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.
My emblem for multiplicity is the image of the family tree. At its core, or beginning, you have an original point of origin, or couple. This couple decides to have a child, or two children, or maybe many children, but they decide to have children, “multiplying” the size of their family. Then, these children grow up and have their own children and so on and so forth. Eventually, you have this tree of families with many branches splitting off and creating leaves of their own. You have this idea that everyone is interconnected in some way. Everyone is linked.
If we are thinking about this more abstractly, a family tree not only represents “multiple” families, but multiple lives, thoughts, actions. There are multiple things happening at once – someone dies, someone is born. While some branches might be cut off, others are constantly being added. There is this idea of birth, life, death, rebirth. The cycle will continue as long as the families continue to “multiply,” or reproduce. Here, we have this idea of reproduction, as a sort of multiplicity. We are reproducing, to a degree, something we already have. However, this “something” is a bit different. It is a different mix of genetics. While certain traits have been multiplied, others have not. Multiplicity can be selective.
Multiplicity is complex. It is not easy to separate the parts that make up a family, or story, or image. When multiple people, words, ideas, exist, they can be hard to separate. However, a family tree provides a sort of outline for multiplicity. It shows us how multiplicity can visually look, how people can be connected. It takes a dense concept and attempts to present it in a clearer fashion. A family tree is complicated, though. People divorce, remarry, move away. You can lose track of some of the branches. The key, though, is trying to find these connections, always trying to find them. Like the E-lit with it’s “I” center, Bananagrams with the same 26 letters at its core, and the originating couple of a family tree, as long as there is some foundation to grasp onto, multiplicity can remain grounded. The tree can plant its roots.
An analogy for the idea of multiplicity can be found in a game called Bananagrams. This game is somewhat similar to Scrabble, but different in the sense that the pieces on your imaginary board – there is no actual board, you just use a desk or table, or some sort of surface – can move. Each player starts out with a determined set of letters. Then one player shouts out “split,” and all the players flip there letters over to reveal what they have. Once their letters are determined, a player has to start forming words. The words must connect to one another. For example, if you used the word APPLE, you could use the “P” to form PEAR underneath. Once you use up your letters, you shout out “peel,” and everyone must pick up another letter and somehow make it fit on their board. The idea is that you have to constantly move the letters around on your board to accommodate the new ones you are adding. Therefore, while the words, or the meanings, are constantly changing, they are all interconnected in the sense that the letters are not changing, only more are being added. The amount is being “multiplied.” People keep shouting “peel,” until there are no more letters left. At that point, when someone has used all of his/her letters to form words that are interconnected, he/she would shout out, “banana.” The game would then be finished.
I know this is an odd analogy for the idea of multiplicity, but as I sat at my desk thinking of ideas, I noticed my Bananagram set next to my foot on the floor. And suddenly I remembered playing the game with my parents – feeling this rush of adrenaline as I shape-shifted the letters to form new words, that really weren’t all that new, only a variation of what I had already had.
Now that I am thinking about it, I think the most obvious example of multiplicity is the alphabet. I guess this is what I was trying to illustrate in my Bananagram example – this idea that we have only twenty six letters. We sculpt them, mix them up, manipulate them – we have a limited source, but endless possibilities. The English language, itself, gains no new letters. But from these letters, arises “multiple” meanings.
I wrote this in my other blog a couple weeks ago:
There are only twenty six letters in the alphabet. I read in a book the other day how Newton, or maybe it was Galileo – I can’t really remember – likened letters to atoms. He said they are the smallest unit of communication and spin in circles forming new combinations, new meanings. In a way, words create a body, an object, something tangible, in the same way that atoms give weight to the world.
But, since there are only twenty six letters, there are only so many ways in which we might sculpt them, use them, manipulate them to say something we think is important, or maybe not important, or only of semi-importance. We can decide these things, to an extent. The audience, though, will take out of the words and the letters and the passages, what he or she pleases. A writer only has so much control.
With twenty six letters, a sort of cycling will occur, much like the circular image of a clock. Imagine, instead of numbers on the clock, 26 letters. And then imagine several hands on the clock moving from one letter to the next – forming new combinations with each tick or tock. So, while words may be timeless, there is also the sense that they cycle over and over again and maybe it is this cycling that is timeless. Maybe history repeats itself not just because of our actions, but our words.
Like the “I” is the grounding factor in the ever-changing cube of this E-lit, the alphabet, or the limited possibility of letters one can use, is the grounding factor in Bananagrams. Despite a changing board, the letters don’t change, only the combinations do. The letters are interconnected on a sort of grid, must like the “I’s” and “You’s” and “We’s.”
The I, you, and we’s in this E-lit represent several points on an X,Y, and Z, or I, You, and We, axes. Depending on the angle you turn the cube, these points start to form lines, or at least give the appearance of lines. This E-lit, also forms a plane. In Lupton’s book, under the section about the concept point, line, plane, it said, “A field of text is a plane built from points and lines of type” (18). Line spacing is experimented with, because as you move the arrow on your screen, your angle of the text is altered. This e-lit is playing with the ideas of angles and how all the points are somehow interconnected.
However, there is always an “I” near the center of the cube – as if this is the (0,0,0) point on the graph. This E-lit seems to imply that the “I” is what ties together all the multiple words and meanings within the text. The second most obvious word is the “You.” The “You’s” seem to circle around the “I,” as if for every “I” there have to be several “You’s.” This seems to imply that an “I”, or a word, cannot stand alone – it is connected to many others. And, finally, there are the “We’s,” which are a little less prominent, but lurk around in the background as a constant literal reminder that each one of us, each “I,” is never alone, there we exist as “We’s,” connected through a system of “You’s and verbs.”
Calvino talks about Gadda a lot when he mentions multiplicity. He said that Gadda, “superimposes various levels of language, high and low, and uses the most varied vocabulary” (106). This seems highly relevant in the E-lit piece I chose – “I, You, We” by Dan Waber and Jason Pimble. Since the entire text is represented within an infinite cube of possibilities, with different layers of language constantly morphing in and out of sight, this seems to visually represent Gadda’s idea of various levels of language. This E-lit piece actually portrays the different levels, giving some words more weight, or boldness, than others.
In this E-lit piece, we are presented with a cube of letters, with an “I” in the center of a screen and “you’s” and “we’s” scattered around this “I”. In between the “I’s” and “you’s” and “we’s” are various verbs. However, all these words exist on a sort of X, Y, Z, or I, you, we, plane. This contributes to the idea of multiplicity – that the text is all interconnected, that it is a system of words, a graphical representation on an axis that touches every point in some way at some time.
Gadda also talked about how multiplicity has to do with the idea that there are many elements that converge to determine every event. Once again we have this image of many ideas, or words connected by one main idea, in this particular E-lit case, the “I.” Calvino further talks about multiplicity as this idea of a web. He says that Gadda “demands that everything should be precisely named, described, and located in space and time” (107). This E-lit tries to mathematically locate where everything would be mapped out on a grid, where it would fall in space and time. However, the idea of multiplicity seems overwhelming, this idea that everything is interconnected and endless. It feels very heavy, the opposite of what Calvino would claim is light. However, while it is heavy, in many ways, there is a lightness in knowing that everything can be boiled down to a common center. While many of the words will fade in and out of sight in this E-lit, there is one constant, the “I.”
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.