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Visual Thinking and Literature May 9, 2010

Posted by leskanturek in Books, Narrative, Student Post.
Tags: , , ,

Post by Rachel Tonthat


One of the most fascinating things for me is the intersection between art and literature. This can most commonly be found in the realm of comics, but I have been interested in artists and writers who move between genres or redefine them.

My best friend had the recent opportunity of interviewing Salvador Plascencia who I believe is an example of an unconventional thinker.

Salvador Plascencia is the author of the novel The People of Paper, a book that amazes me in terms of the relationship between the story and the actual physicality of its vessel (one of my other obsessions being the symbiotic relationship between stories and bookmaking). The story is set in El Monte, a small town which finds itself in a struggle against an invisible enemy they call Saturn, which is later revealed to be the author himself. Their war on Saturn is a war in which they try to reclaim their town for their own, learning to hide their thought and thus erasing them from the pages of the book. In first edition of the novel, words are physical cut from the pages of the book as the people rebel.


What I find so remarkable about his system of writing is that it is a very visual process. Each chapter is encoded using circles and dashes, and his manuscript is laid out in a sketchbook with the different shapes and sections. Though he is not an artist, the way he writes is visual.

In one of his quotes he states,

“I do think that the way we materially see the novel has a profound effect on the way we construct narrative. If we understand the novel as a single column of prose spread over five hundred pages—so one block of text per page—the stories and paragraphs we write are in a very real sense just conforming to this arbitrary guide. From a production and design perspective, it makes sense to streamline—eliminate multiple columns, push out the woodcuts, standardize the fonts and sizes. You can move the novel from site to site much easier this way: a near automated process from hardback to pocket paperback to e-book.

Somewhere along the evolutionary line of the novel, we opted for faster flips of the page over a more varied typography. We opted for velocity… I’m interested in the reverse: in a writing that sticks to the page and brings the reader closer to the pulp that they are holding. Novels where the paper is the site of the novel, not just some container.”

Not only is Plascencia’s visual process interesting, the way that he is looking to reuse the design of a book to interact with the reader seems like a crucial point for us as illustrators and designers. This concept could be easily applied to fine art, comics and even advertisements with incredible possibilities. Often I believe it is easy to become complacent with the tools we are working with, when, as Teen showed us, paper can almost speak its own.

Salvadore Plascencia’s interview in the Nashville Review is definitely worth reading. I would rather not take the photos of the original manuscript from the site, as I feel that might be an infringement of something.




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