For aspiring writers the land of punctuation is often a metaphorical minefield. Recently Indian publishing house Tara Books has released an amazing visual translation of Christian Morgenstern‘s poem In the Land of Punctuation, turning it into a visually compelling tale that restitutes more than the literal meaning. Beautifully designed by Rathna Ramanathan, the images through which the verses develop are all ‘assembled’ typographically, using only punctuation marks as both independent characters and visual signs forming the elements of the landscape. Written in 1905 by German poet Christian Morgenstern, apparently In the Land of Punctuation is a cute non-sensical nursery rhyme that plays with punctuation marks. They become the living characters engaging in a violent fight against each other and for supremacy.
Defined by its author as a linguistic caprice, the poem is actually a dark satire on the absurdity of intolerance and the pointless but unavoidable violence that comes out of it. Since its beginnings committed with a strong socio-political vision, Tara Books could not miss the occasion for rediscovering this literary gem, translating it into a book to be read both textually and visually. The making of In the Land of Punctuation has involved a double translation. First Sirish Rao came up with a brand new translation from German to English. Then, designer and illustrator Rathna Ramanathan provided the translation from written language to visual typography. Each page is masterfully animated by the aggressively dynamic actions of the characters. The spiral of violence, which is the central thread running through the poem, starts when stops and commas form a belligerent alliance against the semi-colons, seen as parasite owning their existence to them. All the semi-colons are left dead on a bloody battlefield. But violence only results in more violence and the aggressor easily become the aggressed. So, when the blade-like dashes join this civil war in the land of punctuation they direct their hatred against the commas, beheading them. The once commas are reduced to semi-colons corpses adding up to the death field. The design of the book perfectly restitutes the war atmosphere. With its red and black rendition and the dynamism of lines and marks, it is clearly reminiscent of the visual language used by Russian avant-garde in the 1920’s that had in Beat the Whites with the Red Wedge by El Lissitzky its most famous propaganda work of art. But the original reinterpretation of art does not stop here. There is also a homage to Alexander Calder‘s mobiles in the image presenting the main characters of the story, with the lightly suspended semi-colons still unaware of the lurking tragedy embodied by stops and commas.
Tara Books has produced yet another gem to its catalogue, confirming the passion and commitment that has made it a favourite of mine (see my previous post here).
To check more gems from Tara Books please visit their website here.
Thanks to Tara Books for the images.