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To Calvino, exactitude means three things above all: a well-defined and well- calculated plan for the work; an evocation of clear, incisive, memorable visual. “To my mind exactitude means three things above all: 1. a well-defined and well- calculated plan for the work in question; 2. an evocation of. In the third memo of Calvino’s five, he describes the quality of exactitude. He explains it in having three main points: 1. A well-defined, well.

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The impulse for this essay struck hazily, one of those ideas that snuck in between pillow and sleep, or after too many coffees. I have tried to remove weight, sometimes from people, sometimes from heavenly bodies, sometimes from cities; above all I have tried to remove weight from the structure of stories exactituse from language. In his youth, Calvino ccalvino tangible, considered stories, fictions rooted to the ground with references to the political and social backdrop of his own exavtitude Italy — stories about soldiers on trains, factory workers, bachelors.

Before long, he grew weary of such realism, finding it increasingly difficult to synchronise his instinctive impulse to write with the frantic spectacle of his surroundings. Calvino wanted his writing to be deft, nimble, light, but the world around proved to be increasingly heavy and material.

As he averred, writing is a search for lightness as a reaction to the weight of living. Too often writers look to include every exaactitude in their stories, and it bogs them down. But we can choose to remove the unnecessary ties and worldly weight. Doing this liberates your writing, thus allowing you access to the realm of the combined consciousness, the shared magical.

These boats are ordinary. They exist, lolling heavy in the water, anchored to the sandy floor.

Six Memos for the Next Millennium review – Italo Calvino’s Harvard lectures

Each one is of a particular size and shape; some are new and some old. None are distinctive or exceptional. The tide moves them, waves cause them to sway — these boats are corpulent exactitued their burden, almost pathetically. So you decide to free them, to rid them of their weight.

You swim up to each and cut the ropes, you throw everything overboard and you untie all their anchors. You jettison all that is cumbersome. Well, the boats begin to float. But not like you thought they would. Each yacht and speedboat and exaftitude lifts off the water so that before long, the air is filled with the undersides of a thousand hulls. By freeing the boats of all their weight, they have become extraordinary.

Of course not every writer wants to be magical, but any writer who desires relevance should be able to show their readers that they have access to the magical. Writing laden with minutiae ages quickly and is easily forgotten. Calvkno is not to say that detail is the enemy, but heavy, fixed detail is. That shotgun could alternatively be an callvino, or a length of rope, a tomato or a grandmother.

The strength is not in the object itself, but in what it embodies. In the boundless realm of literature there are always new avenues to be explored. Everything can be looked at from an czlvino number of perspectives, with different logics exactitudf with fresh methods of cognition and verification.

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And it can be done so that it is universal. A writer can take on lightness in their work, using the most deft and nimble language to speak of things that are true now, but more importantly, true always.

Calvino’s Exactitude | Setting Sail

When Calvino speaks of quickness, he is referring to the ability of a writer to control the speed of a story. A writer exactitudw a manipulator of time, and must wrangle and wrestle it, delay it, cycle it or render it motionless using rhythms, patterns and formulas. Eliot counts in coffee spoons, Borges in forking paths. The most adept writer can depict one second or a thousand years with the same allure.

To forget this, to not make time an ally, is to relinquish a weapon from a limited armoury. Syllables can warp time, pronunciations matter, spaces shape tempo. Do not dismiss the scope and speed inherent in all things written: This is not about technology; it is far older. Hold onto the idea of reflection, of germination.

Toil for yourself, and then for others. Make your words precious. Margaret Atwood said that good writers work as if one hand is writing and the other hand is following with an eraser, as if no one will ever read the words. The danger of today is to type with two hands and follow that with manic workshopping or instant publishing. Success can come from quick flashes of inspiration, but as a rule the finished product involves a patient search for the sentence in which every word is unalterable, the most effective marriage of sounds and concepts.

Embrace quickness, but not in favour of substance. Being concise is different to being precise. Choosing the best word or sentence is not about being less verbose or the most flamboyant. Even the most ornate or seemingly garrulous writers Nabokov, Joyce, Pynchon are at their base rigidly coherent. His essay meanders and distends, filled both with specificities and generalisations, but it is always precise, and more importantly, always on topic. This is good writing: Being exact is as much foundation as it is revision.

The same goes for writing: Calvino alludes to an old Chinese parable whereby a king asks an artist to draw a crab. The artist replies that he needs five years, a country house and twelve servants. Five years later the drawing has not began. At the end of these ten years, the artist picks up his brush and, in an instant, with a single stroke, he draws a crab, the most perfect crab ever seen. As Calvino identified twenty-five years ago, something that is exponentially truer today, we live in an unending rainfall of images whereby the most powerful media transform the world into images, and we in turn multiply them by means of a phantasmagorical play of mirrors.

Words therefore have become devalued, and at the same time the capacity to write imagery-based text is exalted. But to what extent are writers creating new images? Exceptional writing renders visible that which tends to be neglected in our everyday relationship to reality.

It arouses awareness of what might superficially be overlooked; it draws our attention to the marginal, the forgotten. An authentic writer accomplishes this by paying unwavering attention to the world around and the world inside their head. In the past the ability to conjure up and relay such imagery has been called divine inspiration, tapping into the collective unconscious, or even a matter of genetics.


For successful imagery, writers must do two things: And often it all starts with a single spark, a solitary image that for some reason is charged with meaning. Calvino describes the progression as something that is painstaking but not necessarily painful, from the moment you grasp the significance of a single image and then associate it with other images, forming a field of analogies, symmetries and confrontations, and then organising this material, which is no longer purely visual but also conceptual, to try and give order and sense to the development of a story.

Here the writing, the textual product, becomes increasingly important. From the moment you start putting black onto white what really matters is the written word, first as a search for an equivalent of the visual image, then as a coherent expansion of the initial stylistic direction, so that eventually it is the image that is being pulled along by the text, and not the other way around. In an era where visuals dominate, writing has to be potent and vivid in order to vie for attention.

Roland Barthes in The Pleasure of the Text reminds us to be aware of the visceral nature of words; the mix of sensuality and truth hoists writing above the smog of uninterestingness. Such ambition — or overambition — is central to literature, if we are to believe that writing is an attempt to represent the multiplicity of connections in the universe: Overambitious projects may be objectionable in many fields, but not in writing. As Calvino avers, only if writers set themselves tasks that no one else dares imagine will literature continue to have a function.

Writing has to aim high.

Calvino’s Exactitude

It seeks to represent any and every area of knowledge — science, philosophy, politics, you name it — intertwining them all into narrative and setting. And not only must it include the past and current thinking of these fields, but it must go further, higher and over. Multiplicity works through the abiding of rules. Rules give one boundaries to work in, a set space, even if the space is to be thought of as infinite. Sartre said that writing, properly employed, can be a powerful means of liberating the reader from valvino kinds of alienation, and by this process, the writer also frees their own self and overcomes their own alienation.

Like a system of poetry — a system that could be deemed artificial and mechanical — rules can produce inexhaustible freedom and wealth of invention.

And like a single deadline can work as the ecactitude driving force for a writer, a large array of directives act as stimulation, as ongoing spurs. Sam Cooney is a writer of fiction and nonfiction pieces that have been published around and thereabouts. He also does some editing stuff, most recently with Sleepers Publishing, Overland lit journal, and Voiceworks magazine. He occasionally posts writing here. Kimberly Dark Swinging Modern Sounds