Iconic books are texts revered as objects of power rather than just as words of instruction, information, or insight. In religious and secular rituals around the globe, people carry, show, wave, touch and kiss books and other texts, as well as read them. This blog chronicles such events and activities. (For more about iconic books, see the links to the Iconic Books Project at left.)

Sunday, April 4, 2021

Heirloom edition of graphic-novel style Divine Comedy


Here's another example of creating new iconic books. George Cochrane and his team are producing an heirloom edition of Dante's Divine Comedy in graphic-novel style.

Note the various editions in different price ranges, up to hand-coloring pages of the buyer's choice in the $10,000 edition.



Tuesday, January 5, 2021

The Credibility Bookcase


Somehow I missed Amanda Hess's "The ‘Credibility Bookcase’ Is the Quarantine’s Hottest Accessory" in the NY Times, May 1, 2020. Beyond summaries and links to twitter accounts grading the bookcase backgrounds in Zoom interviews of various celebrities from politicians to actors, Hess emphasizes the visual effects generated by bookcases:

The bookcase offers both a visually pleasing surface and a gesture at intellectual depth. Of all the quarantine judgments being offered right now, this one feels harmless enough. One gets the sense that for the bookcase-background type, being judged by their home libraries is a secret dream finally realized. ...

But often the titles of the books themselves are not legible through the screen; all that can be ascertained is the overall vibe.  ...

Hess remarks that "The aesthetics of credibility often go overlooked." Well, not on this blog and in SCRIPT research generally. We have emphasized how iconic decoration and display of books enhances the scholarly legitimacy of their owners and manipulators (click "legitimacy" under Labels at left), and has done so nearly since the invention of writing. Hess rightly labels this an "affectation," but by also calling it "insidious" suggests that it is something new:

The credibility bookcase, with its towering, idiosyncratic array of worn volumes, is itself an affectation. The expert could choose to speak in front of his art prints or his television or his blank white walls, but he chooses to be framed by his books. It is the most insidious of aesthetic trends: one that masquerades as pure intellectual exercise.

In fact, as we have documented throughout history and across many different cultures, it is especially when authority is questioned, even challenged, that people use iconic ritualization of books to reinforce it (click "politics" under Labels at left). Hess makes that point as if it was particularly true in 2020:

The appearance of the credibility bookcase suggests that the levers of expertise and professionalism are operating normally, even though they are very much not. There is a hint of tender vulnerability embedded in these authoritative displays. At a time when even our appointed experts rarely know what’s really going on, the veneer of respectability is always at risk of tumbling down. 

In fact, that has always been the case. And this year, it is not only true for celebrities, but also for many run-of-the-mill teachers trying to maintain some semblance of authority in classes that suddenly turned virtual:

Friday, December 4, 2020

Fishy scroll book art


Robert Bolick at Books on Books draws out attention to Yasutomo Ota’s Die Forelle (2014):


 A poem about a trout here appears in a book that moves like a fish, thanks to its Chinese scroll form which Ota has repurposed into a codex format. Go to Books on Books for more pictures and a video demonstration.

That leads Bolick to show other examples of book art that uses similar formats to highlight the text they contain. "Form draws attention to itself but also inevitably back to the content. ... That is book art at its best."

Monday, November 30, 2020

Handwritten epidemic bibles

Writing in Christian Century, Heidi Haverkamp reports on her personal experience participating in hand-writing part of the Bible. The idea began in at the Abbey of St. Gall (which, btw, has a famously iconic library):

In the early days of quarantine, the Roman Catholic Abbey of St. Gall in northeastern Switzerland invited more than 1,000 parishioners to create a completely handwritten and
illustrated Corona-Bibel while they sheltered in place. The project inspired clergy in Chicago and Lincoln, Nebraska, to launch similar projects. While the American iterations are smaller in scope than the Swiss Corona-Bibel, focusing on select books of the Bible rather than all 66, the projects all share a common purpose: to gather people into community during a crisis and encourage them to experience the healing, comforting power of God’s word.

Haverkamp signed up to take part. She reports that

copying the text of Matthew made God’s Word sacramental in a new way. I had to pay attention to the text of the chapter as a whole, and it felt like I was reading with a part of my brain I have never used for Bible study before. The result was a deep and tangible immersion in scripture; I was inside each passage, not just looking on from a distance.

... Alone at my desk, I joined that vast spiritual family, the communion of saints, with Hebrew scribes, medieval monks, and kids and adults in Chicago and around the world, picking up our pens together.

This is a creative response to the isolation of the epidemic. But some European churches have sponsored and displayed bibles hand-written by the parishioners for some time. 

Here is an example I saw in a church in Muenster, Germany, in 2015. The page is open to the Beatitudes:

Sunday, November 29, 2020

Great Bible of 1539 on Twitter

The Fitzwilliam Museum (Cambridge) is providing frequent Twitter updates on its scientific analysis (including X-Ray Fluorescence, microscopy, and spectroscopy) of a presentation copy of the Great Bible (1539) thought to have belonged to either Henry VIII or Thomas Cromwell. See https://twitter.com/1539Bible.


They invite "your thoughts, comments and suggestions as the research unfolds."

Thursday, November 12, 2020