A recent tidying of the office turned up an offprint from the journal ‘Matrix’ (no. 21, 2001), which published two pieces written on the occasion of the publication of our book ‘Anthony Froshaug’. Looking at them again, they seem worth reviving – to explain something of the process by which that book was made (just as this piece explains how another of our books came into the world).
The book (significantly, two volumes) weighs 1300 gms: less than half the weight of a man’s ashes. It took sixteen years of Robin Kinross’s life to complete it: roughly half a human generation. In this short paper I want to reflect, from the perspective of personal friendship, on some of the less immediately apparent elements that define its character. It is a most unusual book. Whether seen as product or as process, the Hyphen Press Anthony Froshaug falls outside the publishing mainstream. Not a festschrift, not a biography, and certainly not any kind of coffee-table book, the form is perhaps best defined (if you need to define it) as documentary monograph. In process terms it is more unusual still. To be at once the commissioner, researcher, editor, designer and publisher of such a book, as Kinross was, working free from the constraints of a commercial contract or the market-protestant imperative to ‘manage’ one’s time, is truly remarkable. In every way this book pushes uncompromisingly against the grain of expectation, isomorphic with the man who is its subject.
I suspect there will be many different kinds of response to the Fros book (as it is familiarly known): if so, that would be some measure of its power. I have felt moved, here, to explore two related lines of thought, out of so many possibilities. Both are to do, essentially, with time – Shakespearean time, which will not need to be explained, other than to signal its profundity and ambiguity. Put simply, there is the specific process of the book’s development and emergence into the world; and there is a longer, more complex process of cultural transmission, which the book exemplifies. They are distinct, but intricately related. The two processes converged in a symbolic resolution in October 2000. Buildings have their topping-out ceremonies; institutions and exhibitions have openings; ships and books are launched, with all that implies of unpredictable, dynamic futures. The social ritual which took place at Conway Hall was in its arrangements a further departure from convention. Kinross’s acute choice of venue, with its humanist injunction above the platform ‘to thine own self be true’, encouraged conviviality, celebration but also critical debate from the floor, along with the selling of books. What brought this crowd together?
To my knowledge, no concept map or time chart to plan the production of Anthony Froshaug was ever made; one might contrast this with the abundant, somewhat Froshaug-like traces of Derek Birdsall’s process in designing text for the new Anglican liturgy, launched shortly after the Fros book. Birdsall was of course one of Anthony’s earliest and most distinguished students, and it was moving to see how deeply he had learned from him. But Birdsall was working for a client: Kinross was his own client. He formed his guiding principles early, organically, and these remained largely undocumented, though not undiscussed, until the book’s final appearance. A future scholar might wish to piece together the sequence of the work’s evolution. What I shall do is to explore it through the prism of three concepts: retrieval, narrative, and agon.
The slipcase announces: ‘These volumes retrieve the life & work of the typographer Anthony Froshaug’. The seemingly neutral statement expresses a significant truth. To retrieve: to find, gather or restore that which was lost or scattered. The word has both a technical and a moral connotation. The notion of retrieval took root early as one of Kinross’s guiding principles, even during Anthony Froshaug’s lifetime. This is not surprising, given the characteristic mentalities of both men. In this respect, they were a perfect complement: Froshaug always moving on, opening up new ground to the end, careless of organizing for posterity; Kinross the observant, meticulous friend and historian. The retrieval process began as a physical recovery of material from the threat of destruction. Builders moved into Anthony’s flat shortly after his death; whole walls were demolished, and tree branches and rain invaded the space, as if in a hurry to reassert entropy. Anthony’s papers were a disorganized mass, the material traces of a life marked equally by disjunctions and a strong inner consistency. The first thing was to get them out. I helped Robin do this. I remember vividly the caravan of cardboard boxes (those for wine preferred as the sturdiest) which served as primary containers for this Nachlass.
The outcome of the long work of retrieval which ensued, the basic act of cultural piety, is evidenced most clearly in the marvellous images in the book of fragile letters, printed artefacts and photographs, as it also is by Kinross’s painstaking catalogue of Froshaug’s known production. The collection of published and unpublished writings has a fair claim to completeness. But the act of retrieval goes beyond establishing the primary text. What is required in an editor of such a work is a clarity of approach that will make transparent the principles of selection, since choices have to be made. Incompleteness, in such a focused production, comes not only from what is lost, but from what is excluded. Here the moral issues cease to be straightforward. The book’s governing intention is to present documentary material of intrinsic value, enabling text and image to speak directly, through clarity of design and reproduction, and a minimum of supporting commentary. This is an admirable intention, and it is admirably achieved. There is no obscuring or distortion of sources behind a self-serving varnish of theory, or top-heavy interpretation. Intimate knowledge of every item is manifest through impeccable footnotes and captions. Yet for this very reason one must question: do we have here a definitive work, or one which, through its very beauty of design and impressive scholarship, is just highly convincing? The book presents itself as truth, but we know it cannot be the whole truth. Kinross, aware of this issue, has said that the editor must sometimes be ‘sly’, and maybe that serpentine quality is to be found in silent exclusions. It is one of the book’s distinctive features that, through its constraints and deeply considered editorial choices, it embodies the kind of truth that lies in incompleteness, and its perfection of form is paradoxically part of that.
‘Biography is bibliography’: a saying of Stefan Themerson, a key figure in Froshaug’s intellectual formation. The decision to reject conventional biographic form was another one taken early by Kinross and his reasons are argued in his preface. The choice helps to explain the omission of material which might otherwise have been thought central to a documentary presentation of a life: intimate personal correspondence, for example, or photographs of partners and children. Such material was available. What was lost, what gained through excluding it?
Of Anthony Froshaug’s trinity of ‘love, work and knowledge’, the first element is present in the book mainly through implication, where a conventional linear narrative would more probably have addressed it directly. By choosing the editorial rather than authorial role, and concentrating on the body of retrieved documents rather than seeking out further material in private hands, Kinross was able to sidestep the issue. An unstated motive for this choice is, I believe, a reluctance to confront, though it is manifestly possible to wound quite as much by avoidance as by confrontation. Enough is said in the introduction on the known irregularities of Anthony Froshaug’s life. The book is full of vivid subsidiary narratives and voices which give the reader all that is needed to sense the more important thing, the presence of Froshaug’s dissident and passionate personality. A further implication of anti-biography is the requirement it poses to create an alternative structure. In the book’s framing elements, detailed chronology is not ignored, whether scrolled down into a shilling-life list of facts and names, or underpinning Kinross’s introductory essay. But the core of the work, this collection of retrieved fragments, demands to be read actively, critically; the imagination is engaged; the mind is made to work, unsupported by the familiar Sitzfleisch of biographic form. Through editorial reticence, what is conveyed is an awareness of the profound unknowability of another person, even while his voice rises fresh from the page.
The development of the book was marked by some difficult encounters. To edit primary material requires intensive solitude, but to present with authority the life and work of a person is a task which cannot rely on documents alone. There are also the human survivors: friends, students, wives, lovers, children. Facets of truth lie in each person’s singular memory, and any achieved work must be the outcome of many dialogues, as Kinross has fully acknowledged. Of those who were early aware of the Froshaug project, many had their own distinctive investment of desire in it. Because the editor was strongly motivated to bring the work to fruition, and to be master of the process, he was able to leave it aside for long periods when other life or work priorities were more urgent, secure in the knowledge of his intention. Thus there was never a firm end date in sight, until the very latest stages. For those engaged in dialogue, this could be frustrating. I myself remember sometimes feeling as if becalmed in mid-Atlantic, lost between a remote point of departure and a doubtful end. In hindsight, such a reaction seems as forgettable as a transient physical pain, just part of the messiness associated with any long drawn out human endeavour. Over the years since Anthony’s death many dialogues took place which iteratively and cumulatively refined and enriched the book: others, which might have done, did not. The editor’s struggle, not least against himself, in bringing to completion a multi-dimensional work, is no less heroic for being in some respects flawed. Each person concerned was uniquely tested; there could have been no other way.
These personal reflections on the long process of the book’s taking shape spring from the experience of being a participant observer. But the final reflection to which I will turn concerns the broader history. Anthony Froshaug died in 1984. When a person dies, there is an immediate sense of their world’s fragmentation. The central energy which animated their environment, made it cohere, is suddenly switched off. The books on the wall, the pans in the kitchen, become inert objects, no longer humming with latent power. In the case of Anthony Froshaug, whose world had been so highly imbued with distinctive spirit, and was so rapidly scattered, this phenomenon was especially devastating. The closing down of a person’s world at the moment of their death alters the balance of the world for those who survive. For anyone touched by this fundamental experience, the work of its assimilation, which cannot be avoided, begins with such prima materia and must pass through many states. The particular aspect of this transforming work which Robin Kinross was uniquely qualified to carry out, had to pass through its own inevitable stages of denial and conflict, as well as those of creative discovery. The outcome is a work, not of retrieval only, but of a reanimation of the best and most generous achievements of a remarkable mind. This process can be considered as a case study of something more universal: the transmutation of memory into history, of personal experience into cultural value. ‘Of his bones are coral made’: Anthony Froshaug lives in this book to challenge and motivate a new generation of designers and writers who have an ear for his particular music.
Making the book
I was a student – but not a student of his – when I first met Anthony Froshaug. I travelled from Reading, where I was coming to the end of the first year of the undergraduate course in what was then the ‘Typography Unit’ (not yet ‘Department’) at the university there, to meet him at the Central School, in London, where he was then teaching. To be very precise: the date was 14 June 1973. A few days before this, I had looked at the collection of his work at the St Bride Printing Library, and felt it as a revelation: work of such marvellous intelligence and elegance. It was an astonishment and yet not a surprise. Somehow I felt I already knew it; its habits of thought lay on a road that I had already begun to travel, though they were indeed to be found quite far along that road. No doubt Froshaug’s work can be fitted into various schemes: the influence of Tschichold, the affection for nineteenth-century English typefaces, the affinity with Eric Gill and the craft-workshop tradition, the encounter with German and Swiss typography of the 1950s, the engagements with design method and with computing. Those elements are all there, and together they combine to make an odd mix. But the mixer was Anthony Froshaug himself. How did he come to this adventure in typography, and how did he conduct it? These rather banal questions are considered and responded to in the book Anthony Froshaug. But this book is deliberately indirect in addressing these questions; it is an attempt to give readers the material for their own evaluation.
Looking back now on this business of my election of him as a master, the fact of the distance between Reading and London, as well as the difference of age (I share a birth year with his third child), seems to have characterized and indeed made possible the way in which I knew him. After his death in 1984, this difference continued to shape the work that I then began to do towards this book. He once said that I was ‘a bibliographer’; and by unstated contrast, he was a designer. Although I did not enjoy this remark, there is truth in it. (Anthony was habitually sharp and unsettling: for example, he used to refer to Stanley Morison as ‘the Stanley Gibbons of typography’; though he spoke with some insider’s knowledge, for later in his own life he returned to stamp collecting.) I sat on the sidelines, recording and annotating, while he was in the thick of the action. At that first meeting, and through the first couple of years of seeking to know him, I was absolutely in awe of him and his work. It was a falling in love; and that love endured, and kept me going through what turned into a marathon of book-making.
After his death, and in the process of sorting out his papers, as Jane Howard describes, I began to conceive the idea of making a book of his work. It was to be simple and quite short. The first working title was ‘Anthony Froshaug: Texts & typography’. The book would reprint all his writings (the texts), show a selection of his design and printing work (the typography), and would have a brief introduction by me. This introduction would say, more or less, ‘here it is’. I have hand-drawn layouts of this project. The page size is A4. The text would be 9/12 pt Gill Sans. Although to be produced in the technology of the mid-to-late 1980s – perhaps on a Monotype Lasercomp typesetter – I hoped it would look as if it could have been Monotype-metal-set, printed letterpress in black and red, and designed by Anthony Froshaug himself. I found the courage to show these layouts to the printer and designer Alan Kitching, one of the few in the business to have been wholeheartedly approved of by Anthony. Alan gave his blessing to my work, and made the good suggestion that the subtitle should be inverted, to become ‘Typography & texts’. Production comes before reflection; action takes precedence over words.
There was a moment when I realized that the book needed to be split into two volumes. Still intent on making something that was essentially by Anthony Froshaug – full of his words and his production – I worried about what to do with a story that he had started to write, called ‘Noughts + Crosses’, which exists in the archive as typescript in two states of development. This is a first-person narrative, I think closely autobiographical, but in the form of a novel. It was started in 1961, when he was back in London after leaving, in conditions of considerable muddle, his teaching position at the Hochschule für Gestaltung in Ulm. The story opens with a scene of some squalor, with the I-figure eventually getting out of bed (‘some way past twelve’), to shave ‘rather scrubbily’ in the kitchen sink. He makes room for this operation by pushing aside unwashed dishes, a washing-up bowl, and a dirty saucepan with ‘an inch or two of slightly greasy water’ and knives and spoons in it. The story concerns the I-figure’s absorption with the problem of machine intelligence (this is 1961 – early days for this topic), and his need to cash a cheque at that optimum moment in the week – on Thursday, after 3 pm – allowing the maximum time, almost five days, in which to find cover for it. In the course of this fragment, the narrator has several beers and at least one chaser, catches a number 19 bus from Islington to Charing Cross Road, and has a few encounters with people in a pub, a club, and (after taking a number 14 bus) in Dillon’s Bookshop in Gower Street. The story is a rich bit of Froshaugiana, and it says much about him, and about the deep intertwining of the intellectual and the everyday in his life. Yet, if I were to publish this in among his ‘collected writings’, what would people think? I was afraid that they would fix on this tale of squalor, of a man at a low ebb, and pass over his essays and articles on typography, which are, I think, of fundamental importance for the subject. As a writer on typography, he went straight to the heart of it, as few others have in the 550 years of the activity.
So it had to be two volumes. And I then began to develop the idea of making a volume out of all the more personal papers that I was able to use – with Jane Howard’s wonderful permission and encouragement. Anthony Froshaug had an unsurpassed fluency and certainty in the marks he made on paper, and in the actions of ordering and arranging things around him in his everyday life. If he wrote a shopping list or drew a map to tell you how to get to a place for a meeting, you wanted to keep it, so clear and elegant would it be. In teaching he was marvellous at the blackboard, and some of these boards were recorded in photographs. I wanted to get some of this visual-thinking magic into the book. These documents of process seemed as important, in their way, as his finished and published productions. Froshaug himself gave encouragement for this concentration on process. He wrote, paraphrasing Leibniz: ‘Nothing is more important than to see the sources of discovery; in my view they are more interesting than the discovery itself.’ An early working title for this other volume was ‘A life in documents’, which began to feel like the autobiography of an archivist, and I discarded it for ‘Documents of a life’.
In periods when the project was hardly moving, I wondered about publishing the easier ‘work’ volume first. This plan would also have dealt with my worry about a reception that focused too much on the ‘unwashed dishes’ aspects of Anthony Froshaug. My first hope in this book is to make fully available the public contribution of this man, who left so much unfinished and who spoiled his chances so often – and whose self-obstruction seems to have been an irremovable part of how he was able to do so well what he did complete. But at a certain point I became sure that the work and the life had to appear together, held in the same container. My unusual situation, being both author/editor and publisher (and designer and typesetter too), allowed this luxury. It seemed that I had to take the opportunity to make this experiment – perhaps on behalf of authors who have dreamed of such an approach, with no hope of a publisher taking them up on it.
As my description here of ‘Noughts + Crosses’ suggests, Anthony Froshaug himself had a documentary cast of mind. He believed in ‘the scientific attitude’: the attempt at objectivity, patient description and recording, concern with the minute details. He also believed in the social overtones that were attached to ‘the scientific attitude’ by figures of his time, such as C.H. Waddington, J.D. Bernal, J.B.S. Haldane, Joseph Needham. In the 1940s he wrote some dazzling book reviews of such writers for Tribune, the left-wing weekly; these are reprinted in Typography & texts. The ideas of these people were of progress, of improvement, and of what one can loosely call ‘modernism’. As a near-contemporary instance of this belief in ‘documentary’, one could cite, in Britain, the Mass Observation group, especially in its earliest years, from 1937. Poets and painters, as well as anthropologists, were involved with this attempt to chart and celebrate ordinary life. After the artists left, Mass Observation degenerated into ‘market research’. But its early surveys are marked by qualities that are not those of mere scientific anthropology, but are the product of some more humane enterprise. One can see this even, or especially, in its procedures of minute description, the pleasure in lists and enumeration, and the dry sense of humour that pervades this listing and collation. This is very much the feeling of ‘Noughts + Crosses’, and indeed of all of Froshaug’s life and work.
I became interested in the genre of documentary, looking for inspiration in film and in books. Among the books that encouraged me, I could mention Philip Horne’s Henry James: a life in letters (1999) and the Bach reader of Hans T. David and Arthur Mendel (1945, with several revised editions). But the genre of the ‘Life and letters’, to which my Anthony Froshaug partly belongs, is an old one, and one could cite very many examples. One towering example of documentary in recent years is Claude Lanzmann’s film Shoah (1985), which became a touchstone for me in the last years in which I worked on the book. I make no claim for comparison of my book with that great film, and refer to it now because it makes possible a rapid and clear summary of the points of method that I became concerned with, by contrast as well as by some parallel in ways of working. These points of contrast are in part simply those of the different media – film and book – but more importantly they reside in the incomparability of the two subjects: the mass-murder of the Jews in Europe and the work and life of one person.
Among the qualities of Shoah are that there is in it no pretence at internal knowledge of others, no pretence at knowledge of the past, beyond what the witnesses can tell us. The questioner is present in the interviews with the concentration-camp survivors, the onlookers, the soldiers, and so is his translator, if a translator was needed. There is no archive footage, and absolutely no ‘reconstruction’ à la Schindler’s list or any other ‘documentary drama’. There is no all-seeing narrator. Lanzmann lets his material run to the length it seems to need, and there is much silence as witnesses pause and think. Yet the film is certainly a work of art, and tremendously strong in its effects.
In some respects I took an opposite course to Lanzmann’s. Where his film is made of interviews with survivors, my book is made up almost entirely of what Jane Howard and I rescued from Anthony Froshaug’s flat: papers, photographs. There were and are many human witnesses of my subject, and I did spend considerable time in talking with and corresponding with them. But my decision was to let the paper, not the witnesses, be the material of the book, and let the documents be informed by what I could learn from the living witnesses, as well as by whatever I could learn from our Froshaug archive and from archives and libraries elsewhere in the world. The Lanzmann-like procedure of not saying more than you know, I put into operation in the notes that I wrote to the documents. Here the writing does sometimes reach the territory of the detail-obsessed curator. A tear in the paper, or a change of ink, or a word crossed out – such things can tell a lot about what happened and why it happened. My method was to work with the details. Again, I think my procedure followed the spirit of my subject, Anthony Froshaug, who, like any good typographer, looked after the smallest things.
There is a ‘voice-over’ running through my book: the voice of the editor. So here again, although I am claiming some kinship of attitude with Claude Lanzmann’s Shoah, the methods are different. Here the design of the material plays some part. In the Documents volume, my voice is set small, in footnote size. So this voice is more like that of a whisper. Or perhaps it is like the off-screen voice of Lanzmann himself, prodding his interviewees now and then, allowing himself to interject some information occasionally.
I think it is indeed true that for each of us other people will always be unknowable, however closely we think we know them, however much we share experiences with them or however wisely we question them or the witnesses of their actions. There is a kind of writing, particularly in the genre of biography as it has been developed through the twentieth century, that wants to pretend otherwise. ‘It was with a feeling of unease that he travelled to Edinburgh that summer.’ Well, how can we presume to say that? If ‘he’ wrote a letter saying that he felt uneasy on that journey, then perhaps we can quote that letter – and contemplate the idea that the writer may have been laying it on thick to impress his correspondent. That would be interesting. I would also be interested to know when he bought or decided to buy the ticket for the journey – was it a sudden plan? – and what he read on the train, or whether a manuscript that carries the date of this journey was written on the train, or whether its shaky hand is rather evidence of tiredness after the journey or maybe drunkenness, or a combination of all these factors. Documents can be very telling, and are always much more convincing than imaginings about the psyche of the subject.
Everyone is contradictory in nature, but Anthony Froshaug was perhaps more contradictory than most. In the book I reprint a statement written by one of his old employers: ‘He seemed to me then to have a nature compounded of total extremes.’ This was written in the course of recommending Froshaug for the position of senior lectureship at the Central School. The ‘recommendation’ goes on in this vein, and is unsparingly honest, and so must have seemed damning to the people on the selection panel for the job. I hesitated about including this job-reference in the book. The recommender (Alexander Sutherland) had, at the time he wrote it, sent Froshaug a copy of his statement, and asked him to destroy it after reading it. Anthony had (typically, I think) not destroyed it. Sutherland had died by the time I came to work on this part of the book, so I could not ask him about it, nor ask him for permission to include. After talking with Jane Howard, I decided to include it. The document is part of a sequence of letters to and from Froshaug, and there is enough here for readers to form some impression of Alexander Sutherland too, so that the writer as well as the person written-about becomes an understandable figure. Here and throughout the book, I was able to give some of the primary material – and let the readers consider the evidence.
Making the pages
Through the 1990s, even when I was not working actively on it, my ideas for the book gained definition through work on other things. Late in 1990 I bought an Apple Macintosh computer: an SE30, using just the small built-in monitor and an A4 laser-printer for page-layout. With these tools I could begin to combine writing and design. The first real fruit of that writing-design process was my book Modern typography, which appeared in autumn 1992. One incidental discovery of making that book was the discovery of the format of 24 × 17 cm. Turning away from the near-coffee-table format desired by the publishers who had commissioned the book, I looked for a size that belonged to the International Standards series (which had a certain ideological importance for the argument of that book), and yet was smaller than A4 and larger than the not very pleasant A5. This size of 24 × 17 cm lies in between the two, and retains the A-proportions: in the old East Germany it was a standard format for books (‘L6’). It also comes out of a 70 × 50 cm sheet with perfect economy. So this became the format I wanted for the Froshaug book: large enough for images at a reasonable size, small enough for comfortable reading. It would also be good for reproducing these documents, so many of which have the A-format proportions.
The process of making the book had a ‘home straight’, when my ideas for it had gelled. A most essential element in this last stage were the conversations that I had with the designer Karel Martens, whom I had by then come to know well, through work on other projects. Karel volunteered to act as unofficial design and production consultant on this book. He said: ’We’ll meet every month, and you’ll show me what you’ve done’. It did not quite work like that – he was living in the east of the Netherlands, beyond Arnhem, and I live in London; so distance was a factor – but he came to supply a necessary ‘outside’ element in what was otherwise a very introverted process, and he came to play a decisive role in the design of the book. Coincidentally, just at the time I first met him, in 1991, Karel was adopting the L6 format for his redesign of the architectural journal Oase. His reasons for this decision were comfort of reading (the journal had been A4) and economy of paper use; he was not concerned about the ideology of standard sizes. But this coincidence of inclinations was the kind of confirmation that happened throughout our work together. And there was another essential factor here: in his own work and in his attitudes Karel shows a deep connection with Anthony Froshaug’s approach. (He had not heard of Froshaug before this time.) The connection they have is in the domain of meaning: the wish to interrogate every last detail of a job, to let it be charged with significance, to let it have good order, and to give precedence to meaning over neatness or mere grids. There are some striking differences of habit too – necessary if one is to avoid a situation of imitation, which tends to descend into parody. By this time I wanted the book to have the spirit of its subject, to lie within the kind of typography that he strove for, but yet to be sure in using other methods, other means. In all these respects, in Karel Martens I had found the right guide.
The book is done now. Yet I have some sense of it, still, as an impossible book – a task that should perhaps never have been completed (like painting the Forth Bridge), but which was cut off and published at a rather arbitrary point in the process of its construction. Some authors continue to feel that they are the ones best qualified to review their books. I admit to some of this feeling; though would excuse myself by pointing out that this is equally a book by Anthony Froshaug. Most of the words are his, and most of the images are of his production. Given the scale and density of it, some years may be needed for it to sink into public consciousness and for people to give it a place. But let them take the thing up and decide for themselves.
A few remarks need to be added for this re-publication. Jane Howard is Anthony Froshaug’s executor, and, as is implied, she played a fundamental role, first in agreeing to the project, and then in being part of its formation at every stage of the process. The materials that were used to make the book are now part of the Design Archives at the University of Brighton. Concerning the launch-meeting at the Conway Hall, described by Jane Howard: one photograph from the event can be seen here, and others will be posted in due course. Tanya Harrod’s contribution to the meeting is here. The new Anglican liturgy that Jane Howard mentions is described here. Finally: many thanks to John Randle at Matrix for comissioning and then publishing these reflections.
Jane Howard & Robin Kinross / 2009.02.21