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Re: [BKARTS] WOID #XI-38. American Gleichschaltung



A few guesses on punctuation and a few global replaces in Word (it was as
fast as puzzling through it, and no no one else has to):

Today's New York Times has a sensitive analysis of a desensitized choice,
the typeface for the cornerstone at the so-called Freedom Tower at the World
Trade Center. As the reporter, David W. Dunlap, put it, the typeface
reflects "the inherent ambiguity of the project' a solemn memorial ...that
is simultaneously supposed to be a defiant restatement of the city's
commercial gigantism.

Well, yes. The type in question is nominally new: it's called Gotham, and
was designed in 2002 by Hoefler and Frere-Jones, of New York. It's a
conscious, clean pastiche of the New Deal Gothics found all over New York
City buildings. Unfortunately, as Dunlap points out, the Freedom Tower
inscription uses only caps, which point its message towards the formal power
of the brief titles on local landmarks like the "PORT OF AUTHORITY BUILDING"
(as New Yorkers like to call it), and away from its own content. As the
typographer John Kane puts it, "Use of upper- and lowercase would have
democratized the message, removed its institutional pretensions.

In the case of the Freedom Tower Inscription this formal weight appears to
be compensated slightly by a relative compression of the spacing, but that's
hard to judge from the photograph.

The irony is, that New Deal American Gothics had much in common with Futura
and other sans-serifs of the 'twenties and 'thirties - all were conscious
attempts at what the Nazis were to call "Gleichschaltung", "planification".
Type, like architecture, like the organization of society itself, was to be
reduced to its bare, efficient essentials, rid of undesirable, local or
ethnic elements. "Gleichschaltung" eventually came to mean the elimination
of non-German elements from the academies, the courts, and even from
typography. Certainly the American New Deal was nowhere as violent as the
German, but it followed the same ideology of streamlining: one look at any
number of 'thirties-era post-offices should lay that issue to rest.

Dunlap concludes that the choice of Gotham is apt, at once for its symbolic
and formal connotations' formal, in that it conveys a certain "institutional
pretension" and symbolic, in that the typeface itself refers back to similar
historical conjunctures and needs. It's a truism by now that the Freedom
Tower is a rather sad compromise between grief and greed. The article ends
with a quote from the designer Ann Harakawa: "The idea of being slightly
ambiguous is interesting, because no one has any idea of what's going to
come."

Least of all from the past. Futura and other such typefaces played a crucial
role in the economic shifts of the Great Depression: because hot type
constituted a major part of the capital investment of any printer the
constant introduction and promotion of new typefaces left the small shops
powerless to compete with the large industrial printers. To the extent that
Futura was a "fashionable face", it was a threat to the small, highly
trained shop owners who (in Germany at least) drifted into the Nazi Party.
To the extent that Gleichschaltung promised "Ein Reich, Ein Volk, Ein
Futura-Bold", it offered the illusion of an even playing field, in Germany
as in America

There is simply no similar system of production at play, today; indeed, the
most curious aspect of the long debate over the new replacement for the
World Trade Center is the near-unanimous belief that capitalism and
aesthetics are at loggerheads, in effect, that there is no reconciliation
possible between the use of this building (or typeface), and its intended
meaning.

The technologically appropriate response to this problem would have been to
enlarge and carve a hand-written inscription. That at least would have
conveyed the felt ambiguity of the whole project, while promising that
technology - the bringing into play of the means of production 96 offered a
reconciliation of the democratic and the institutional. In Communist China,
of course, such inscriptions were penned by Party leaders, but there's no
need for that, as yet; in fact, the quietly corrupt Governor of New York
State asked that his name and the names of all officials be removed from the
stone, marking it as the ultimate repression of criture. The Freedom Tower
Inscription marks the point where Post-Modernist irony appears for what it
is, now' the sneer of defeatism and self-contempt.

Abi
abi@xxxxxxxxxx
www.bookweb.sunpig.com
- the email of the species is deadlier than the mail -

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