. Her world, is somewhat like that infinite cube – endless possibilities of connections, and yet a center that is grounded. In this way, I think Orlando represents the idea of multiplicity.