Information theory treats all communication as a stream of particles – bullets of data to be encoded, transported and decoded as circumstances require. The computer does much to reinforce this theoretical conception with daily doses of experience. You touch a key on the keyboard and a prefabricated letter appears on the screen. Your touch may be hard or soft, violent or tender, sloppy or precise, but it has no effect at all on the shape or size or color of the letters. In other words, the same packet of information is issued, regardless of the quality of the gesture you use to produce it. We can change the flavors of these packets, by substituting one prefabricated alphabet for another, as if letters were a kind of graphic costume. Information, then, appears to be a spectacle over which we have control, but one that is fundamentally unrelated both to the world and to us. This experience, and the theoretical framework that comes with it, are well suited to the view that meaning and value are something transitory, concocted and imposed by human beings on a fundamentally alien world, and civilization essentially a wall erected between us and that world. But this is an impoverished and selfish picture of reality.
This separation of gesture and reality is at odds with the long tradition of calligraphy and typography. In that tradition, gesture rises from the heart of meaning, and reaches out to meaning, and carries it along. One way to recover this sense of involvement with meaning is to pay more attention to the calligrapher’s basic unit of information, which is not the bit or the byte but the stroke.
calligraphy, information, meaning, stroke, typography
Over the past four decades, Robert Bringhurst has written close to forty books. Half of these are books of poetry, including the recent Selected Poems published by Jonathan Cape, London.
His writings on typography, art history, Native American oral literature, and linguistics are just as widely read and have been translated into many languages.
His book The Elements of Typographic Style has become a global standard. It is updated regularly and has just been released in its fourth edition.
Bringhurst lives on Quadra Island, off the west coast of Canada.