Typeface as Program François Rappo
What is a typeface? It seems like this question was asked and answered long ago. But question is at the center of this engaging catalogue of typographic explorations conducted in recent years at ECAL/University of art and design Lausanne, which suggests the answer is in need of a major update. A fascinating survey of technologies, techniques, and traditions in flux. Jürg Lehni’s essay “The Nature of Type Design in the Digital Age” is an mustread.
Varieties of Disturbance Lydia Davis
Known for writing the shortest of short stories, Lydia Davis’s flawless collection from 2007 mixes the aphoristic dread of Kafka with the verbal gameplay of Perec and adds a dash of wisdom and tenderness that is utterly Davis’s own. In her hands, the experience of reading words and the experience of experiencing what those words themselves describe collapse into a single wedded thing. Read 20 Sculptures in One Hour and you will know exactly what I mean.
Anthology of Concrete Poetry Emmett Williams
The Program Era: Postwar Fiction and the Rise of Creative Writing Mark McGurl
Edited by one of my heroes, the freewheeling poet-editor-artist Emmett Williams, this anthology announces on its own cover in large, bold Optima that “the publishers of Something Else Press, Inc., take great pride in presenting this most active of modern poetry movements and in introducing so many major writers from so many countries between these covers for the first time to the American reading public.” It does exactly that, offering a parade of approaches and experiments, complete with annotations, to the practice of poem-making. Though Williams notes in his foreword to the 1967 edition, that “the poem as picture is as old as the hills, or the men who once lived in them, scratching their histories and fantasies in the preliterate strokes on the walls of caves,” he insists that these poems have been “born of the times, as a way of knowing and saying something about the world of now, with the techniques and insights of now.”
This book has been on my mind a lot lately. McGurl, a UCLA English professor, looks at the explosion of creative writing programs in the US in the postwar period — 52 degree-granting programs in 1975 compared to over 300 in 2004 — and tries to read the creative writing program both into and through the literature it has produced. Even-handed and routinely enlightening, McGurl’s study is full of formulations like this one: “‘Experience’ and ‘craft’ and ‘creativity’ have been in more or less constant dialogue across the Program Era. One way to flesh out this dialogue is to look at the familiar set of prescriptive slogans in which they are complexly encoded: ‘write what you know’; ‘show don’t tell’; ‘find your voice.’” As a design educator, I think there’s a lot McGurl has to teach us.
Secrets: On the Ethics of Concealment and Revelation Sissela Bok
Bok is a Swedish philosopher and a Senior Visiting Fellow at Harvard’s School of Public Health. Building on her earlier book, Lying, Secrets is a vast survey of the ethics, instances, and effects of secrecy in nearly every part of our society — secret societies, confidential sources, state secrets, trade secrets, and more. In our age of Foursquare check-ins and Wikileaks cables, it’s endlessly fascinating to read this book, first published over 25 years ago, to see how much its core questions still resonate: “How far should one go in protecting one’s secrets? Should one conceal all that friends and colleagues confide? When may a promise of secrecy be broken? Are there times when it must be breached? Under what circumstances is it wrong to gossip about the secrets of others, or to pry into them? Is secrecy corrupting when it promotes the unchecked exercise of power?” There’s enough to more than fill Pandora’s Box, which naturally Bok examines as well.
Further reading: The Mirror in the Text by Lucien Dällenbach, Parallel Encyclopedia by Batia Suter, Bruno Munari: Air Made Visible edited by Claude Lichtenstein & Alfredo Haberli, Gramophone Film Typewriter by Friedrich Kittler, The Shape of Time by George Kubler…