Notes From the Palatino Book

The following notes come from Robert Bringhurst in Palatino: The Natural History of a Typeface.

On the beauty and structural clarity of letterforms, (p.10):

Human language appears to serve, in human cultures, a role not entirely unlike that of sexual reproduction in plant and animal biology: it is evidently a primary vehicle of exogenetic heredity. It appears to me that The beauty and structural clarity of letterforms, and their profligate, luxurious economy, are of real and practical use in this regard, just like the beauty, structural clarity, and profligate economy of flowers.

In short, it seems to me that the art history of letters and the natural history of letters can and should be understood as essentially one and the same.

On serif, (p.245):

Serif—those little entry and exit strokes through which the writing hand and the reading eye like to find their way into and out of a letterform—are also a means by which letters tie themselves into a line: a form of graphic social bonding.

On Zapf, (p.265):

In type design, as in literature, music, and painting, some of the great names—Baskerville and Caslon will do as examples—belong to people with one persistent style. Zapf was more like Picasso: an artificial highly unusual range and inventiveness.

On the remaking of type, (p.269)

Because typography is a practical art no less than it is a fine one, type has to be constantly remade.

On classification, (p.271):

We need to forget the classifications and look at the thing itself, but in order to understand the thing itself, we also need to see how it is related to everything else. And that is the point—really, the only point— of taxonomic classification.

On the ecosystem of type, (p.274)

Language, like a cello or piano, can give the savor, just the savor, of physical existence to visions that the heart can never tell and the eye can never see. Type, as a bearer of language, can do the same—not any better, but over a broader space and longer time than spoken language. That is to say, it enlarges the ecosystem.

Open a book, the performance begins. Close it, it ceases. There is nothing to watch, nothing to hear, but something happens. The mind reaches into the heart, the gut, the throat, and dances with the body. It also dances with a voice speaking out of another body: one as close as your inner ear through it might be at the same time several centuries, oceans, and mountain ranges away.

Type, unless no one uses it, never exists in isolation. The more it is used, the more it is part of its cultural watershed. Letterforms and fonts can be studied, measured, and observed, like animals and plants. But as soon as we isolate or dissect them for closer, more methodical comparison, they cease to be what they were when they were functioning parts of system to which them belong.