Johnny America


A Rig­or­ous Analy­sis of The Alphabet


Ini­tial­ly, “D” looks like a con­tender for the Best-Let­ter ti­tle, but up­on ex­am­i­na­tion its flaws come fore­front. It is pleas­ant­ly asym­met­ri­cal and a sat­is­fy­ing char­ac­ter to pen, but con­sid­er­ing the vol­ume of neg­a­tive space it carves it is ul­ti­mate­ly too sim­ple, too crude. “D” is a $7 Aus­tralian merlot.

Con­trast “D” with the sup­ple and erot­ic “B”: at first glance the two ap­pear sim­i­lar, but the 3rd stroke of “B” adds a ver­ti­cal sub­tle­ty lack­ing in “D.” “B” evokes Jun­gian ar­che­types of the fer­til­i­ty moth­er, and we are drawn to this pri­mal im­age (“W” and “V” call sim­i­lar ref­er­ences, but those abom­i­na­tions aren’t worth dis­cus­sion). “B” fails be­cause it is too com­plex; it at­tempts to rec­on­cile the ver­ti­cal with hor­i­zon­tal, which is com­mend­able, but it leaves the is­sue unresolved.

“I” and “U” are both vi­su­al­ly har­mo­nious, but they each have sig­nif­i­cant flaws. “I” calls to mind Per­i­clean Greece — beau­ti­ful and ex­act­ing, but too rigid, too pro­gram­mat­ic — in­tu­itive­ly we know the Best Let­ter must en­cap­su­late a ker­nel of the loose, the un­con­trol­lable. What “I” lacks, “U” pos­sess­es in ex­cess; “U” looks like it’s about to top­ple over, drunk, rolling around the lines of the page, falling on top of oth­er let­ters and form­ing strange phonemes.

“T” is sci­en­tif­i­cal­ly the su­pe­ri­or char­ac­ter. It is strong and ges­tur­al, but through its sim­plic­i­ty of form main­tains a sin­gu­lar pas­toral qual­i­ty. Al­so, its homonym is delicious.

Filed under Non-Fiction on October 21st, 2003

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