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kottke.org posts about letters

The History of Italics In Type

posted by Tim Carmody   Apr 05, 2019

1200px-Arrighi_italic.png

I don’t know the author or typographer behind The Temporary State. There’s a contact address that reads “B. Tulskaya ul. 2-571, Moscow, Russia, 115191.” But Mx. Tulskaya (if that’s indeed the author) has made an outstanding pocket history of the use of italics in type, partly to defend against the fact that The Temporary State’s fonts do not use an italic typeface.

I knew, for instance, that Venetian printer Aldus Manutius is generally credited with introducing italics into European print (partly, the histories say, to imitate Latin handwriting, and partly as a space-saving device). I did not know that after other printers began to copy Manutius’s use of italics, the Venetian Senate granted Aldus exclusive right to use them.

I knew that Italian futurist poet and manifesto-writer Filippo Marinetti championed a wide range of typographic innovations; I did not know (or had forgotten) that he wished to reserve italic type for “a series of similar and swift sensations,” while bold would be used for the imitation of heavy tones, and so on. A kind of emotional functionalism in type.

It is strange, how Marinetti in his call for revolution against “the Poetry Book” doesn’t see any problem with italics. Somehow, Roman numerals are an issue, but the use of highly decorative imitation of a 16th century pretty handwriting is a futuristic expression, not part of the “typographic harmony” ensemble. It is even stranger, that he doesn’t address the application of italic itself, as his idea of highlighting the page with «3-4 colors and 20 different typefaces» is very close to how the use of italic is regulated in the Chicago Manual. The only difference is: where Marinetti suggests «20 different typefaces», Chicago suggests only one — italic. So, seemingly to achieve Marinetti’s idea all that is needed is to diversify the means of text highlighting. And it’s not like there are no alternative typographic traditions, which could be used to substitute the italic.

Much of the article is devoted to this; how you can achieve the typographic effect of italics (emphasis, foreign words, titles, etc.) without using italic type. Here the examples are legion. In German blackletter, foreign words (especially in Roman languages) would be put in Roman type, while emphasized words or phrases would be in boldface. In Cyrillic printing, especially in the Soviet period, you see “sperrsatz,” or wide spacing, to denote emphasis.

SperrsatzCyrillic.png

Bauhaus, following the German blackletter tradition, forsook italic typesetting altogether, opting for a combination of boldface, sperrsatz, and fonts of different sizes, all of which achieve the effect of italics without the pretense of adopting an old Latin handwriting style.

Since few social media networks support bold and italic typesetting, it’s interesting to think about the range of ways users still suggest italics or the effect of italics.

There’s pseudo-Markdown, in the form of

*italics*
or
_italics_

Of course, there’s
ALL CAPS

There are also memes and GIFs, which are a way of both drawing emphasis to text and giving it an emotional characterization that go far beyond what Marinetti could dream of with his really quite limited notion of “3 or 4 different colours and 20 different typefaces on the same page. That text itself would and could be animated, that it could be superimposed on a miniature movie that would explode into mostly-text networks, is a future Marinetti might have embraced, but one he couldn’t quite fully see.

(Via Robin Sloan)

Tupac Shakur’s Break-Up Letter to Madonna

posted by Tim Carmody   Mar 01, 2019

Tupac's Apology to Madonna.png

Tupac Shakur and Madonna dated briefly in 1994. According to Tupac’s brother Mopreme, the relationship began when Madonna passed Tupac a note during a press day for Above the Rim. The two of them broke up sometime before Tupac was shot on November 30, 1994 as part of a robbery at the Quad Recording Studios in Manhattan. Shortly after he was shot, Tupac was convicted of three counts of molestation as part of a sexual abuse case brought against him in 1993.

While in jail, Tupac wrote a letter to Madonna. This letter appears to have been sold at auction by Madonna’s former friend, art dealer Darlene Lutz, in 2018, after Madonna lost a legal fight to have it returned to her and keep it from being sold. Exactly what became of the letter is unknown.

It’s a remarkable letter, although parts of it have been blurred out by the auction house. The Independent focuses on the fact that Tupac was concerned about being seen publicly dating a white woman:

Can u understand that? For you to be seen with a black man wouldn’t in any way jeopardise your career. If anything it would make you seem that much more open & exciting. But for me at least in my previous perception, I felt due to my ‘image’ I would be letting down half of the people who made me what I thought I was. I never meant to hurt you.

Tupac was also upset by an interview that Madonna gave where she said, “I’m off to rehabilitate all the rappers and basketball players.”

“Those words cut me deep seeing how I had never known you to be with any rappers besides myself,” Tupac writes in the letter. “It was at this moment out of hurt & a natural instinct to strike back and defend my heart & ego that I said a lot of things.”

In her note on the letter, “Please Do Say Forgive Me,” Chandra Steele focuses instead on the nature and quality of Tupac’s apology.

Celebrities are separated from us by our perception of their godlike attainment of what we’re supposed to want: fame and money and sex. But when Tupac refers to their relationship, he uses words of humanity and humility. “I haven’t been the kind of friend I know I am capable of being” is how he frames the apology. It’s an empathy that some never access within themselves, no matter how many classes they take in unlocking their chakras. Later he tells Madonna, “I offer my friendship once again, this time much stronger and focused.” …

What’s more remarkable than what’s written is what isn’t. Tupac does not overstep the bounds of being an ex-lover. He does not push a selfish agenda. He has the wisdom to balance what he wants with what is warranted after leaving sans explanation. He does not burden her by asking for her forgiveness.

And then there are Tupac’s closing words:

I Don’t Know How you feel
About visiting me But if you
could find it in your Heart
I would love to speak face to face
with you. It’s funny but this experience has taught me
to Not take time 4 granted. [heart]