Opening chapter printed on the front cover
Sleeve Case containing the volume and a mirror
A novel within the novel
Sub-novel about symmetry and specularity
Example of typographic treatment of the text
Visual devices reflect the original medium as Calvino describes
Visual devices reflect the original medium as Calvino describes
Detail of the binding

Martina Casonato re-mediates "If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler" by Italo Calvino

Imagine you are in a bookshop.
You have just bought a new novel by a famous Italian author.
The novel is called If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler.
You go home and start to read it. It’s a thriller.
Nice.

The story is getting more and more compelling, when you… oh no. There is a printing mistake. You clearly won’t be able to read the rest of the book. Frustrated, you go back to the bookstore to complain and get your good copy, only to find out that what you bought believing to be If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler is, in fact, a whole different book.

This is the beginning of “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler” by Italo Calvino. Confused? Well, that’s exactly the point. The story spins around a reader (or better yet, the Reader) trying to read Calvino’s book. While doing so, he is forced to quit his reading by what seems an innocent printing mistake, only to find himself on the trail of a mysterious literary conspiracy involving nine other books.

It is a novel about novels, or — to define it with its downright name — a meta-novel. The purpose of a meta-novel, or metafiction in general, is to nudge the reader to pose questions on the nature of fiction itself, blurring the line between what is real and what is a mere product of imagination.

This is where my project comes in. My graphic re-mediation of Calvino’s novel aims at offering a more playful and engaging experience for the reader, unveiling in front of his eyes the main theme of the book itself, that is the continuous overlapping between fiction and reality.

Traditionally, the act of reading starts at page 3. Opening the book marks the crossing between the real world and the fictional one: once you have turned the front cover open and start to plunge yourself in the text, everything around you starts to blur, the letters themselves are no longer seen but rather read.

“You are about to begin reading Italo Calvino’s new novel, If on a winter’s night a traveler. Relax. Concentrate. Dispel every other thought. Let the world around you fade.” (Italo Calvino, “If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler”, Einaudi, Turin, 1979)

As the first chapter is truly a sort of “preparation guide to the reading” (where Calvino directly addresses the Reader and gives him suggestions on how to approach his novel), it made perfect sense to me to print it outside the traditional book space, that is on the front cover. In this way, the process of reading would start before actually entering the world of fiction (i.e. inside the book), and the line which separates the two worlds (the non-fictional and fictional) is blurred. Similarly, the ending chapter is printed on the back cover, marking the end of the fiction and the return to the real world.

Together with the volume, the Reader is provided with a mirror, which he is to use to read “In a Network of Lines that Intersect” (the “geometric story”, as Calvino calls it, where the main theme is specularity and symmetry). Besides its practical purpose, the mirror also recalls the concept of self-reflexivity so dear to meta-fiction. Looking inside the mirror, the Reader will also spot the protagonist of Calvino’s novel.

Both the book and the mirror are contained in a sleeve case which is perforated in a way that it is possible to read the title and author from the beneath cover. The indication “This is not” printed on the case (besides paying homage to Magritte’s ceci n’est pas) refers to the fact that the Reader protagonist of the book finds out that what he bought believing it to be Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler was in fact substituted — owing to the conspiracy— with a polish book entitled Outside the Town of Malbork.

Once inside the book, inside the story, the Reader comes across ten different sub-narrations, books within the book. Calvino presents some of them as properly in the form of a book, other are carried by different media (loose sheets, photocopies, roll etc.). To create the effect of framing, each one of the ten stories has a smaller format than the main story.

To re-enhance this blurring between reality and its representation, the book contains simulacra of the media in which the ten stories are printed, as they are described by Calvino. The photographs help to convey the three-dimensionality of the object and bewilder the Reader on what is real and what is not.

The text is set in Bembo, the digital reproduction of Francesco Griffo’s original roman face designed by Stanley Morison for Monotype in 1929. It has a traditional, serene outfit that perfectly complies with Calvino’s Traveler. The fact that one of the most eminent Italian typefaces is being used for one of the most eminent Italian author is just the icing on the cake.

So far, much has been done in the field of visual writing. Much has been written about it. When I started this journey almost nine months ago, I only had a vague idea of my destination. I had a few landmarks and a shining north star, that was my interest in editorial design. I explored the territory of visual writing and ended up in the realms of meta-fiction, the place where you loose track of reality.

Ultimately, my project is torn between two opposite tensions: one centripetal, aiming inwards to the book itself, and the other one centrifugal, directed towards the outer world of readers. As Natoli well summarises:

“On the one hand we have self-reflexivity, inner-directed towards the work of art, on the other hand we have an impulse that is outer-directed and engages the world. This latter impulse is rather vaguely ascribed to a latently present energy in language itself. As Richard Pearce puts it more clearly in his discussion of Surfiction: ‘the medium asserts itself as an independent source of interest and control’.” (Natoli, J. P., “A Postmodern Reader”, Suny Press, Albany, 1993)

One of my certainties throughout all this wandering was the intention of creating something purposeful, that could actually enhance the reading experience. Not unlikely Calvino himself, I too had a Reader on my mind, and my aim was to engage that Reader and shape around him a playful interaction with the text. Slowly, the raison d’être of my project shifted from merely entertaining my Reader to actually challenge him intellectually, leading him to pose questions about the book as an artefact in the same way in which Calvino does exposing the structures of a fictional text.

Whether I succeeded or not, it is up to the Reader to say.


Comments (3)

Is this or will this be available for purchase?

Dustin
03.07.13

Hello Dustin,
my apologies for the late reply and thank you for your interest! Unfortunately the book up to now is still a one-off piece and not available for purchase, but I’ll keep you updated in the event of publication!

Thank you and all the best!

Martina

Martina Casonato
15.07.13

I would love to purchase the book as well if and when available.. I think your approach is marvelous and brings the reading experience to a whole different level!

Michal

Michal
15.02.14

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