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.)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Virtual Book Burning and Its Consequences

On Religion Dispatches, Laurie Patton uses the idea of iconic books to meditate on last week's Virtual Book Burning and Its Consequences. She notes as I did in my last post that Pastor Terry Jones played on long-established tropes of book-burning that go back to antiquity. But she also points out the new effects of media and electronic communication:

... the Gainesville event might be the final culmination of the age of hijackers, where a small group’s manipulation of a powerful vehicle has far-reaching disastrous effects. Only in this case, the vehicle is the Qur’an, not an airplane. And the manipulation need only be virtual. Never has book burning been so effective without even occurring. Symbolic actions on the internet and their consequences in the real world now occur almost simultaneously. And the threat of a symbolic gesture and an actual one become one and the same.

Let me go even one step further. One could even say that the suggestion of book-burning is the only possible form of effective action today—far more effective than the book burning itself. In the twenty-first century it is virtually impossible (pun intended) to destroy books as a way of entirely eradicating a class of information, as Diocletian and many other emperors wanted to do. This is impossible to do because books are no longer physical objects but also electronic ones. It is also impossible to do because even electronic destruction may not be effective. At best, no matter how widespread a computer virus (a contemporary version of book-burning), there is no guarantee that such destruction would be complete.

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