four hundred and twenty-five elephants flying in the sky

October 1, 2013

four hundred and twenty-five elephants flying in the sky

I promise this will make sense in the end…

The very first architecture textbook handed to me was Analysing Architecture by Simon Unwin. With its matte black cover and gorgeous illustrations, it smelt as new knowledge should. At the beginning of each chapter was a meticulous graphite illustration paired with a quote from someone far more worldly and knowing than myself. One of these quotes was by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. The detail in which he constructed the environment was so universal yet so specific that I could not help but believe it.

Fast forward 7 years (I am aware that architecture degrees generally take a shorter time frame…but hey I get distracted, I wander and drift) to “a muf manual”, in which Katherine Shonfield describes the transition from the particular to the general and back to the particular.

“…so the equation detail/strategy = DETAIL forces a paradoxical recognition of the universality of the detail, the up close and personal.” (Shonfield. p.20)

This got me thinking. Is universality in the details? Can something be “both personal and at the same time a source of social solidarity, that yearned for thing ‘community’.” (Shonfield. p.20)

Rewinding now…to an interview between Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Peter H. Stone published in the 1981 Winter issue of The Paris Review, where the author touched on the universality of details.


There also seems to be a journalistic quality to that technique or tone. You describe seemingly fantastic events in such minute detail that it gives them their own reality. Is this something you have picked up from journalism?


That’s a journalistic trick which you can also apply to literature. For example, if you say that there are elephants flying in the sky, people are not going to believe you. But if you say that there are four hundred and twenty-five elephants flying in the sky, people will probably believe you. One Hundred Years of Solitude is full of that sort of thing. That’s exactly the technique my grandmother used. I remember particularly the story about the character who is surrounded by yellow butterflies. When I was very small there was an electrician who came to the house. I became very curious because he carried a belt with which he used to suspend himself from the electrical posts. My grandmother used to say that every time this man came around, he would leave the house full of butterflies. But when I was writing this, I discovered that if I didn’t say the butterflies were yellow, people would not believe it. That’s how I did it, to make it credible. The problem for every writer is credibility. Anybody can write anything so long as it’s believed.

In journalism just one fact that is false prejudices the entire work. In contrast, in fiction one single fact that is true gives legitimacy to the entire work. That’s the only difference, and it lies in the commitment of the writer. A novelist can do anything he wants so long as he makes people believe in it.

So to answer muf’s on questions of “How do you develop a city-wide strategy when you are fascinated by the detail of things? And how can you make something small-scale in the here and now if you are driven by the urge to formulate strategic proposals for the future? (Shonfield. p.14) you may become a novelist in a journalistic guise. Record details unencumbered by the habitual detachment of the strategist, record minutely what is, while remaining unworried by what should be (Shonfield. p.15).

Perhaps details allow us premature gratification of understanding. They give us a chance to flick through our memory, comparing new stimulus to past experiences, interrupting the pattern of uncertainty and creating comfort in our thoughts.

My first power tool is to become a muf-Marquez.

You can write design anything so long as it’s believed.


: : premature gratification is about both-and, not either/or.

: : including the excluded.

: : universality is in the details.

: : record minutely what is, while remaining unworried by what should be.




2 Responses to “four hundred and twenty-five elephants flying in the sky”

  1. Jordan Lane Says:

    Thank you Nicole. It is incredible that one single adjective can make a sentence believable. Even if the subject is unbelievable. It was the proof I was searching for.

  2. nicoleguo Says:

    I love the story of 425 flying elephants and also the yellow butterflies and I am really impressed by the power tool you use. “Universality is in the details.” That’s true. Boya

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