The Vast Territory

Ignacio Pérez-Messina, Simón López Trujillo

Room: 103

2023-10-25T23:45:00ZGMT-0600Change your timezone on the schedule page
Exemplar figure, but none was provided by the authors

In the novel The Vast Territory (El vasto territorio. Alfaguara, 2021; Caja Negra, 2023), by Chilean author Simón López Trujillo, a mycologist analyzes the way a certain fungus infects the mind of a forest worker called Pedro. In one moment, an abstract image, of countless white dots against a black background, in the form of waves or a mountain range, appears to explain the infection: the genetic origin of the language of Pedro, when the fungus starts speaking through him. That image, included in the revised edition of the book, is also a depiction of the novel’s genetic origin, as it was generated by a visualization of different drafts of the novel. In every literary reading, two texts are involved: the written or actual text, that we can smoothly read with our eyes, and a second text, imperceptible and invisible, made of all the deletions, editions, and additions of words involved in the process of writing the text. This project conceives the visualization of The Vast Territory as a visual novel on its own that explores the unconscious of the book: that black, secret space, where the words involved during the writing process emerge as ghostly presences. There, the data of the previous draft are manifested in the following one, as a latent presence in the actuality of the text we read. The work, where every white dot represents a word in the juxtaposed draft sequence, is a two-dimensional pixel-based text visualization. Its construction follows only two straightforward rules: (1) words are sequentially arranged in a horizontal line; (2) the vertical position of each word-dot is determined by its initial appearance within the entire sequence of drafts. The result is a “data-palimpsest” where each draft leaves its imprint on the next through their cumulative determination of the spatial order. By using the order of first appearance as the guiding principle, the visualization emphasizes the inherited structure of each draft from its predecessors, akin to looking at the fossil record or geological strata, with the most ancient elements appearing at the greatest depth. The layer on top, where the words are shown, allows the viewer to inspect the content at each point in time, which is indicated by a thin vertical line or by the “folding” of the canvas. It acts as a zoom-in, where the overlaid words are placed at their precise height in the visualization, or first-appearance depth.