American Signs: Form and Meaning on Rte. 66 (Anglais) Broché – 14 octobre 2002
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First, the illustrations are small and often not helpful. The author is of a school of design communication that is thankfully fading rapidly, turning up increasingly in the remainder bins. Recall the last time you picked up a 90s era book on, say, deconstructionist architecture and were stupefied by page after page of arid photos and obscure diagrams. This book isn't as bad as most but it clearly comes from that same camp.
Second, her whole point is that signage is an indicator of social change. Like many schooled in modern French criticism (also turning up in remainder bins these days) she frequently asserts without proof, as if an elegant sentence is somehow enough. The example that most irritated me was her statement that in the 60s regal motifs in signage became popular as a result of racial tensions and a yearning for authoritarianism. Aside from the fact that regal motifs were widespread through much of the early 20th century--as even cursory research will reveal--the assertion is made without any real attempt to prove this outrageous point. My sense was that she was writing within an intellectual milieu, of a type that afflicted us all during the 90s, that simply accepted certain cultural issues, like racism, as givens that required no evidence even in their particulars. Not exactly what we called scholarship and now again call scholarship. The book has that preaching-to-the-choir quality that was all too common with socio-politicized academic publications. Thankfully, we seem to be growing out of that phase.
Rather than being useful book on signage in America (that book still needs to be written) or even a useful book on social and cultural change, this is more an Exhibit Z of 90s-era intellectual and academic style, a trendy, obscurantist, frequently sloppy, and sometimes strident style I believe future historians will not mention favorably. From what I do understand about French-school criticism, that's, ironically, what it's supposed to be, a reflection of its times.
I recommend the book because of its content, but be sure to get a good reading light and a magnifying glass to get the full benefit.