Prefiguration

Fonts seem to return always to the political, from the redemptive enlightenment project of the Swiss Style to utopian futurism to the ostensible rebellion of postmodern typography. They are in a sense always prefigurative – the most glaring historical example being the Swiss Style’s pretension to apolitical objectivity. This concern with prefiguration is present, if not central to, each of these three texts. Tauba Aurebach’s reflections on violent revolution in (P)(E)(R)(S)(E)(V)(E)(R)(E) make this clear:

“I’ve frequently asked myself if revolutionary change can take place without violence, and I’ve heard many sound arguments for why it cannot. Nonetheless, I remain certain that violence = no change, and that it is a doomed methodology. In my view, violent means not only don’t justify but also don’t result in peaceful ends, because the notion of an “end” is flawed.”

Paul Chan, too brings this issue up, when he explains how, by reducing its signifying possibilities, alternumerics makes type more historical. Through personal interpretation, he is effectively bringing the subliminal aspect of the font to the fore, shifting the prefiguration of utilitarian type into figuration - even if that figuration remains metaphorical or formal. Regardless of the ultimate form of the alternumerical figures, the very act of its creation repositions type as the message rather than the medium and thereby drags the contradiction of that very statement into the light.

The concept of the metafont seems to both avoid and amplify the issue all at once. On one hand the software itself seeks to sidestep prefiguration altogether by making its malleability its distinguishing characteristic. But a specific metafont is even more implicated in the issue – if it can take up any of some near infinite set of forms, those things which make it distinct from any other metafont become all the more essential and determining.