Time is relative. Sometimes it seems like life is moving slow, so slow, that each second is dragging into the next, just barely inching along. Other times, it seems like the world is spinning, fast, too incredibly fast, that you just can’t breathe. Then there are the times,you reflect on how a day can seem so long, but how the week just flew right by. You think you just met a person, but it feels like it has been forever. One musical that I really enjoy is Rent. In this musical, there is a song entitled “Seasons of Love” and it talks about the ways in which people can measure time. There is no set way to measure how quick something happens, however, we all use like tricks to mark the passage of life.
Calvino described quickness as the shortest distance between two points. In literature, quickness has to do with style, theme, word choice, plot, characterization. A text that embodies quickness, though, also emphasizes the idea of digression. It illustrates how, if we get too caught up in the details, a quick text can “quickly” become slow. Also, sometimes a heavy idea can be diluted if it is told quickly, or if the idea changes rapidly after. Quickness can be used to make heavy ideas easier to deal with. It is also a means to uphold attention. However, quickness, like time, is not black and white.
My Sister’s Keeper embodies the idea of quickness in many ways. Most obviously, is the main plot: a young girl, Kate, is dying of leukemia. Her life is passing by at a rapid pace. It is limited. A sense that life is finite, seems to accompany the idea of quickness. We are quick, when we know we don’t have much time. The novel requires the other characters to make quick life or death decisions. Sacrifices must be made. However, the idea of an approaching death is quite heavy. It is slow and difficult to grasp. While Kate’s death is approaching at a fast pace, as she is in the final stages of renal failure, her death has been slow coming. She was diagnosed at the age of three. Her life is measured in relapses and remissions. It is about time slowing down, and then hoping it will speed back up and that she will get better. It has not been a question of will she die, but a question of when. The question of “when?” automatically situates the reader and characters to focus on time.
This fixation with time – how much time is left, how one is spending time, how time can be borrowed – all of these have to do with the idea of quickness. When we sense that time exists in an hour glass, we are forced to make wise decisions with what to do with our time, all the while knowing that as we sit and ponder, more sand is falling through the glass.
The way the book is written, also lends to its quickness. It is separated by days of the week. Each section is a different day, in chronological order. The book spans two weeks. Therefore, as the reader flips through the pages, he or she can’t help but be reminded of time and how quickly it is passing. With each day – or each section – Kate is closer to dying. Another method that Jodi Picoult, the author, utilizes, is differing perspective. There are about seven characters that she migrates between. This makes the pace seem quicker. It also helps diminish the heaviness of each passage. You read something deep or painful and intense, but then it is quickly over and you are on to the next person. It is used as a means of relief for the reader.
This makes me wonder if quickness is something we use to escape from really immersing ourselves in the hard stuff. If we can quickly brush something off, is this the simpler thing to do?
My Sister’s Keeper also involves a legal battle. Kate’s sister, Anna, was genetically modified to be the perfect bone marrow match for Kate. She was engineered and born to save her sister. She is, in essence, her sister’s keeper. However, the decisions were always made for her. She was quickly told to help her sister, but Anna never got the chance to really think about the implications. The novel centers around her realization that she wants control of her own body. She sues her parents for medical emancipation – or rights to her own body. Therefore, the sense that Anna is fighting not to give her sister the kidney that is need to save Kate’s life, adds to the urgency of Kate’s situation. It makes it all that more important that the court hearing occur quickly, so that the family can then figure out what to do with their lives.
Another way, perhaps one of the most poignant ways, in which quickness can be seen in this novel, is the way in which all the children in this family must mature at a rapid pace. Their innocence is taken away at a young age. They must cope with problems way beyond their years. Childhood, for them, occurs too fast.
The characters in this novel have most of their problems because things occurs too quickly – before they could breathe, gain control, really assess the situation. They had to be quick, or else they wouldn’t survive. Jodi Picoult crafts this book in a clever way by jumping from one narrative and one day to the next. She is forcing her readers to be quick, with the characters. She is telling us that we better keep up, or we will fall behind – that life can be rough and horrible and hard to grasp, but that we need to, and then we need to keep moving. Through her style, she creates a pulse, a propelling motion forward. Whether this is to Kate’s death or not, we are moving, we are discovering, we are learning, we are feeling. The journey is deep, but it is quick – much like life, itself.
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.
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.