Cressida sent me a link to a short fiction text About the Typefaces Not Used in This Edition by Jonathan Safran Foer. It’s a list of imaginary and impossible typefaces that variously affect and react to the words as or after they are written, with letters shrinking or growing to accommodate depth of meaning, words continually refreshing into their own synonyms or antonyms, or sentences rearranging when parents die before their offspring, or when the birds with a word tattooed on each wing reconfigure in flight or scatter into trees.

The last typeface in the list is REAL TIME, REAL WORLD, size TO SCALE. It evolved from email emoticons into sketches, paintings, photographs, sculptures, and eventually real things:

“Over time, every idea had a corresponding symbol, not unlike the drawings from the dark caves of early man. These symbols approximated what a word described better than a word ever could. (A picture of a flower is closer to the flower it describes than flower is.)

[…] This typeface was not used because of the fear that it would be popularised, that all books would be printed in real-time real-world, making it impossible to know whether we were living as autonomous beings, or characters in a story. When you read these words, for example, you would have to wonder whether you were the real-time real-world incarnation of someone in a story who was reading these words. You would wonder if you were not the you that you thought you were, if you were about to finish this book only because you were written to do so, because you had to.”

(This reminds me of the theme tune plan.)

Cressida and I are working together on a conundrum Yve Lomax set us, to make sight speak and speech see. Yve writes text, and resolutely calls herself a visual artist. Following Foucault and Blanchot, she argues that sight and speech are internal to one another without being redicuble to one another. Sight sees the unutterable, and speech utters the invisible. So saying what one cannot see raises language to its ultimate limit of the unspeakable. Because the verbal helps us to see the unspeakable in language, and the verbal helps us to see the unseeable in sight, both operations stretch one another. It’s in this sense that she argues writing can be visual.

Perhaps I can say that Safran Foer’s text relates to sight not because he describes typefaces – the visible bit of writing – but because he describes things that cannot possibly be, and so they exist only in the text itself, and so his writing delimits the entire playing field of the imaginary inventions he creates. A flourish at the end suggests that the text we’ve just read constitutes the very “Edition” he has been describing, neatly concluding the work within itself. I wonder if there’s link between this self-contained circularity and the interdependence of seeing and speaking.

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