Another good blog, if you’re interested in design, typography, or books and magazines - Fonts in Use. If it sounds geeky, you should know that it really is. Commenters debate arcane matters of kerning and font “openness” as though there were a lot at stake. And that’s why I like it. Anyway, that’s where I learned about this beautiful, very limited (265) Arion edition of Moby Dick, published in 1978/79…
All text in the book was hand-set in metal type (one character at a time) and letterpress printed on custom hand-made paper. To accompany the text throughout, 100 stunning wood engravings were cut by renowned printmaker and illustrator Barry Moser. Due to its high level of craftsmanship, the edition was limited to 265 copies, and is considered a masterpiece of modern bookmaking — named by the Grolier Club as one of the “100 Most Beautiful Books of the 20th Century”.
The typeface used for the main body type — Goudy Modern — has a rustic texture which matches both the story and illustrations perfectly. It also seems fitting that a typeface by such a quintessential American type designer like Frederic Goudy was used to set one of the most quintessential American novels.
To complement the body type, a set of large capitals were designed specifically for the book’s initial caps and titling. The stately face, aptly named Leviathan (not to be confused with H&FJ’sface of the same name), was designed by Charles Bigelow & Kris Holmes, of later Lucida fame. As the name implies, Leviathan was intended for very large sizes, where its sharp details and exaggerated flaring can really shine.
Considering the wide spectrum of writing styles that appear throughout Moby Dick, Hoyem’s typographic restraint is impressive. Using just one weight of one typeface, in only two sizes, he manages to compose most all of the story’s narration, technical documentation, asides, poetry, quotations, etc … not to mention administrative text like captions and folios. With a touch of Leviathan’s stylistic flair, the “just enough is more” typographic palette relies on smart typesetting to communicate the sometimes-complex hierarchy instead of a mess of weights and sizes.
I’m tempted to keep quoting (I’ve already quoted most of it) because, for a bibliophile or anyone with half an interest in design, it’s all really interesting. I encourage you to go and read the rest at the site.
Having the weakness for such things that I do, it’s going to be hard to resist the urge to spring for the newer trade edition of this book, as it will be for the Peter Mendelsund-designed edition of Kafka’s books, whenever it comes out (June or July, apparently). This edition was the subject of another post at Fonts in Use. I might not have noticed the font, or thought twice about it if I had, but it was interesting to hear Mendelsund’s reasons (excuses, some designers might say), for using the down-at-heel “Times” font…
My associations with Times are two-fold, and contradictory. On the one hand, Times puts me in mind of Microsoft, MS Windows, Word (with which Times is distributed and is most people’s intro to the font), which in turn makes me think of nefarious organizations and the powerlessness of the individual in the face of the large, uncaring, politico-corporate entity. On the other hand, as the universal default face, it has an everyman-like humility to it. Kafka, I think, would approve.
The other font, the script, is based on Kafka’s own handwriting. I love those borders, too! Book fetishists, mark your calendars.
I know it’s kind of unbloggerly to put a bunch of stuff in one post when it could easily make seven or eight, but a lot of this is even more trivial than normal, or stuff I’ve already mentioned, and I’m going to do some grousing, and I’m going to talk about stuff I want to buy, which is not a cool thing to do, and certainly not worthy of a dedicated post. Odds and ends. Time to clear the desktop, literally: I have a lot of jpegs on my desktop, a tiny fraction of which I hope to get rid of after posting them here.
1. The Syberberg website
As you can see, in terms of design, my blog hugs fairly tightly to the straight and narrow. A 576 pixel column, everything justified and on the square. But I really like the aesthetic of director Hans Jurgen Syberberg’s cavernous, zero-format website. Is it a blog? Is it an artwork? Does he just not know any better? Impossible to tell. Pages link to other pages, one link to another, without there being a way to retrace your steps and without any sort of menu. Fearless html here, anarchic and a little bit lovely, in a Peter Greenaway kind of way.
2. Alku cassettes
For several years I’ve been an admirer of Alku, a miniature label for experimental (and, I’d go as far as to say “silly”), computer-based music out of Barcelona (run by a group called Evol, if that name rings a bell). Recently, I went to their site again, not having been there in a while, and found these adorable cassettes they’ve been issuing. This is something I’ve thought about myself, a cheaper alternative to vinyl and a way of putting some of the object back into the album. So I felt I recognized the idea when I saw them. And they look pretty awesome.
3. Art Now: big, boring, impersonal, manufactured
This is what art looks like now. Every time I see something like the above posted on someone’s blog, I wonder what it is that interests them. Just the bigness, I guess, and the displacement factor, which is more a matter of money than artistic bravado. What do I have against it? It’s like the complaint often made about the internet: information without analysis, without filtering or understanding.
The Aichi Triennale here in Nagoya several months ago was as disheartening as it gets. I felt sorry for the kids I saw at the museum, that this should be the exposure to art they were getting. Big and bland, everything just the idea of a moment sent to the manufacturers, shallowly political but arrousing no aesthetic curiosity. Not a painting in sight, of course. Nothing handmade, and nothing that looks as though it had been worked at and arrived at, found in the process of its making, come to by creativity rather than by horseshit “theory.”
3.b. If you’re the type, like me, to go to museums and end up depressed, and depressed that you’re depressed, looking at how the market is draining the art out of museums and substituting something bloated and pretentious in its place, know that you have Matthew Collings as company. I’ve mentioned Collings before because I love his honest, aggressively anti-bullshit Diaries in Modern Painters, and I love his appreciative descriptions of the art he does like (you wish he were able to find more of it). Anyway, I’m one of those people who feels pretty much exactly the way he does. If you are too, you might like his latest, a harsh panning of the Frieze Art Fair.
Some bits of it, basically half the article…
"The two paintings by Wilkes, at the Modern Institute stand, were both abstract. One small, one medium-size, they looked as if they’d been done in pastel. The forms were rough-edged color glows in a loose grid. On the floor before them was a little doll, also by Wilkes, like a voodoo fetish. Its purpose, I felt, was to excuse the paintings, since they were a bit harmless whereas the doll was in the well- known (by art people) recent tradition of mannequins to which the correct response is to mime a professor piously recognizing a conversational reference to something important (“Ah, yes, body discourse”). In other words, I felt the overdetermined doll was rubbish, but the paintings were accidentally good."
"In that the fair displayed no formal or ideological trend and offered no manifesto for living, it was a 3-D version of an art magazine. The depression evoked is the same but much more blasting and overwhelming. The work — feeble academic amplified surrealism — was all hasty, whimsical departures from some assumed norm of existence, where you could only imagine that the norms people’s lives have descended into must be really chronic. A dead pigeon with a little banner stuck in it with a slogan reading i too have lived and loved — I just made this one up, but that is the level of sheer, naked, regressive sentimentalism of the poetic meanings of most of the art. Nazi art or 19th-century Victorian moralizing painting seems the height of ironic philosophical sophistication compared to it."
"You might wonder why I’m doing all this sneering. It’s because things are more complicated than Frieze is pretending. “Art” hasn’t triumphed. You’d think one thing that’s good about all this sudden mass interest in art that’s going on now is precisely the mass, the fact that a lot of people can be energized in the name of something — it ought to provoke the opposite of despair. But because everything you see at the Frieze fair just seems like a series of little stimuli intended to not let you progress anywhere at all or think anything, there really is something despairing about it."
"Plus I think it’s reasonable to see the stagers of the fair, Matthew Slotover and Amanda Sharp (the publishers of Frieze magazine), as creepy and sick rather than enviable social players. Being a Frieze-style manager of modern-style art consumption is a repulsive, sterile, regressed, inhuman, ignorant way to live, and nothing at all like the rebellious existence it’s cracked up to be. Forgive the digression, but if I wanted to be a rebel now I’d write like me and not like someone on the Frieze writing staff. That’s why I’m glad I actually am me, without basing my whole raison d’être for writing on trying to create a cool image of myself, which I observe is the raison d’être of my colleagues at Frieze."
4. The jaded postmodernist narrative voice - heard it, tired of it
I read Tom McCarthy’s Remainder this week and, while it wasn’t altogether my kind of thing, I admit it has an intense and mesmerizing quality that sucked me right in (and reminded me - the quality and the story itself - of Synecdoche, New York, a film I liked a lot). I read it in the space of three days and it left me with a not completely pleasant sick feeling.
One thing that I wish this kind of novel would find its way past is the knee-jerk narrative voice they adopt - everyone can recognize it by now - that comments on the world as if it were alien, impossibly alien for anyone who really lives in it. I can’t stand that tone they all eventually get to when supposedly ‘making strange’ the commonplace - you hear it in DeLillo and we’re still hearing it in Remainder. I say supposedly because it’s become cliche, a postmodernist tic, revealing nothing, it seems to me, other than authorly arrogance.
"It was a themed Seattle coffee bar where you buy caps, lattes and mochas, not coffees. When you order they say Heyy! to you, then they repeat your order aloud, correcting the word large into tall, small into short. I ordered a small cappuccino. “Heyy! Short cap,” the man said. “Coming up! You have a loyalty card?” “Loyalty card?” I said. “Each time you visit us, you get a cup stamped,” he said, handing me a card. It had ten small pictures of coffee cups on it. “When you’ve stamped all ten, you get an extra cup for free. And a new card.” “But I’m not here that often,” I said. “Oh, we have branches everywhere,” he told me. “It’s the same deal.” He stamped the first cup and handed me the cappuccino."
Its a little bit funny but a little bit obvious, the author playing dumb (“Loyalty card?”) and, as if it were a virtue in itself, detailing the monotonous course of an order placed at the “Seattle themed cafe,” symbol of dehumanized corporate capitalism, where people unschooled in irony or cynicism go about doing their work, sometimes happily. (How stupid they are, these poor sheep, eh?) Of course we’ve all had those feelings - whose stomach doesn’t turn when they hear the ‘Seattle-themed’ jargon? But what does it illuminate when you pore over it? What does it ‘make strange’? Most of us see the world this way already. After all, even if you’ve been living in a hovel somewhere, you’ve been reading books like this since the 60s (figuratively, in my case). It would take more effort - it does for me - to see the person behind that jargon - maybe she’s not just a smiling idiot - or, better yet, to ignore the jargon. Capitalism is not going to abate or go away. And you can’t beat it with cynicism. What about finding a way to work around it, a way to live around it or write around it? There’s no shortage of cynicism. That’s the new problem.
5. And now, three things that with a savage lust I want, want, want…
a. An Expensive, Stripped-down Bicycle
I was thinking about buying a bike, a road bike. Then I got looking at (and drooling over) these gearless, brakeless bikes - fixies, they call them, as in fixed-gear - that are kind of like the Volkswagen Beetle of cycling. I couldn’t ride one of these with any credibility, nor could I afford one - it would take me a month’s earnings to pay for one of those rims alone, and then, to do it right, you have to go back in time and find some old Bianchi frame, etc. But if you’re into googling stuff, this is a good way to fulfill the promise of a whole afternoon.
b. New Schocken Editions of Kafka
It’s going to be hard to resist picking up these new Kafka editions, even though I already have most of the books. Where are the Octavos, though? I don’t have those yet.
c. AIAIAI TMA-1 Headphones
I don’t need new headcans; lord knows I love my AKGs. But that’s product lust for you - it’s irrational and stupid. But wait a second - I could almost do €200. Here’s the poem about them:
"The one-piece headband is made of a strong, durable and pliant matte nylon material, which provides full flexibility when wearing and positioning the headphones during DJing, and at the same time renders the TMA-1 virtually unbreakable. The inner parts are sheltered by the headphone-cup made out of a resistant ABS material. The 40mm dual-diaphragm high-definition drivers deliver high definition, full-spectrum sound providing you with crystal clarity and an accurate sound on all frequencies."
8. John Cheever’s Paris Review Interview
I’m on a bit of a John Cheever kick these days, though I don’t think I’ve read anything as strong as the first thing by him I read, The Country Husband. I underlined several parts in his Paris Review interview for various reasons, these because they lend some insight into the composition of a story like The Country Husband…
"I don’t work with plots. I work with intuition, apprehension, dreams, concepts. Characters and events come simultaneously to me. Plot implies narrative and a lot of crap. It is a calculated attempt to hold the reader’s interest at the sacrifice of moral conviction. Of course, one doesn’t want to be boring … one needs an element of suspense. But a good narrative is a rudimentary structure, rather like a kidney.”
"What I love is when totally disparate facts come together. For example, I was sitting in a café reading a letter from home with the news that a neighboring housewife had taken the lead in a nude show. As I read I could hear an Englishwoman scolding her children. “If you don’t do thus and so before Mummy counts to three” was her line. A leaf fell through the air, reminding me of winter and of the fact that my wife had left me and was in Rome. There was my story. I had an equivalently great time with the close of “Goodbye, My Brother” and “The Country Husband.” Hemingway and Nabokov liked these. I had everything in there: a cat wearing a hat, some naked women coming out of the sea, a dog with a shoe in his mouth, and a king in golden mail riding an elephant over some mountains."
9. Shari Eubank, from a surprisingly romantic scene in Russ Meyer’s Supervixens
priceless anecdotes drawn from my real experiences and souvenir jpegs of lost time
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