John. "Delivering the Message: Typography and the Materiality of
Writing." Olson 188-202.
Trimbur opens with a lucid, concise account of the distinction between
process and post-process movements. "Process," he writes,
becomes a given with the ubiquity of its foci: cognition, voice, conversation.
Post-process, rather than accepting as transparent the material orthodoxies
operating implicitly alongside the design-lessness of the "Alphabetic
Literacy Narrative," fronts materiality and so resurrects
production and circulation key considerations in the activity of
In "The Materiality of Writing" section, Trimbur gives a thumbnail history of
the "great Alphabetic Literacy Narrative" that elevates certain literacies at
the expense of "’syllabic and logographic writing systems" while "banish[ing]
pictographs and images to the status of illiteracy" (Faigley qtd. in Trimbur
190). It is not enough to regard writing as the making of meaning if we fail to
take into account the material means of production and circulation. Trimbur,
citing Kress, notes that we should prefer notions of literacy as built
rather than acquired (191).
Trimbur recommends the study of typography as a means of attending
again to the visual design of texts through layout, spacing patterns and
typefaces. In the middle section of the essay, he gives a brief overview
of design studies and also emphasizes that 1. graphic designers and typographers
have already begun to study design theory and history in ways that would be of
interest to writing studies; and 2. we have yet to fully recognize the relevance
of "design" to writing studies (194).
In the final section, "Typography in Theory and Practice," Trimbur keys on
three ideas: 1. Narrativity of Letterforms (letterforms are meaningful,
significant); 2. The Page as a Unit of Discourse (the page as a unit
accounts for design patterns; elements in combination produce conglomerations of
meaning); and 3. Division of Labor (designers and producers are now the same
person; digital apparatuses have fused what once were more likely to be separate
Claim: "My claim is that studying and teaching typography as the culturally
salient means of producing writing can help locate composers in the labor
process and thereby contribute to the larger post-process work of
rematerializing literacy" (192).
"And yet, the moment writing theorists are starting to call ‘post-process’
must be seen not just as a repudiation of the process movement but also as an
attempt to read into composition precisely the material conditions of the
composer and the material pressures and limits of the composing process" (188).
"I argued a few years ago that essayist literacy–from the scientific prose
of the Royal Society to the essay of the coffeehouse and also–emerged in the
early modern period as a rhetoric of deproduction: a programmatic effort
to reduce the figurative character of writing, minimize the need for
interpretation, and thereby make the text more transparent ("Essayist")"
"Accordingly, it should be no surprise that David Olson would want to make
the essay into the culmination of alphabetic literacy precisely because it
appears to transcend the visuality of writing by organizing the speech-sound
abstractions of the alphabet into highly integrated grammatical and logical
structures, forming self-sufficient, autonomous texts capable of speaking for
themselves. The texts of essayist literacy, by Olson’s account, appear to
transmit meanings transparently, without reference to their mode and
medium of production" (190).
"The problem is that, by and large, typography has been ghettoized in
technical communication, where many compositionists think of it as a vocational
"Typography, on the other hand, calls attention to how the look of the page
communicates meaning by treating text as a visual element that can be combined
with images and other nonverbal forms to produce a unit of discourse" (197).
- Related sources:
- Benjamin, Walter. "The Author as Producer." 1934. Reflections: Essays,
Aphorism, Autobiographical Writings. Ed. Peter Demetz. New York: Schocken,
- Drucker, Johanna. The Visible Word: Experimental Typography and Modern
Art, 1909-1923. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1994.
- Trumbur, John. "Essayist Literacy and the Rhetoric of Deproduction."
Rhetoric Review 9 (1990): 72-86.