Monday, October 03, 2011

sure sign I'm trying to work on an article

I went on a brief walk just after my office hour this morning, since I had been reading about phenomenology of the body and wanted to clear my head and re-orient myself. Plus, I wanted to see if I had something right in my own analysis of the way the lived body "disappears" from awareness.

Naturally, I spent a lot of the time mentally critiquing the university's entry signage.

A few years ago the new administration announced it was getting rid of the old "books-S" logo.

The admin thought it was corny, which it is. I never thought much about it until it was gone, and in retrospect, it says something about this institution: it's humble, simple, unassuming, and in a direct way says something about education. The new logo, which I won't link to, is a generic Your College or University Here design that could be from any institution from a county community college to frickin' Harvard.

Underneath it, on our entry signs, is the name of the institution, in Palatino font:

Cow State University, Santa Claus

(I hope you have Palatino installed on your computer, or at least Microsoft's commissioned knock-off, Constantia, so you can see this thing.)

Now, I adore Palatino. It's one of Hermann Zapf's two masterworks (the other being Optima), both of which involve a brilliant resolution of contradictory elements. Like Optima, Palatino owes a large measure of its design to Romanesque, monumental fonts, like the kind of thing chiseled into stone. The pointy serifs on the capital C and S have a three-dimensional depth and weight to them that's most noticeable, for instance.

But these aspects are almost totally overcome by the humanist elements, like the varying weights on the uprights and the cute little tails on the lower-case uprights. This makes the font approachable and warm.

Yet it works to brilliant effect. That may be why Palatino was the font of choice for 1990s post-structuralist publications (check it out iffin you don't believe me): humanism and anti-humanism somehow co-exist.

As a font for brass lettering on a red brick sign outside a small comprehensive public university in the middle of the Central Valley, they are totally inappropriate, even obnoxiously so. Because Palatino was commonly used, including in university documents, until the dreaded Calibri epidemic began, the font on the sign looks like it was copied and pasted from an old memo. Yet because it has those monumental aspects, it looks like it's out to be grand, but can't be, left there as a mere caption to the proudly displayed Your College or University Here emblem. In this usage, Palatino is in a losing battle with itself, Zapf's perfectly balanced resolution - or better, Aufhebung - is split into impotently struggling thesis and antithesis.

(Don't even get me started on the siting of the sign at the main entrance, where it occupies what might be the geometric/linear center of the span of the roadway, but is permanently off-kilter in the visual field of a driver or pedestrian approaching the campus.)

You might be wondering if I have a recommendation for changing the font, if I'm so smart. And I do. Comic Sans.

1 comment:

Bobo the Wandering Pallbearer said...

So what your're saying here is that God gave you a sign, and it was upturned.