A “meme” circulating among bibliobloggers (e.g. Biblicalia, Iyov) asks “Why do you blog?” I want to answer this one because I think the motives behind the Iconic Books Blog are somewhat unusual. It may help readers to have them spelled out.
This is a research blog. By that, I mean it’s primary purpose is data collection about iconic books. Sometimes we also provide some preliminary analysis of that data; more often we refer readers to longer discussions elsewhere. But the main point of this effort is to collect and catalog references to iconic books and texts on the web.
Why iconic books on the web? Many of us who study this subject (including all four of the contributors to this blog) tend to research the iconic uses of texts in cultures both long ago and far away. We note the prominence of books in ancient rituals and art and spin theories about their social significance. This kind of research can leave the impression that these practices distinguish ancient cultures from modern ones, that book magic and rituals are dying if not already dead in the “information age,” that a focus on textual meaning rather than material form characterizes modern culture.
I think those conclusions are quite wrong. Attention to books, book forms, and book images in contemporary culture remains very strong. This blog aims to demonstrate that claim by compiling examples wherever we find them on the internet of the iconicity of books and texts.
Why the blog format? Constructing a visual and textual database presents problems of organization, indexing, collaboration and presentation—problems which the Iconic Books Project has to face in deciding how to use and distribute the database we’ve been building for six years. Blogs provide convenient tools for compiling and cataloging materials on the web and simultaneously sharing them with other researchers. So this blog is an experiment in the use of blogging as a collaborative research tool.
Of course, the blog format can probably not resolve all of our databasing issues. Copyrighted printed materials should not be reproduced on a public blog. Web materials move or disappear at an alarming rate, so older links rapidly go dead. And, despite its size and diversity, the web does not evenly represent cultural phenomena, but slices of cultures biased by language, technological access, and selective interests, among other things.
But the Iconic Books Blog can at least highlight the web evidence for the larger claim that iconic books and texts remain a powerful and under-studied religious and secular phenomenon.
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.)