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.
The use of transparency in this E-lit further emphasizes the idea of visibility. Starting with the “word tree”, this fades over time, and we have the image of letters falling like leaves. However, once we click on those leaves, they, too fade, and then we once again have the image of a tree, but now it is planted in a ground of words. Once we click on this image, though, we are once again back to the falling leaves. There is this idea that words, just like images, fade over time – their visibility does not last. However, what does last is our ability to use our imagination and how we choose to remember something, how we wish to change it.
Transparency here allows us to create our own images and words instead of just relying on the ones we are given. The idea of transparency also implies a sort of quickness – that images or words cannot last long, that they can soon fade. If this is the case, then it is all that more important to continue to make them visible, to fight for them to stay. Letters can form words, just like leaves can form trees – but both are transparent in the sense that they can be broken up into smaller units. They do not hold permanent weight. Therefore, it is up to audience to create this weight, this visibility. Imagination and visibility are transparent – they are subject to manipulation, they can be sculpted differently depending on the person, they are not tangible and long-lasting. However, what is long-lasting is the idea that we always have the power to imagine, even if the word or the image changes.