What’s in a letter? Do we believe the ideas set in one typeface more than another? Michael Beirut questions what lies underneath the art and anatomy of typography.
“I know in my heart that graphic design is important. Sometimes the fate of nations depend on it, sometimes it’s the missing link between a soft drink brand and Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity, sometimes it just makes you happy. But I also know that the ingredients used by graphic designers — colors, shapes, typefaces — are fundamentally mysterious. What do they mean? How do they work? Why does one work better than another? What criteria should we use to choose?
This ambiguity can be maddening, especially to clients, who in desparation will invoke anecdotes and folk wisdom to help control an otherwise rudderless process. I’ve been told in meetings that triangles — to take one example — are the “most energetic” (or the “most aggressive”?) shape. I’ve been asked if it’s true that white means death in Japan. Or is it black? Or red? Or China?
To tell you the truth, I’ve always appreciated… Read more »
What if our animals create us? That is the question Justin Lawrence asked in his essay about the symbolic meanings we give to animals that then shape our sense of the world. Here David Graeber asks a different question about the behavior of animals. Why are we so often blind to the possibilities of animal play? Or, to put it another way: what is the value of behavior that has no survival purpose?
“My friend June Thunderstorm and I once spent a half an hour sitting in a meadow by a mountain lake, watching an inchworm dangle from the top of a stalk of grass, twist about in every possible direction, and then leap to the next stalk and do the same thing. And so it proceeded, in a vast circle, with what must have been a vast expenditure of energy, for what seemed like absolutely no reason at all.
‘All animals play,’ June had once said to me. ‘Even ants.’ She’d spent many years working as a professional gardener and had plenty of incidents like this to… Read more »
The fantasy of an unlived life, a life we imagine for ourselves but never actually experienced, was something Sandie Friedman explored in her essay Warhol’s Last Starlet. But what of the double life we do create for ourselves, the digital personas that we craft with ever more precision? Here, Rosa Inocencia Smith finds in Dostoevsky’s 19th century novel “The Double” the origins of our many digital, paranoid, and narcissistic selves.
“Enter the double: the curated profile, the version of you that bears all your identifying information—name, clothes, job, appearance, place of birth—but whose social grace is impeccable, whose interests are noble and fascinating, whose biography is impressive yet humbly presented, whose comments are edited for maximum wit. Bound link by link to your real-world self with the ponderous chain of your Google results, trapped by your search and browser history in a fully customized cage, you cannot escape or erase your identity but must find a way to improve it. The avatars of social media—Facebook profiles, Twitter handles, and the like—embrace that burdensome mass of personal data and… Read more »
Jalina Mhyana on the pleasures of falling off a bike.
“We followed a path toward the river, surprised by an abandoned cement bunker from WWII. Anyone could be living in there, hiding in there. I sped up past its black windows and rode blind over a fallen tree, lurched, and landed in a bed of stinging nettles with my bike on top of me tangled in my legs. Everything fell from my pockets: my ID, my wallet, my phone, everything. I spread the nettle, feeling for familiar shapes with my eyes closed.
I was certain the malevolent presence in the bunker would be looming over me when I stumbled to my feet but luckily my friend was standing sentry. Pockets full again, we flew from the forest in shock, the bikes’ shocks delightful from ditches to hills to corrugations of dried mud – we flew so fast, we might’ve lost our bodies, might’ve spilled from their empty pockets – back to the field, the middle of the field, far from the forest’s hem, so we could see anything approaching us from my leafy imagination.
I didn’t notice till then the thousand… Read more »
In illuminating the history of sad clowns, Andrew McConnell Stott wonders why suffering is so often the story of our comedians.
“Is it a condition of comic genius to be perpetually wrestling with demons? From Canio, the iconic, stiletto-wielding clown of Ruggero Leoncavallo’s 1892 opera, Pagliacci, to modern greats like Richard Pryor, Andy Kaufman, and John Belushi, it would seem so. Even in Chaplin’s day, the depressed and often violent clown was a well-established trope, both offstage and on. Hollywood Pagliacci types included Frank Tinney, the blackface vaudevillian accused of brutally assaulting his mistress; Roscoe “Fatty” Arbuckle, whose brilliant career was undone by the untimely death of Virginia Rappe, a bit-part actress who suffered a fatal trauma in his hotel room; and the suave French comedian Max Linder, brought in by Essanay Films to replace Chaplin after the tramp had departed the studio but who failed to replicate his predecessor’s success. Suffering from a severe depression that was deepened by service in the Great War, Linder claimed he could practically feel the ability to be funny seeping out from him…. Read more »