Coming back around again to criticism and ideology

A Reading Note

…cultural studies has been developed in application to popular culture and is in opposition not only to an exclusive, high culture but also to all distinctions of value within culture. It thus conflicts with the highminded, reforming and occasionally revolutionary way of designing (of William Morris—and company), which would certainly maintain distinctions of good and bad in the ways in which the material world is ordered: on such presuppositions must any confident design education be based.

Kinross, Unjustified Texts, page 322

There are two ideologies at play here: that of the cultural critic and that of the typographer. The practice of cultural studies is informed by concerns of oppression and driven by an interest in culture at the margins; as such, it treats with suspicion any attempt to discern the value of a particular cultural element, believing that such distinctions are usually an attempt by one culture to oppress another. This relativistic stance emerges from a deeply held interest in reducing inequality.

However, the typographer is an aesthetician, someone who is rooted in the material world (and not just the intangible world of ideas); he believes in craftsmanship and skill. The iterative process of design—start with something rough and slowly work to refine it, improving its physical qualities with each step—gives birth to a belief system that registers the difference between good and bad without apology. As such, the typographer requires a critical perspective that embraces the work of assigning value and formulates a process for doing so; he cannot make sense of an approach that denies all distinctions of value in the name of equality.

Kinross’ larger point here is that we cannot simply borrow literary theories and apply them to design without first considering their effectiveness—and, I would argue, their underlying beliefs—with respect to this different medium.

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