"Complete tale": Text design as a reader-building machine (A Longi & Winding Read)
[TPL’s NOTE: the book “Puro Cuento” is the final result of the student’s work in the “Tipografía 2” workshop at the Longinotti Chair in the Architecture, Town Planning and Design School at Buenos Aires University (FADU-UBA). Reproduced Below is the introduction to the book written by Professor Enrique Longinotti. For more information on the project (in Spanish) visit this website.
And also our unbounded gratitude to the great Hernán Ordoñez for adding the brilliant subtitle to this piece] Text design can be, among other things, an open experience. We are already used to the indispensable typographic transcription of printed texts, in which, traditionally, the presumed “neutrality” of signs and resources “preserve” the accurate transmission of the author’s (verbally emitted) information. But now, a number of new possibilities arise. New possibilities that are about interpretation, about placing textual content within a wider context of references and networked relationships. We know now there is no such thing as an isolated text and that intertextuality is reading’s natural condition. Designing the way in which a text will be read means getting it interweaved with some of the allusions it summons.
The “Puro Cuento” project (literally “Complete tale”, a play on words with the expression “complete myth” in Spanish) was more about text design than editorial design. It was a student project of the “Tipografía 2” workshop within the Graphic Design undergraduate studies at the Architecture, Town Planning and Design School at Buenos Aires University (FADU/UBA). The students were asked to read and interpret some short stories and design their text afterwards according to their own interpretation of them. The workshop was about emphasizing design’s power to re-configure the content on which it is put to work. It was not about imposing some ideals but about suggesting new alternatives in text design.
In order to properly assess our proposal we should ask ourselves one question: What is indeed a short story? Used to the relatively linear stability of written fiction, we loose sight of the cross-referential potential inherent to any narrative, its permanent and infinite intersection with the many worlds it belongs to or refer to or even the worlds it builds when being read.
If every story, and every text, is “a reader-building machine”, as Umberto Eco argues, in “Puro Cuento” it’s interesting to see which readers—which readings—were built by the designers of these pages. As readers, they were built by the short stories that created them in one way or another: the ideas and references summoned by the narrative in their minds, their parallel research which comes to enrich the text’s context—. Of course, these readers/readings exhibit particular points of view. In their work as designers, the students projected, subverted and intervened on the stories’ textual matter in order to expose the mark of the reading eye, an eye which—in its path—transforms that what is read.
Text design through typographic media can, thus, be performed in different ways. One of them is about encoding verbal literality in a continuum of words-phrases-parragraphs pretending to reproduce an “objective” version of the content. Another one is about commenting and annotating said content through its structuring, selection and zooming.
Cinema’s example can be of use to us here. In a film’s adaptation of a book we can clearly see the essential shift in language and media. But used to the idea that text design is simply a neutral form of transmitting information without altering it, we don’t ever think that setting the text of a short story (and its context) is also an adaptation, our version of an original. The whole point of an adaptation is that the reader/viewer already knows the original source and thus is able to appreciate, praise or dissent with the adapter’s reading. In the “Puro Cuento” project, the designers/editors were asked to expose their readings of an original text, to display the resonances and the particular form of his or her reading, the images it summoned, the information dimensions it went through.
Each student submitted his or her design for one of the following short stories (“The Small Assassin” by Ray Bradbury; “The Secret Miracle” by Jorge Luis Borges; “Letter to a Young Lady in Paris” by Julio Cortázar; “The Lightning-Rod Man” by Herman Melville; “The Storyteller” or “The Open Window” by Saki, and “Cuentos para tahúres” by Rodolfo Walsh). Then a collective book called also “Puro Cuento” was published including just one page of each of the projects. The books is also built upon fragments—one page for each designer— eschewing the promises of homogeneity enclosed in all sequential things. It’s almost like a film trailer, trying to condense, sum up, extract and transmit all that which defines the spirit of the work more than the mere letters of the short story. It’s not neutrality what should be expected of them but an evident stance, not objectivity but the kind of subjectivity that makes of each reader a whole different world. We hope theses pages, this iconic typographic adaptations find, in their turn, their unexpected reader.