Link to Bible Image (opens in new window)
For my piece, I have chosen The Bible, specifically Robert Barker’s version of the King James Bible (see last page), which was published in 1611. I first became interested in typography as a rhetorical device when I read Paul C. Gutjahr’s article, “The Letter(s) of the Law: Four Centuries of Typography in the King James Bible.” This piece was one chapter in a collection edited by Gutjahr and Megan L. Benton, titled Illuminating Letters: Typography and Literary Interpretation.
Robert Barker was chosen as the first printer of the King James Bible and Gutjahr finds this edition worth examining because it exhibits “levels of discourse nestled within Barker’s typographic choices.” Further, Barker’s choice of typographical diversity “signals how letterforms can serve as interpretative devices for what the words signify” (19). It basically comes down to this. The text chosen for the biblical text was gothic type (“a type characterized by a dense and dark feel”). This was quite traditional, since it was a typeface adapted from scribes for the new printing press. Bibles prior to this had used this typeface. Though, there were typographical developments happening around this time, that of humanist typefaces (think something along the lines of Times New Roman). But tradition and theology go hand and hand as Gutjahr describes,
Thus, gothic type invoked the ecclesiastical tradition of book production. In accordance with Western culture’s reluctance to change anything associated with religious tradition, gothic letter faces were used in religious books long after roman type was adopted in the majority of Western printing. In a sense, the eternal changeless nature of God’s words was reflected in the changes nature of type used to convey those words. (19, my emphasis)
While God’s words were spoken with God’s type, Barker did something so interesting. In the marginal notes, in the summaries, in anything that were human words, human interpretations…he used a humanist typeface. “Barker carefully manipulated his typographical choices,” Gutjahr writes, “to make clear to his readers what was written by the hand of God and what was not” (21).
This move to use typographic features reminded me of Burno Latour’s Aramis or the Love of Technology, which pieced together competing narratives of the rise and fall of Aramis. Along with tone and style, one could tell who was talking, including the technology itself, by the typeface. Like the Kings James Bible in 1611, Latour uses typography as visual cue for who is speaking. This makes me think about a lot of things.
Essentially, what is the purpose of these typographic choices? Is this typographic diversity conventional and if not, what conventional practices is it escaping from? For example, what other format/stylistic choices could have been used instead in Latour’s piece? Dialogue? A play? A chapter devoted to each speaker? What does one gain with the choice to distinguish speakers with typography? What does one lose? Is there something beyond just using a different typeface to signal a different speaker? Well yes, especially if we look at Barker’s example. This is not a simple case of typeface pick-and-choose. This is all very rhetorical.