When Calvino described visibility, he focused on where inspiration started – verbal word, or visual image. Blair writes: “Cornell’s ultimate quarry was the source of inspiration itself, and the dossiers were part of his idiosyncratic attempt to pursue and define the shaping force that lay behind his art” (26). Therefore, that is what I attempted to do in this blox. I reflected on what came first for me in this text – word or image? I wanted to convey both of these to viewers and then let them experience the ability to decide on their own which comes first for them.
Trying to grasp this image of the collapsing world
Unable to grasp it
Image is too fleeting
What caused world to collapse?
Anna finally speaks up, and this disrupts the whole image of the family
What is their image now?????
Silence versus sound
How can silence create space?
Does it deserve space?
What do I see when I think of silence?
What do I see when I think of noise?
How does a book create images?
How do these images then create further ideas?
The shattering of ideas
Shattering of images
Shattering of hearts
After writing down these thoughts, I looked for images that I thought embodied these ideas. My process made me reflect, once again, on how I often start with the word, and then arrive at the image. However, when relying on a book to create a blox, this seems like what would tend to happen.
I started my blox by making the background a book – a visual reminder of the written word, and how an image is often inspired by the written word. However, since viewer is being shown simultaneous reminders of both written word and visual image, it allows them to decide which is stronger – which one strikes them first and lasts with them longer. By making the book my background, I hoped to show that the words lend to the images, and the images can create the words. They coexist in the same space. I purposely chose a book that looked weathered and worn, to create the image of a story that is complex and can be tiring. It is not an easy read. I wanted to visually imply that.
In the center of the blox, and probably the most obvious image, is the giant open mouth. I wanted this to be the center of the novel, or the spine of the book, because it is the spine of the plot line. It is because Anna opens up her mouth, that the story’s conflict arises. Anna is what is holding the plot together, but also, in many ways, what is tearing the family apart.
Next to the mouth is a heart that is falling into pieces. I used this to visually portray the way in which the relationships in this novel are slowly dissolving. They are not as strong or intact as they once were.
Below the heart is a hand that is trying to grasp the inflated world. The inflated world looks like it is literally coming out of Anna’s mouth. Because she speaks, the world around the family collapses. Everyone tries to grasp the world, but it just sort of slips through their fingers. Because it is not whole, it is hard to hold onto.
Underneath the giant mouth, is the image of someone being silent, but who wants so badly to speak. Instead, she has written the word “speak” upon her lips, to illustrate her desire to say something, but her inability to do so. This is how Anna feels at the beginning of the novel.
The image of the finger to the lips to the right, is another portrayal of silence. In this case, it seems to imply that sometimes it is better to keep one’s mouth shut, keep it all contained. Once you open up your mouth, chaos will pursue.
At the bottom center of the blox is a girl reaching up towards a tear in the page. To me, this illustrates the notion that she wants a voice, she wants a say in the novel. She will literally rip the page, to assert her right to speak.
On the right side of the book are faded question marks in the background to illustrate the general confusion of the novel and the multitude of questions that arise. There is also the shattered thought bubble, illustrating that even the thoughts of the characters are not stable. Also this shows the duality of words – not all words are spoken. One’s thoughts or self-concepts, are also impacted.
At the bottom right of the book is the ever-present fire that threatens to consume their world. The fire also helps portray the notion that not everything is controllable. Actions can spiral out of control into an image that is hard to contain, even within the pages of a novel.
I tried to portray the different aspects of Anna in this blox – silent Anna, desperate Anna, verbal Anna, regretful Anna. I wanted to show that speech can lead to many different outcomes or images. And the impacts of speech can destroy an image or irrevocably alter it.
My main goal with this blox was to make the viewer constantly aware of both visual imagery and verbal content. It was hard to do this because a blox is, by nature, visual. However, for me, it was integral to portray both.
I’m a bit biased – I have always been more prone to dwell on written word than visual image. However, written word supplies visual images to me. In many ways, words are my building blocks for an image. When I see an image – I see the words that make it visual. I see “how the butterfly’s wings momentarily kiss when it gracefully rests its body upon the tip of the flower.” When I describe images, I speak about them in a verbally explicit manner. I guess I am not much of a minimalist when it comes to words. I let them fall out of the sky like rain. It is hard for me to stop the flow.
When Calvino discusses visibility, he mentions that visibility can be seen in two ways: the words create an image, or the images creates words to describe it. When it comes to starting a story, an author can go about it either way. In Jodi Picoult’s case, she always comments that the “what if” question is what prompts her storyline. For her, the idea is the seed. And from there, she says the “characters pop up like mushrooms.” Therefore, the grounding force in her mind, is the idea behind everything, and from there, images start to form – characters take shape, and plot lines become more full-fleshed.
Something that draws me to Jodi Picoult’s works is her ability to make her characters seem so realistic, I can see them in my mind. Picoult’s attention to detail enables her to create a psychologically complex world, filled with a multitude of desires. This desire feels almost tangible. It is like, if I just reached out, I could touch it. I can feel it. It is there.
Not only is the book written in a way that promotes visualization, but the themes of this book have to do with speaking and visibility. Here are a few quotes from the book that illustrate this idea:
“Anna gives us a backbeat, and seeing her sitting there unresponsive makes me realize that silence has a sound” (39).
“This is when I realize that Anna has already left the table, and more importantly, that nobody noticed” (40).
Here is the idea that speaking and not speaking can affect an image. Silence can be just as much of a physical space as noise. The absence of noise is felt just as much as the presence of it – maybe even more, because it is unexpected. Speaking can create more space, it can disrupt a space, it can destroy a space. When Anna opens her mouth to assert her independence, she creates a gulf in her family. Through her verbal actions, she physically alters the image of her family. In the second quote included above, there is this idea of invisibility, and how not being present creates an image, as well. The absence of something disrupts the family image just as much as the presence. Giving birth to Anna – bringing her into the picture, was a means of keeping Kate within the family image. Anna is a means of upholding this picture. However, when Anna goes to the lawyer, she is taking steps toward altering this image in the hopes of creating a new one that includes her more, that makes her feel more visible and important. She wants to physically create a space for herself. The idea of visibility, is creating spaces, images. It is about mapping out a world and giving it life.
The idea of visibility is that images are constantly changing. The stability of an image, much like the stability of words, is an illusion. Words and images will inevitably change. To really emphasize how collapsible the novel’s world seems, the mother, at one point, says: “Driving home, I am struck by the sudden thought that the world is inflatable – trees and grass and houses ready to collapse with the single prick of a pin” (Picoult 34). Here in these words, the reader gets a sense that the visible images in this story are blurred and muddied and prone to collapse. What seems more salient in this novel, are the spoken words. The impact of words last longer than the image. The image is subject to change. While the words do, too, the implications of them are felt deeper and stronger. The words create changing images, that help the reader gain a sense of how communication is affecting the image of this world, the self-concepts felt by the characters. Not only is Jodi Picoult opening her mouth to speak and create a controversial image, but she is having her characters do so, as well as challenging readers to follow suit.
In Lupton’s Graphic Design: The New Basics, the following quote was included:
“If you touch something (it is likely) someone will feel it. If you feel something (it is likely) someone will be touched.” – Rick Valicenti
This is kind of how I felt when reading My Sister’s Keeper. I was touched by the story. I felt like I was a part of the story. I couldn’t separate my own life from the story, because I could relate to so many aspects of this tale. The story came to life for me in a way that felt tangible and real and all the multiple perspectives just allowed me to latch onto even more characters and story lines.
Cornell was concerned with the search for the self. Often, he looked back to his childhood in the hopes of understanding his past, his present, and himself better. However, many times, Cornell would use other subjects or concepts or ideas to help him figure himself out. He would create a box about something entirely different, and yet viewers could not help but observe how the box seemed to be saying more about Cornell, than anything else. Blair writes about how in the ‘Lauren Bacall’ dossier, “the box epitomizes his obsession not just with a particular woman and the cinema but also with the processes of his own mind” (141). She also goes on to say that “Lauren Bacall, in fact, reveals much more about Cornell than it does Bacall, and in this is more self-portrait than portrait” (141). This is interesting to think about in relation to Picoult’s novel, because it seems to go along with this idea of interconnectedness or interdependency and how one defines oneself. One cannot define oneself without presenting it in context to something else. There must be some means of comparison.
In My Sister’s Keeper, this means of comparison is often Kate. Anna is not as sick as Kate, but she might as well be. The mother knows Kate is not yet dead, but she acts as if Kate already is. Much like Bacall used others to help present information about himself, Picoult uses this technique to give the reader a chance to glean information about the multiple characters. Presenting this text from multiple perspectives allows the reader to create his or her own portrait. However, the reader gets this sense that the story is not really about Kate, much like the box is not really about Lauren Bacall. The story is about how everyone, including reader, is affected by Kate, much like Cornell’s box is more indicative of how he was affected by Lauren Bacall.
When creating my blox, I once again relied heavily on the idea of the glimpse, like Cornell did. With multiple perspectives, readers are given glimpses into different lives, but only glimpses, because, soon, it is the next person’s turn to speak. However, through these glimpses, the layers are created, until a full portrait can be achieved. Blair writes: “It has resulted in an art with layers and layers of meaning that seep out over time”(22). The art of creating boxes, has to do with layering.
In my box, I tried to present an image that conveys these multiples perspectives and layers and yet I wanted to make the pictures almost blend into one another in a way that illustrates how they are different, and represent different views, but that they cannot really be separated. There are multiple story lines, yes, but these story lines only exist because of one another. They could not exist on their own.
The background of the blox is a mirror. I choose the mirror as my background, to really emphasize this idea that you see what you want to see in this story. Much like the characters see what they want to see, so does the reader. When reading this book, I felt like I was being forced to look into a mirror and see myself and how I relate to these characters. It made me think about who I am as a person as compared to how the characters are. I wanted to present the viewers of my blox with this same sensation. Blair writes: “Visual communication with the self is dependent on the mirror: the mirror is the primary agent through which we glean knowledge of our appearance…the appeal that the mirror has…for the artist is very evident in Cornell’s art” (22-23). I also included seven different eyes throughout my blox to illustrate the seven points of view in this narrative. Each eye is positioned at a different angle and spot on the mirror. They all see the same image, but, they all see it from a different perspective.
In the center of the blox, there is a spider web to visually represent the interconnectedness of the story, and also how easy it is to get stuck in a certain spot, or let yourself get stuck or trapped within a role. Anna feels trapped in her role of donor. The family feels trapped and unsure of how to proceed. And yet, the point is that each family member exists on a different place of this web. They are all connected, but they don’t necessarily see eye-to-eye. I also included the sky on the bottom of the blox, to show how distorted perspective can be, how sometimes we see things all mixed up and wrong, and are not looking at things correctly. Or more so, who is to say what is the correct way to look at things? Maybe it is just about coming to an agreement on how things should be seen and taking all points of view into consideration before doing so.
There are hands in the top left corner and a map is drawn on these hands. Here is the idea that the world is smaller than it seems and can fit in the palm of our hands. We can hold the world, and even though it seems so large, because we are all connected, it is not so big after all. We literally hold the power to have these connections. We just have to seize the opportunity.
Below the hands is a house. I used the house as a sort of reference point. Because all the eyes are located at different points on this plane, they view the house differently depending on where they are located. Also, the fact that the hands look like they dropped the house in that spot, points to the fact that this house is made up of connections, and that this cannot be changed. This house exists. The people in this house are a family, even if it feels like they exist in different worlds.
There are images of the same girl in three different positions to also emphasize the idea of multiplicity. The same person in three different spots, will see three different things. I included the drawing of a city to create visual perspective. Depending on where the girl stands in the city, a different image will be seen. And sometimes this image is distorted. If people can’t step into each other’s shoes, then it is hard for understandings to be reached. So many of the issues in this book, are due to the fact that no one knows what each other wants. No one is willing to step in the other person’s shoes. If only they did, then they would see the same city. They would be on the same page. Alas, Jodi Picoult had to create multiple perspectives on different pages to prove her point.
The tree represents the tree of life and how this family has roots and is connected. There is this idea of life and the continuing of life in this novel. The only reason Anna is conceived – given life – is to save Kate’s life. Obviously, preserving life, is a main story line. I also included the image of the family hanging by a string. The family is literally strung together, tied together. They are connected and cannot be separated. And yet the idea that they are hanging by a thread helps to illustrate how weak there ties are right now, and yet, they are still there. They cannot be completely severed.
And, finally, I included the dominoes to show how an action made by one character is felt by all. Despite these characters feeling like they live in separate worlds, they don’t. They feel emotionally separated, but when someone falls, they all do. They are dominoes. They touch, they fall, they hurt. Multiple times. But, ultimately, they need to learn that they are all connected. And that this is what really matters.
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.
My emblem for visibility is a mirror. With a mirror, you can see yourself reflected back. You are presented with a visual image. However, before you look in a mirror in the morning, you can describe how you feel in words, and how you think you might look. Then, when you see the image of yourself, you can adjust your words – the image might support your words, or might differ drastically from them. Another way of doing it, though, would be to just wake up and look in the mirror, without giving any thought to how you might appear. You see yourself and because of what you see, you describe it in related words. It lends to the question of whether you think about something and then actually see it, or if you see something and then find the words to describe it.
The idea of a mirror is also interesting because the images we see alter our perceptions and words. What would life be like without mirrors? Would we just rely on words? Would we base how we feel about ourselves and how others might feel about us based off of our thoughts, not necessarily our appearance? Would we find other ways to create images – see other people’s reactions to things we say or do? Do mirrors really matter? Or does inner image matter more? The neat thing about a mirror is that it literally takes an inner image and can make it outwardly appear. If you feel sad, you can see it reflected back at you in a mirror. However, if you use words to say you are happy, you can influence your reflection, or your image. But, whichever one you utilize first, holds a sort of weight – if you look sad, you might feel sadder. However if you tell yourself you are happy, then it will probably show on your face.
The idea of the mirror – this reflection of outer image and inner thought – is much like the E-lit piece which shows the outline of a tree, with the words describing it within its interior. We have the image portrayed to the world, and then the meaning behind it. Or maybe we have the meaning within and how that is reflected back into the world. Likewise, with the movie, we have a character who may feel a certain emotion because the author dictates him to feel this, or we may have a character that takes on a sort of life of his own and urges the author to describe him in a specific manner. With The New Yorker, we have an image that reflects a certain meaning, and we are asked to find the meaning that best encompasses the image. In all these cases, there is a sort of reflectivity of thought to image or image to thought. There is transference of focus; however, the meaning ultimately remains the same.
As I was thinking about visibility, I remembered flipping through my New Yorker magazine earlier this morning. At the back of the magazine, they present the reader with a cartoon and then urge the readers to think of the best caption for this picture. They call it the “Cartoon Caption Contest.” This is interesting, because in this case, there is the assumption that visual image came first. However, there is also this idea that the picture was created with a set phrase of words in mind, and the closest the entries come to this, influences their chances of winning. Or, maybe it is about creating words that, afterwards, when looked it, make a whole lot of sense in relation to the picture. The words you choose require a heightened sense and understanding of visibility to truly capture the image. Word choice further emphasizes an idea, an image. Words can make something more visual.
Another analogy of the idea of visibility can be seen in the movie Stranger than Fiction. This movie is about an author writing a story, and how the character comes to life, and starts to take on a life of his own. There is this question of whether author is creating words that the character follows or if the character is an image that takes on his own life and influences the words the writer creates. As an audience watching this movie, we are presented with somewhat simultaneous cues of author writing and the image of character acting. We can hear the author narrating, and at the same time, we see the character partaking in related behaviors. Much like in the E-lit piece, the audience has to decide which to follow first – verbal cues, or visual ones? They must also decide which is more salient and how the two interact.
This idea of meta-fiction present in Stranger than Fiction, I think, applies to the idea of visibility. When an author is aware that he or she is writing to an audience, and the audience is aware of this awareness, then the idea of word meaning and image construction becomes a focus of attention. As an author writes, he or she will focus on whether to start with the word or the image, and the reader becomes aware that the author is sculpting the text and will also focus on whether to cling onto word or image. Another interesting spin on this is illustrated in the movie mentioned above – the idea that a character is aware of the author. For my Advanced Senior Seminar in Fiction Writing, we had to do a quick free write in class where we illustrate this idea of meta-fiction. I think this illustrates the relationship between author and character. It also hints at how the audience views the character based off of what the author writes and how these words create visual images. It illustrates how imagery may be formed or crafted, and how the text itself is highly manipulated. Here is what I wrote:
It is always about control – gaining it, obtaining it, losing it, spotting it, leaning towards it, reaching for it, grasping it, losing it again.
There is a way in which you should live your life. And I decide it. There is something to be said in just doing and being and saying. But, unfortunately, I don’t give you this chance. My words cannot be trusted, but, at the same time, since they are quite literally all you have, they must be trusted.
I look at you and I want to tell you everything that is wrong with your appearance. Your shoes are too dirty, your hair sticking out along the sides. Your teeth are a bit too yellow and you have this funny gap between two of them that your tongue occasionally slithers in and out of. I notice the coffee stain by the pocket on your shorts and the sweat stains gathered beneath your arm pits. Instead, though, I lie. I tell others that you are a good person with a good heart and even though you may do something wrong here or there, you will, ultimately, make the right choice. Otherwise, I would have to kill you. Because that is the way of things.
I decide when you will eat, what you will eat, if you will get sick, if you will love. Will the guy be a good guy, the right guy, does such a guy even exist? You have no say in your outcome. I control you. Isn’t that sad?
I feel like it is only fair, though, to provide you with a couple basic definitions, for I will soon throw you into a world in which your future is dark and unclear. You will not even know the color of your socks until you have them on your feet. One is going to be blue and the other green and pink with stripes. The least I can do is describe to you some of the laws. These of course, you have no say over. Maybe I am attempting to prepare you for a world in which you have no control. Or maybe I am just doing this to justify myself.
If you are going to lie, do it honestly. Admit to the fact you are lying and don’t let the lie deceive you as the liar. To be a liar, however, is all too common. It is to be a part of the trend. You look in a store window and you see lies all over the place. It might be a blue lie, or a green lie, or a lie that has a cute bow tied around the neckline. This lie could take many forms, but at its core, beneath all the color and glamour, it is, simply a lie. There is nothing original about it, nothing unique, nothing to be valued. You see a liar, run far away. And fast. Liars stink, like mildew under a sink or mold on a chunk of cheddar cheese.
Honesty is nonexistent in today’s world. If you meet an honest person, hold on to them, because they are really worth something special. Honest people are rare, like clean bathrooms and unwrinkled paper. Honest people might as well be labeled antiques.
You are, without a doubt, a hypocrite, if you think you are not one.
On a Final Message:
Don’t trust me. I am unreliable and though I pretend to like you, at times you disgust me and make me cry and throw up and want to smash books out windows. Other times I laugh at you, mock you, and think you are so incredibly stupid. Sometimes, though these times are less common, I admire you and think you are a fine person, indeed. And the worst times – those are when I start to wonder if maybe you are really me.
There is this definite symbiotic relationship between image and words. They need each other and could not exist without the other. However the formation of both is interesting. The E-lit I chose illustrates this idea of visibility – the dependence of visual image on words and vice versa. This piece is entitled “The Sweet Old Etcetera” by Alison Clifford. In this work, we are first given a sentence that is formed sideways, as if it is reaching upwards toward the sky. Once you click on the sentence, four more branches of words reach upwards from the original branch. Therefore, we have a core of words with four outgrowths on top of it. If you click on one of the four upper branches, two smaller branches of words emerge from the top of that particular branch. You can click on the other three branches, and the same thing will happen. Now when you click on the whole image, the tree fades away and letters start falling from the sky. Looking at these falling letters floating through the sky of white, you see they form the word leaf. The letters no longer form full words, just like the leaves are no longer part of the entire tree. However, from these parts you can get a sense of the greater whole. You can tell the letters spell the words leaf, just like you know that a leaf at some point was a part of something larger and grander. If you click on the leaves, they gradually disappear and instead, we are presented once again with the image of the “word tree”, except now it is planted in a ground of words and letters. The leaves have fallen to create a floor of words. The cycle of life, and the cycle of words, is being epitomized.
In this E-lit, the visual screen is presented in black and white – the color of text on paper. The words, themselves, illustrate the visual image of a tree, of life, of leaves falling, of rebirth. However, this E-lit also uses these words, to form the literal image that they are trying to portray. The words are sculpted in a way to visually portray their meaning – they hint at growth, Spring, lightness, nature. This is making the audience chose whether the word came first, or the image, for we are being presented with both simultaneously. Did we read the word Spring and think of a tree growing, or did we see the tree growing and think of Spring?