The Typesetting of Pessoa’s The Transformation Book

November 28th, 2014
The Typesetting of Pessoa’s The Transformation BookThe Typesetting of Pessoa’s The Transformation Book

This presentation is a review of the typesetting of Contra Mundum Press’s world premiere edition of Pessoa’s The Transformation Book, a multi-lingual and complex text with over a thousand handcrafted footnotes, transcription symbols, hundreds of headings in different but consistent styles, and taxonomies & markups at the service of the book design workflow.

This paper was presented on November 28, 2014, at 5ET Encontro de Tipografia, the 5th Meeting of Typography organized by the Design Department of the Superior School of Technology (EST) of the Polytechnic Institute of Cávado and Ave (IPCA) and it was held in Barcelos, Portugal.

The presentation outlines the typographic work — the “scaffolding” for the texts that when removed makes the typography almost invisible to the reader who is then free to spend mental energy to process the content alone and read without hindrance. Gerard Unger’s statement that it “is almost impossible to look and read at the same time” is relevant to the activity presented. It’s a discourse on typesetting performance and methods, just like fonts are performative tools, and it explores specification, art, and aesthetics, too. What was presented is a physical book in the end, and special attention was given to the design of facing pages and the related text flow.

As for the content, The Transformation Book — or Book of Tasks contains series of fragments written in English, Portuguese, and French. CMP believes that typography is situated at the intersection of language, culture, technology and aesthetics. Through the critical efforts of the editors, a fundamental project of Fernando Pessoa’s is now brought from the confines of the archive to the public in its most complete and accurate typographic form. Alexander Search, Pantaleão, Jean Seul de Méluret, and Charles James Search are the four “pre-heteronyms” to which the texts of The Transformation Book are attributed. Conceived by Pessoa in 1908, a year of great social and cultural transformation in Portugal, The Transformation Book was planned & written to reflect and advance social and cultural transformation in Portugal and beyond. Moving between a number of literary forms, all enhanced through crafted typesetting — poetry, fiction, and satire as well as essays on politics, philosophy, and psychiatry — The Transformation Book marks one of the fundamental stages in Pessoa’s elaboration of a new conception of literary space, one that he came to express as a “drama in people,” a space here rendered typographically with precise attention to details.

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