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, December 28, 2015

Conference on Libraries, Montreal June 17-19 2016

The Promise of Paradise: Reading, Researching, and Using the Private Library

“I have always imagined that Paradise will be a kind of library.”
- Jorge Luis Borges

In recent years, the idea of the library has become increasingly important to scholars of and experts on architecture, creative writing, digital humanities, history, and numerous other fields. Our conference asks contributors to join our keynote speakers—celebrated author of The Library at Night (2007), Alberto Manguel, and expert on Marlon Brando’s library, Susan Mizruchi—to talk about how researchers, writers, and the general public can use the library as a tool for engaging with various fields of scholarship. Of particular interest to this conference are papers on personal libraries and libraries from the perspective of users.

Private libraries have many of the qualities of an archive: they are testaments to and records of an era in terms of culture, philosophical thought, historical knowledge, architectural design, and so forth. In the case of personal libraries, collections can paint the broadest picture of what and (sometimes) when ideas were being read, internalized, and absorbed into an owner’s life and work. Our conference invites contributors to offer methodological frameworks for considering general or specific libraries (public or private) with these benefits of the library in mind.

In considering these issues, our conference encourages papers that include, but are not limited to, some of the following issues:

• The Author’s Library and Personal Collection

• The Meanings of Marginalia

• Charting and Understanding Genealogy through the Library

• Creative Uses for Libraries

• Special Needs for Specialized Libraries

• Designing the Library: Architecture and the Use of Space

• Using and Preserving Libraries in Crisis: War, Liquidation, Dismemberment

• New Tools for the Library in the Digital Age

• Uncovering Hidden Libraries

• Oral Libraries: Storytelling and the Intangible Library

It is the intention of the organizers (Dr. Jason Camlot and Dr. J.A. Weingarten) to publish a selection of these conference papers in a scholarly edition, which will be submitted to McGill-Queen’s University Press within six months of the conference. The goal of this groundbreaking publication will be to reach a wide audience of readers interested in the library and to demonstrate to those readers the place of libraries in the future of the humanities.

Please send abstracts of 300-500 words (along with your name, institution, email, and tentative paper title) by 15 January 2016 to J.A. Weingarten at the following email address: ja.weingarten@concordia.ca.

The conference will be held at Concordia University on June 17-19, 2016.

cfp categories:

modernist studies

Monday, December 21, 2015

Marginalia and Its Disruptions

{from the Los Angeles Review of Books}

While there has been a growing conversation about the role of marginalia in the past two decades — including several library and art exhibitions devoted to the subject, studies like H. J. Jackson’s Marginalia: Readers Writing in Books (2001), and many of Grafton’s own books and essays — the debate about the appropriateness of writing in books is quite old. Considering marginalia have been found in texts for as long as there have been books, scrolls, or writings on papyrus, it seems odd to say that now is the moment. But indeed it may be. There is an obvious reason for this, and a less obvious one.
There is a second, less obvious reason for marginalia’s moment, joined to the first at an obtuse angle, and that is the diminishing status of the human body. If the book is being threatened with extinction in the wake of the digital, the human body is even more so. Essays, movies, novels, speculations, and suspicions pervade contemporary culture concerning artificial intelligence, robotics, and the “singularity.” Ray Kurzweil’s future — replicated in films like Ex Machina, television shows like Caprica, and precursed by the disembodied HAL and Philip K. Dick — foresees a jacked-in consciousness, with little left of a sensate body that moves and breathes and reads.


Thursday, December 17, 2015

The Religious Book as Object: An Interview with Do...

[The Material Religions blog has published Urmila Mohan's an interview with Dorina Miller Parmenter on "The Religious Book as Object." I reproduce it here under the terms of Material Religion's Creative Commons license.]

Dorina Miller Parmenter approaches the book as object, inspired by her material explorations as a former book artist as well as a desire to understand why and how the book has come to be so important in religion, especially the Judeo-Christian tradition.

MLA citation format: Mohan, Urmila and Dorina Miller Parmenter, "The Religious Book as Object:An Interview with Dorina Miller Parmenter" Web blog post. Material Religions. 16 December 2015. [date of access]

UM: How did you get interested in materials and objects in religion?

DMP: I was an art major in college, focusing on crafts rather than the so-called fine arts, and then went to graduate school where I studied ceramics and metalsmithing. I finished my degree in art by studying the history and designs of Medieval treasure bindings and creating my own jeweled and enameled covers for books that I bound. When exhibiting the finished products, the queries that I received most from viewers concerned the contents of the books, implying that the texts must be special to warrant such attention on the covers. Upon discovering that the books had blank pages, the disappointed viewers often shared their take-away lesson with me: “Well, I guess you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover.”
Relic of the Inquisition (Diary 85) 1995; paper, leather, sterling sliver, enamel, and stones;
5.5 x 5.5 x 1.25 in. Photo courtesy of Dorina Miller Parmenter.
After I got over my irritation that people seemed more concerned with the implied but absent text than they were appreciative of the art that I had created, I realized my own take-away lesson: people do judge books by their covers, among other things. The material elements of a book—including its cover, its size, the materials used to make it, where it is kept, how it is used, and so on—send signals about its purpose and value. When I then went to graduate school to study religion, my attention was drawn to the significations of the material elements of religious scripture, which seemed to be overlooked in textual hermeneutics as well as in ritual studies.

I no longer practice book arts, although every now and then I conduct basic bookbinding workshops to invite people to think about the materiality of books or the impact of different ways of presenting writing.

Linda's Clan (Diary 90) 1996; paper, leather, brass, fine silver, enamel, and stones;
7 x 7.5 x 1.5 in. Photo courtesy of Dorina Miller Parmenter.
UM: Do you approach ‘religious books’ and ‘texts’ as sacred objects or sacred knowledge?

DMP: My view is that the attribution of ‘sacred’ to books and texts comes from the material practices that surround them as objects more than from the meaning of the words conveyed by the text. My mentor and colleague, James Watts, articulated this well in “The Three Dimensions of Scriptures,” stating that scripture involves the ritualization of three related dimensions of texts: semantic, performative, and iconic. The iconic dimension—the representative and recognizable material form of the text that acts as a signifier separately from the signification of any particular words—is crucial to this formula.

I conduct most of my research in relation to the iconicity of biblical texts, such as an adorned Torah scroll in a synagogue ark, two arched tablets on a granite monument, or the display of a family Bible within the home. As visual objects they might act as symbols of God’s revelation and/or religious history and tradition, as tangible objects engaged in ritual they might be perceived to act as mediators of divine presence, as images and objects manipulated within particular social contexts they might communicate power and legitimacy.
"Bishop High Prayer Book", CC BY-NC-SA 2.0, Image Credit
While my initial interest in the iconic dimension of the Christian Bible related to lavishly adorned books, recently I have been studying rituals that demonstrate an opposing sentiment. In some sectors of contemporary American evangelicalism it is common to display heavily used or worn-out Bibles, often held together with duct tape. In this case the iconic dimension signifies the piety of the individual user who is intimately bound up with the book, and reveals how the book acts as a mediator of God’s saving grace that “holds together” not only the book but its owner. 
"Southern T-shirt", CC BY-NC 2.0, Image Credit 
UM: Would you agree that the materiality of religious objects tends to be marginalised in religious studies in favor of scriptural exegesis?

DMP: Fifteen years ago I would have agreed that materiality was marginalized in favor of textual interpretation in religious studies, but I think that a focus on everyday objects has moved more toward the center. This has been furthered by the important and prolific works of David Morgan, S. Brent Plate, Colleen McDannell, and Sally Promley, among others, and the publication of "Material Religion: The Journal of Objects, Art and Belief."

UM: Is there more work to be done in highlighting the importance of religious materiality?

DMP: I don’t think there can be too much emphasis on materiality in the study of religion. In relation to materiality and scripture, I’ll take this chance to promote the organization SCRIPT – The Society for Comparative Research on Iconic and Performative Texts. We have sessions at the AAR/SBL annual meeting as well as at some regional and international conferences, and published the anthology Iconic Books and Texts in 2013. The conversations around SCRIPT are great because they are cross-cultural, and one can think about new ideas by hearing about issues of materiality and scripture in different traditions.