The Ruricolist is now available in print.


I refuse the game of choosing favorites, but under compulsion I might choose as 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 more rare 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, or that moves attention on after understanding. In the general case, it is the habit of indulging the pleasure that anticipation is, that forms 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; and even if it is impossible to understand the world, it would still be possible to believe that one understood it. 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 broke 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. Nothing follows that. The mystics judge light higher than truth; is this what they mean by something higher than truth, yet not false? May I be so illuminated.