Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Serif, don’t like it

Jonathan Lethem, from his latest novel Chronic City:
Did I read The New Yorker? This question had a dangerous urgency. It wasn’t one writer or article he was worried about, it was the font. The meaning embedded, at a preconscious level, by the look of the magazine; the seal, as he described it, that the typography and layout put on dialectical thought. According to Perkus, to read The New Yorker was to find that you always already agreed, not with The New Yorker, but with yourself. I tried hard to understand. Apparently here was the paranoia Susan Eldred had warned me of: The New Yorker’s font was controlling, perhaps assailing, Perkus Tooth’s mind. To defend himself he frequently retyped the articles and printed them out in simple Courier, and attempt to dissolve the magazine’s oppressive context. Once I’d enter his apartment to find him on his carpet with a pair of scissors, furiously slicing up and rearranging an issue of the magazine, trying to shatter its spell on his brain. “So, how,” he once asked me, apropos of nothing, “does a New Yorker writer become a New Yorker writer?” The falsely casual “so” masking a pure anxiety. It wasn’t a question with an answer.

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