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.)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The "Magic" of Original Documents

Gannett News Service provides an interview with U.S. National Archives senior curator Stacey Bredhoff, who describes the effect of viewing the Declaration of Independence in the Archives Rodunda:

Q: Why is it important for people to come here to see the declaration firsthand?
A: I think there is some kind of magic in standing in front of the original document. You’re standing in front of the original Declaration of Independence, faded as it is, but still you can make out some of the signatures and you think, “Whoa, these people were real. This really happened.”

I compare this tendency to ascribe "magical" power to viewing some significant textual exemplars to the religious role of relics. Whereas any copy of the Declaration of Independence is iconic in American political culture, the "original" in the Archives Rotunda is a relic: it does is not displayed so that visitors can analyze its meaning in depth or read it aloud in its entirety (it's much too faded to do either very well) but for its material, visual effect alone.

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