The Sublimity Of Illiteracy
Western designers, like me, are so besotted by the Latin Alphabet born of the Trajan inscription, we have long been myopic when it comes to seeing the non-exclusivity of other-than-Latin letter forms, alphabets and typefaces. To the Western eye, characters that do not conform to our familiar writing and printing styles are alien patterns and abstract designs.
Type was not even invented in the West and non-Latin characters comprise the majority of the world’s alphabets. In large part, owing to the computer font-making programs, non-Latin letter forms are currently enjoying a renaissance throughout the world.
I found that out recently through the patient wisdom of a Japanese ephemera dealer who sold me the material shown here. I’ve collected “foreign” documents before, but his enthusiasm for this otherwise ephemeral commercial typography triggered my own excitement and embraced my own illiteracy. This a pretentious, long-winded, pseudo-intellectual way of saying that these Japanese characters on paper, lovingly collected sometime in the postwar 40s in this sublime scrapbook of mid-twentieth century labels, while foreign to me, are nonetheless sensual and poetic in and out of any translatable context. It is humbling to see them. It’s frustrating not to be equipped with language to understand them. I won’t even try. Instead, I simply present them here free from Google translation for your visual enjoyment and mine too.