Departments

Anticipation

I refuse the game of choosing favorites, but under constraint I might choose for my favorite book a volume of typographer's specimens—my favorite because it implies all the others. This is not a witticism. Beautiful typography pleases me more than beautiful calligraphy, not only because good typographers are rarer than good calligraphers, but because I feel something from beautiful typography that I do not feel in beautiful calligraphy. A beautifully typeset book is for reading; but what is a book of beautiful typesetting for? The pleasure it gives me is not disinterested or abstract; it leads onto something, demands something. Above all things I love and seek and delight in understanding. How can I find pleasure in something whose purpose is to not be understood, that mocks understanding with the riddle of a quartz sphinx?

But this is backwards. This pleasure is that of anticipation; and anticipation precedes understanding. In particular cases it is the pleasure that catches and sustains attention, that moves attention on after understanding. In the general case it is the habit of indulging the pleasure in anticipation that leads to the habit of seeking understanding. Anticipation is not a lapse in understanding; understanding is a lapse in anticipation. They intermit one another in an alternation that describes not a circle, but a spiral.

The apparent limit of that spiral would be to understand the world. Even if it is impossible to understand the world it is certainly possible to believe that one understands. We read that near the end of his life Thomas Aquinas, that great understander, experienced something that made him judge his life's work sicut palea—all straw. As the story is told this sounds like despair; but I imagine it as ecstasy. In an instant he passed through the false limit of complete understanding to the true limit of pure anticipation. Understanding follows anticipation, anticipation follows understanding, but not forever; complete understanding is followed by pure anticipation, but nothing follows that. The mystics judge light higher than truth; perhaps this is what they mean by something higher than truth, yet not false. May I be so illuminated.