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.)

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Patua scroll book "Tsunami"

PRI reports on a hand-made book in Bengali "Patua" style that commemorates the victims of the 2004 Tsunami. Pictorial Patua scrolls are designed to accompany oral chants or songs. This video shows the Tsunami book being displayed while the keening chant is recited, and also illustrates the silkscreen process by which the scroll/book is made:

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Library Hotel

While some university libraries (including mine: see here, here and here) are hiding books away to make roome for computers and meeting spaces, some businesses are putting books front and center to boost revenues, and they are not just bookstores. The Library Hotel in New York offers rooms numbered by the Dewey Decimal system. They are stocked with books and art appropriate to that subject classification. The hotel's website promises:

Each of the ten guestroom floors of the Library is dedicated to one of the ten major categories of the Dewey Decimal System .... Each of the sixty exquisitely appointed guestrooms has been individually stocked with a collection of art and books relevant to one distinctive topic within the category of the floor on which it is situated.

(h/t to Fine Books and Collections)

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Material Scriptures vs. Iconic Books

David Dault has blogged about the overlap and differences between his Material Scriptures project and the Iconic Books Project. He observes that:

Material Scripture's complementary trajectory attempts to explore Althusser's claim that "ideology has a material existence." Where Watts's project looks at the physical object being transformed sociologially into an ideological signifier, Material Scripture looks closely at how theologies (as ideologies) are transformed into the layered materiality of "book-ness."

In both cases the question of materiality is paramount, but the methodologies are distinct enough to be generative of some deep conversations in the years to come

Yes, indeed!

Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Belanger on Old Books

The Chronicle of Higher Education presents a profile of Terry Belanger, founder and director of UVA’s Rare Book School (text for non-subscriber’s here). The reporter immediately describes Belanger’s pragmatic attention to the materiality of books:

Some years ago, Terry Belanger found a striking way to reveal the reverence that many citizens of the digital age continue to feel for old books. It is a sentiment he finds fascinating but only rarely appropriate or useful. Belanger, who retired in September as director of an educational institute called Rare Book School but who continues to teach there, brings an old volume to class, speaks about its binding and typography, and then, still discussing the book, rips it in half and tears it into pieces. As his horrified students watch in disbelief, Belanger tosses the shards into a nearby trash can and murmurs, "Bibliography isn't for sissies."

It is a brilliant piece of classroom theater. In one transgressive act, Belanger lays bare the pieties of his students and stakes out his own more pragmatic relationship with old books

The story is notable for paralleling the actions of some Bible professors who do similar things to Bibles to emphasize the importance of the contents, not the form. Like them, Belanger also tries to disrupt emotional attachments to the form of books, but in order to draw more attention to their material functions:

Belanger despises the tendency of some of his colleagues in the world of rare books to allow their fondness for books to become an undiscriminating fetish of form over function. He calls that "pretty-book syndrome" and works hard to guard against it by emphasizing the prosaic aspects of working with rare books and playing down the spiritual satisfactions. As he likes to quip, "Librarianship is not all glamour."

… Belanger told me that he has struggled throughout his career to "desanctify the notion that a book is a holy object" because he believes that "we have a better chance of saving books if people see that they have a use than if they are simply religious objects." Convinced that sentiment and veneration are not stable grounds upon which to build an academic field, Belanger wants rare-book libraries to be seen as laboratories, not shrines

The whole article is well worth reading, but these quotations do a particularly good job of highlighting issues of particular interest to the Iconic Books Project. Rather than dismissing “pieties” about books as Belanger does to call attention to their material functions or as almost all scholarship does to call attention to their textual contents, we are calling attention precisely to such book veneration. Our goal is not to increase or reinforce it: our project is descriptive, not normative. But the knee-jerk dismissal of books’ iconic values has produced a blind spot in scholarship that hides from analysis the social transactions conducted through books and other kinds of iconic texts. It is that blind spot that we are trying to expose to correct for its distorting affects. One such distortion shows up in this article's approving quotation of Belanger above: it is a very odd historical judgment indeed to think that laboratories are more likely to be preserved than shrines ...

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Books on On the Media

This weekend's broadcast of NPR's On The Media was devoted to the contemporary book "crisis", with segments on the book industry ("Book It"), authorship and publishing ("Indies on the Industry," "Books 2.0"), book formats ("For the Love of Reading," "For the Love of Books"), and "Books that Die."
An urgent and emotional issue for many!

Monday, November 23, 2009

Movie out of Book

The New Zealand Book Council has developed a video that literaly makes a movie out of a book:

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Durable Digital Media?

I have long complained that digital media shows no promise for long term preservation of texts and other data. Milleniata is now marketing a DVD that actually etches data the disk and is readable in a standard drive.

But even if this proves to be a permanent storage medium for digital data, it doesn't address the problem of cultural obsolescence, as Alexander Rose points out on the Long Now Blog:

They really need some sort of marking on the tops of all the blank media that explains what the DVD data standard is and how to read it. Otherwise in a 100 years, I can't imagine that many people will remember…

Origins of Book Veneration in Mahayana Buddhism

A new article explains the origins of book veneration in Mahayana Buddhism. Will Tuladhar-Douglas points out that early Buddhism featured two institutions to preserve the Buddha’s oral teachings on the one hand and to preserve and venerate his relics on the other. The invention of written sutras produced an artifact that functioned as both teaching and relic simultaneously. Therefore reading aloud and written reproduction of the sutras was valued just for the sake reproducing it, as in oral transmission, while the sutra itself was venerated as an important relic. An early (2nd-4th centuries C.E.) text in the Prajnaparamita tradition depicts a sutra on a throne on a glorious stupa being venerated by the gods themselves:

Moreover, at that time the great Bodhisattva Dharmodgata caused a peaked shrine to be built from seven (kinds of) jewels, decorated with copper and sandalwood, draped with strings of pearls. At each of its four corners he had lamps fashioned from single rubies set. On each of the four sides were silver censers facing each of the four directions, in which pure krsnaguru (Vepris bilocularis) incense was burnt to worship the Prajnaparamita. In the middle of this shrine was set a seat (parmika) made from seven jewels; and on the seat was a casket (peca) made from four jewels. The Prajnaparamita, written on leaves of gold coated with lapis lazuli, had been placed inside this. The peaked shrine was decorated with hanging banners and garlands of many colours. (V 249-50.4) Now Sadliprarudita, the merchant's daughter and her five hundred attendants saw the peaked shrine laden with countless arrays of offerings. They saw hundreds of godlings, with Indra chief of the gods, scattering and showering and festooning the peaked shrine with sacred mandarava flowers, sandalwood, gold dust and silver dust. They heard divine hymns. (V 250.5-9)

See Will Tuladhar-Douglas, “Writing and the Rise of Mahayana Buddhism,” in Die Textualisierung der Religion (ed. Joachim Schaper; Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2009), 250-72.

Books of Visual Omens

Douglas Galbi provides a review of the Sackler Gallery's exhibit, Falnama: Book of Omens. The Gallery's website describes the exhibit:

Whether by consulting the position of the planets, casting horoscopes, or interpreting dreams, the art of divination was widely practiced throughout the Islamic world. The most splendid tools ever devised to foretell the future were illustrated texts known as the Falnama (Book of omens). Notable for their monumental size, brilliantly painted compositions, and unusual subject matter, the manuscripts, created in Safavid Iran and Ottoman Turkey in the sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries, are the center piece ... of the exhibition [which] comprises more than sixty works of art from international public and private collections.

Galbi notes that:

The construction of the books prioritizes seeing. Like the Hamzanama of Akbar, these monumental Falnamas have large images framed to form complete pages. The books open to an image on the right page and text on the left page. Since reading in Persian and Turkish progresses from right to left, the image is read before the text. Visually, the images are colorful and ornate. The texts on the facing pages are also highly decorative. At least with these books, taking an augury was an impressive sight.

He argues that the books were probably be used by ruling elites to read omens for common people:

Recognizing the augury texts to be bureaucratic work suggests that the monumental Falnamas were for elite use, but not for elite reading. These Falnamas obviously are lavish, expensive works. ... The Falnamas seem to me to make most sense as a tool for an elite's bureaucracy to provide auguries for ordinary persons who seek them from the elite person.

The exhibit will be at the Sackler Gallery in Washington, D.C., until January 24th.

Material Scripture

David Dault has launched a blog devoted to Material Scripture. In concious dialogue with but differentiation from the "scriptural reasoning" movement, Dault aims to evaluate the diverse physical forms of modern Bibles theologically.

This blog explores the physical forms that Scripture takes, as it is presented to readers in various iterations as a printed artifact. Thus the phrase, "Material Scripture," describes a practice of inquiry that seeks to examine the culture of mass-market Bibles in North America by analyzing the Bibles themselves.

I look forward to seeing how the study of material scriptures and iconic books interact and inform each other.

Reading Scriptures, Reading America

The Institute for Signifying Scriptures has posted online a synopsis of the three day conference, "Reading Scriptures, Reading America." The heart of the meeting consisted of reports by five different working groups studying scripture reading practices in different ethnic communities in the U.S. This conference and the work of the institute as a whole emphasizes the importance of power relations to understanding scripture reading practices. That is an important reminder for studies of iconic books as well.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Book Wall

Dutch artist, Sanja Medic, created this building facade in 2006 out of tiles that represent specific books. She notes that the building thus reflects its neighborhood, whose streets are named for well-known 18th and 19th century writers.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Nook covers: bindings?

Barnes & Noble's new e-reader, the Nook, is being launched together with covers that, in some cases, clearly aim to make it look more "bookish." This one in particular gives the virtual text a very material, and artistic, binding.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Weird Testament: The Bible Gets the R. Crumb Treatment

I've been waiting for Crumb's "Genesis" to come out and thinking about teaching it next semester to my "Pop Culture/Pop Religion" course. He's not the only one who has put parts of the Bible in comic form (as McKee notes in this good write up), but what Crumb does do is raise the prickles between words and images. I'm a fan of his drawing skills and styles, but the almost "literalism" he uses here makes one wonder again whether all of this must remain literary.

Weird Testament: The Bible Gets the R. Crumb Treatment RDBook ReligionDispatches

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Friday, October 16, 2009

Books as Furniture

SHARP’s annual journal arrived in the mail recently. It includes an article that should be of great interest to follower’s of this blog: Jeffrey Todd Knight’s “‘Furnished’ for Action: Renaissance Books as Furniture,” Book History 12 (2009), 37-73. He discusses

a set of practices, still operative but generally devalued in modern textual culture, that involve making books useful as material objects or artifacts, not just for reading or owning for their ideational content alone. The “use” of books in the era of early print has recently become a topic of substantial interest of both historians of reading and scholars interested in the materiality of literary works; but conceptions of utility, I would like to suggest, remain largely bound to modern categories, making room enough for texts but little for textual objects [38].

In the Renaissance, these practices included using books as filing cabinets in which to store or write legal documents, recipes, and the like; making desks and beds out of stacks of books; and conversely regarding furniture and walls as inscribable objects. The Renaissance book

was an object with multiple functions, none of which was fully determined by its text. It was a container, a writing tablet or notepad, and a veritable bookshelf all at once. The surviving evidence of reading habits and uses such as these puts pressure on the prevailing categories of book history and related literary-critical approaches that have perhaps been overly rigid in separating out utility and instrumentality from aesthetics and affectivity, and that have furthermore parsed intellectual from material utility—books as information, in other words, from books as objects or things [40].

Knight goes on to demonstrate that the words “furniture” and “furnishing” had broader applications then, applying to both material and intellectual objects in such a way as to cast in question our distinctions between them. He notes that this usage also reflected the physical place of books in the home. The tended to be scattered almost anywhere and everywhere. They had not yet assumed a conventional place, such as on the bookshelves that became common later.

Knight’s article raises all sorts of interesting questions about the relationship between the material book and its textual contents which makes it of interest here. But his discussion does not blend obviously with our category of “iconic” books. That is, we usually assume that books have become less iconic and more utilitarian over time as modern publishing has made them more ubiquitous and more disposable. Yet Knight’s description of book use in the Renaissance home suggests a less iconic view of books, one in which their “proper” place and use had not yet become so culturally defined.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

10 minutes with Timothy K Beal

Here's a quick little interview with Tim Beal, whose book Biblical Literacy: The Essential Bible Stories Everyone Needs to Know was just published with HarperOne. While the book deals a lot with the semantic dimensions of scripture, it also explores the iconic elements as well.

Telling in this short interview is a curious observation Beal makes: "A lot of people have picked up a sort of 'keep away' and 'no trespassing' message when they see a Bible with a black leather cover." Here, the image of the Bible becomes somewhat anti-iconic, something that pushes back rather than invites one in.

This seems to be an important dimension in examinations of iconic books: images that repulse.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Iconicity from a Book History perspective

(Deirdre Stam participated in the Saturday sessions of last month's Iconic Books Symposium. She later wrote me some reflections on the event which I think are worth sharing with a wider audience. I'm reproducing them here with her permission.)

When putting myself in the shoes of a person in the field of religion, I could understand your statements about scholarship in that and other humanities areas ignoring the "iconic" element of texts and of their physical manifestations. Working in another area, though, as I have for many years, I've become aware of an enormous body of inquiry in "book history" about the physical history and properties of texts and the more recent expansion of concerns relating to the "book." Particularly since Donald McKenzie's work in the 80's, drawing significantly from the French theorists of the previous decades, the field has looked at both the physical book (its printing, manufacture, etc.) and, more recently, its uses and significance in its culture. Robert Darnton would be a principle proponent as would Anthony Grafton, both eloquent spokesmen for this approach. Many of the texts they have addressed have been iconic, and in some cases the editions are iconic. Sometimes even the copies they have examined have had iconic properties sometimes for reasons relating to the text, but sometimes for different reasons having little to do with the textual and/or intellectual content.

For this topic of iconic "books" in religion, I think it would be helpful to break down that word "book" into "text," "manuscript" if appropriate, "edition" if appropriate as for printed works (and family of editions), and "copy" within an edition. A copy, for example, can be iconic because of its unique binding, or its variants, or its association (such as having been owned by Thos. Jefferson as was a Koran recently used to swear in a Detroit congressman). The intellectual content was really secondary in this example. The term "book" while a good catch-all for the many issues addressed in a meeting such as this, is too broad, I think, for clear communication. It seemed to me that some attendees assumed the codex form when they heard "book," or allowed codex and scroll, but drew the line at web page or oral recitation. Others had a broader range of possible physical forms in mind when they heard the term. The distinctions described above might have eliminated some confusion.

For a sense of present-day book history, I would strongly recommend looking at the offerings of the Rare Book School, located at the Univ. of Va. but somewhat independent of it. RBS is a non-degree, continuing education program of about 100 courses a year, with some given at the Morgan Library and Walters Art Gallery and elsewhere, which are attended by (grown up) curators, academics, collectors, and obsessives of various sorts, with a small sprinkling of graduate students. The emphasis is on the physical book. While book historians have become interested in run-of-the-mill publications in recent years, the bulk of time is still devoted to iconic texts and publications. The new director is the charismatic book historian Michael Suarez, SJ, who left a pair of tenured positions at Oxford and Fordham to give the school a new and probably more scholarly direction. (It was very curatorial before -- but great anyway.) You'd enjoy meeting Suarez and I suspect you'd enjoy a week-long course at Rare Book School. Total and exhausting immersion. The Univ. of Va. has a vast workshop creating digital versions of texts and related databases; that is in itself an eyeopener. (There are Rare Book Schools at Lyons and UCLA but these are newer, smaller, and only tangentially related to the "mothership" at UVa.)

A number of rare book libraries have scholarships for brief projects on the history of the book using their collections. (Fellows need to use the materials uniquely held in these institutions -- the emphasis is on the physical.) The attendees might like a list of these fellowships even after the fact of the "Icon" conference itself -- the libraries include AAS, Newberry, and a dozen or so others. Some of these libraries belong to the Independent Research Library Association (IRLA) and their fellowships would be accessible, directly or indirectly, through the web site of that organization. The SHARP newsletter lists a lot of these opportunities. While many fellows study iconic works in the collections of these libraries, I think that the emphasis on the "iconicism" itself, especially within religious materials, would be novel and welcome. AAS does a theme each year; I wonder if this theme might appeal to them for a future summer.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

On Torah Rejoicing and Torah Scroll Balloons

Yesterday was the Jewish holiday of Shemini Atzeret held on the eighth day of the Feast of Tabernacles, better known in contemporary Judaism as Simehat Torah – the Rejoicing of the Torah. This name derives from the Jewish Babylonian custom, which in the Middle Ages became prevalent in all the Jewish world, of concluding the annual Torah reading on Shemini Atzeret.
Since the early Middle Ages special customs evolved in which the synagogue's Torah Scrolls were paraded and danced with on this day. These are known as hakaphot – that is "encirclings" – because the scrolls are carried around the synagogue's bimah.

Here's a short video of hakaphot in a Chasidic synagogue:

Children are encouraged to take part in the hakaphot, but as they cannot be entrusted with the precious Torah Scrolls, they are given other objects to parade with – special flags or small Torah Scroll replicas. A few days ago, while walking down Jerusalem's Mahane Yehuda market, I noticed something I've never seen before:

Torah Scroll balloons for children, to be carried on Simehat Torah. While the production of flags and torah scroll replicas for Simehat Torah is quite commonplace, Torah Scroll balloons are a novelty as far as I know. They are of course similar to the Torah Scroll replicas. But there's also a big difference - the Torah Scroll balloons are instantly made and instantly destroyed. Here's an interesting meeting point between iconic books and pop culture.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

"The Great Omar"

Stephen Gertz on Book Patrol posted the following, which is worth reproducing in full:

"In 1912, bookbinder Francis Sangorski decided to produce the most elaborate binding of all time, a jeweled edition of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám with illustrations by Elihu Vedder. The magnificent binding was a masterwork and contained almost 1,200 jewels. But the book and its binder were doomed.

The Harry Ransom Center recently held a stunning exhibition based upon the book and this masterpiece of bookbinding art, The Persian Sensation: The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám in the West.

The Ransom Center has also produced a video telling the tragic story of what happened to the greatest binding ever created:"

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Scholem's Mechanically Reproduced Relic Zohar

A few years ago, the Hebrew University's Magnes Press published a special edition of the Zohar (The Book of Splendor – probably the most important Kabbalic text, dating from the Thirteenth Century). This edition of the Zohar wasn't a scholarly edition, but rather a facsimile of one of the old editions. However this is no ordinary facsimile – this mass reproduced edition is based on a Relic Zohar – the one owned by the famous Kabbalah scholar Gershom Scholem since he was seventeen till his demise, filled with comments in his own handwriting. The book's title is "Gershom Scholem's Zohar". Its six volumes may be bought for 367$.

The idea of publishing handwritten comments of prominent scholars taps an old rabbinic concept. The locution "be'ezem ktav yad kodsho" (something like "in the very holiness of his handwriting") is a technical term of sorts that denotes the writing in an original manuscript of an important rabbinic author as opposed to its copies and/or printed editions. This phrase conveys a sense of originality, but also a sense of sacrality – the very act of writing by an important rabbi is considered holy.

In what ways does the Magnes Press manipulate this traditional concept? The act of reproducing Scholem's handwritten comments in their original form tries to place Scholem somehow within the rabbinic tradition – it tells us "here is a modern scholar worthy of the mantle of a rabbinic sage". This says something about the complicated relationship between modern Jewish Studies and the traditional mode of Jewish learning. There's much more to be said about that, but it is not our issue here.

Our issue is the way that this message is conveyed. Scholem's comments aren't reproduced in printed Hebrew – they are presented to the reader in their handwritten form, alongside the Zohar's printed text (in Hebrew the difference between cursive script and printed script is very large – amounting to a different alphabet). The reader is faced with two kinds of mass reproduced text – the original printed form of the Zoharic text, and the mass-reproduced-but-pretending-not-to-be text of Scholem's comments. This is not a Relic book – it is a book pretending to be a relic by way of mass reproduction. What are the conceptual mechanisms involved here?

These are very similar to the conceptual manipulation used in an advertisement trying to play on the old fashioned and homely traits of a mass produced commodity (like this one). Such an advertisement tries to conceal the mass production by conceptually coloring the commodity in an atmosphere of old fashioned production. In a similar manner, the mass reproduced quality of the text of the Zohar is shaded by the pseudo-handwritten signs of Scholem's comments.

But there's a two sided bargain here. On the one hand the pretension to reproduced-relic status involves an oxymoron – if it's reproduced it ain't a relic. That is to say reproduction reduces the relic's "aura" in Walter Benjaminian parlance. But on the other hand the mass reproduction in this instance rescues the handwriting from its original ephemerality - And here Lisa Gitelman's presentation in the Second Iconic Book Symposium comes to mind. As in the example she discussed – the book Day – we are faced here with Walter Benjamin turned upside down – mass reproduction creates the aura instead of diminishing it.

How does this project generally on the category of a Relic Book? It introduces a new concept – the Pseudo-Relic. A Pseudo-Relic Book is a book which reproduces two distinct things – the text of the original relic book, but also the relicness of the original relic book. The text is reproduced in a straightforward manner; whereas the relicness has to do with an extra-textual feature which is also reproduced. I would define both Scholem's Zohar and the copies of Jung's red book as Pseudo-Relics.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

Carl Jung's Red Book

Sara Corbett wrote a long article for the New York Times Magazine about the publication of Carl Jung's Liber Novus, "New Book," better known as his "Red Book." The Times also provides a photographic sample of its handwritten pages including many full-page paintings by Jung of what Corbett calls

a kind of phantasmagoric morality play, driven by Jung’s own wish not just to chart a course out of the mangrove swamp of his inner world but also to take some of its riches with him.

Jung wrote and illustrated the book by hand over a sixteen-year period to record his dreams, active imaginations and self-induced hallucinations. These experiences became the basis for much of his later theorizing about myths, dreams, and the unconscious.

Jung never published the book and his family refused to publish it or even let very many people see it. Corbett's description of the book's history presents a detailed case study of the three dimensions of an important text and their social consequences.

The book itself is beautiful and imposing, as an iconic book should be:

There sunbathing under the [photographer's] lights, sat Carl Jung’s Red Book, splayed open to Page 37. One side of the open page showed an intricate mosaic painting of a giant holding an ax, surrounded by winged serpents and crocodiles. The other side was filled with a cramped German calligraphy that seemed at once controlled and also, just given the number of words on the page, created the impression of something written feverishly, cathartically.

... The Red Book had an undeniable beauty. Its colors seemed almost to pulse, its writing almost to crawl.

Here we find a paradigmatic description of an iconic book, even a relic book. Its iconic status derives from its impressive physical appearance and one-of-a-kind nature, but also from legendary stories about its origins (what Dori Parmenter calls "the myth of the book"). That iconic/relic status precedes and lays the basis for its inspirational reading (performance) and semantic significance.

[Jungian analyst Stephen Martin] added “It gives me goose bumps just thinking about it.” He had at that point yet to lay eyes on the book, but for him that made it all the more tantalizing. His hope was that the Red Book would “reinvigorate” Jungian psychology, or at the very least bring himself personally closer to Jung. “Will I understand it?” he said. “Probably not. Will it disappoint? Probably. Will it inspire? How could it not?” He paused a moment, seeming to think it through. “I want to be transformed by it,” he said finally. “That’s all there is.”

Jung himself seems to have recognized the iconic power of textuality. One of his clients recorded his advice on how to process her inner life:

“I should advise you to put it all down as beautifully as you can — in some beautifully bound book,” Jung instructed. “It will seem as if you were making the visions banal — but then you need to do that — then you are freed from the power of them. . . . Then when these things are in some precious book you can go to the book & turn over the pages & for you it will be your church — your cathedral — the silent places of your spirit where you will find renewal. If anyone tells you that it is morbid or neurotic and you listen to them — then you will lose your soul — for in that book is your soul.”

The first and chief semantic interpreter of the Red Book is its translator, Prof. Sonu Shamdasani who teaches at University College, London. In the classic tradition of textual experts of any tradition and era, he emphasizes semantic expertise:

He tends to be suspicious of interpretive thinking that’s not anchored by hard fact — and has, in fact, made a habit of attacking anybody he deems guilty of sloppy scholarship — and also maintains a generally unsentimental attitude toward Jung. Both of these qualities make him, at times, awkward company among both Jungians and Jungs.

... Having lived more or less alone with the book for almost a decade, Shamdasani — who is a lover of fine wine and the intricacies of jazz — these days has the slightly stunned aspect of someone who has only very recently found his way out of an enormous maze. When I visited him this summer in the book-stuffed duplex overlooking the heath, he was just adding his 1,051st footnote to the Red Book.

As with other relic books the world over, the iconic claims of private owners and public scholarship come into conflict:

The relationship between historians and the families of history’s luminaries is, almost by nature, one of mutual disenchantment. One side works to extract; the other to protect. One pushes; one pulls.

... To talk to Jung’s heirs is to understand that nearly four decades after his death, they continue to reel inside the psychic tornado Jung created during his lifetime, caught between the opposing forces of his admirers and critics and between their own filial loyalties and history’s pressing tendency to judge and rejudge its own playmakers.

As a result of all of these factors, the Red Book's publication next month seems to arouse apprehension as much as excitement from everyone involved. Corbett observes that its publication

is a victory for someone, but it is too early yet to say for whom.

... The relationship between the Jungs and the people who are inspired by Jung is, almost by necessity, a complex symbiosis. The Red Book — which on one hand described Jung’s self-analysis and became the genesis for the Jungian method and on the other was just strange enough to possibly embarrass the family — held a certain electrical charge. Martin recognized the descendants’ quandary. “They own it, but they haven’t lived it,” he said, describing Jung’s legacy. “It’s very consternating for them because we all feel like we own it. ... This is the greatest psychic explorer of the 20th century, and this book tells the story of his inner life.”

... The Red Book is not an easy journey — it wasn’t for Jung, it wasn’t for his family, nor for Shamdasani, and neither will it be for readers. The book is bombastic, baroque and like so much else about Carl Jung, a willful oddity, synched with an antediluvian and mystical reality. The text is dense, often poetic, always strange. The art is arresting and also strange. Even today, its publication feels risky, like an exposure.

The book will be reproduced for mass consumption (as every icon should) early next month by W. W. Norton. The original Red Book will soon be on public exhibit (as every relic should) at the Rubin Museum of Art in New York.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Miniatures too small to read

Julia O'Brien blogs about seeing the exhibit of miniature books at Baltimore's Walters Art Museum.

There were small mosaics, small sculptures, small shipping guides, but mostly small religious texts. Small Psalters. Small Qurans. And small Bibles.

Some of these miniatures were functional, actually used by readers even before the days of bifocals. They allowed people to have words that were portable and private-- pocket editions.

But many were clearly too small to be read. It's hard to imagine how they were even produced. These texts weren't reading material; they functioned atropaically--as amulets , talismans, good luck pieces. These Bibles were owned, touched, tucked away, treasured. But not read. The idea of the Bible mattered more than its content

Indeed! But the fact that more texts than just the Bible get subjected to such miniaturization shows that the iconic potential of books is not limited to scriptures, though they provide the most extreme examples.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Google Imitates Print

Google is introducing FastFlip, a new interface for online publications that, according to the Associate Press,
is meant to duplicate the look and feel of perusing a printed publication. The stories are displayed on electronic pages that can be quickly scrolled through by clicking on large arrows on the side instead of a standard Web link that requires waiting several seconds for a page to load. Readers can sort through content based on topics, favorite writers and publications.

The rest of the story focuses on FastFlip's potential for diverting more advertising dollars to publishers. Of interest to this blog, though, is Google's embrace of technology to reproduce the experience (but certainly not the "feel"!) of print magazines and books. The "flipping" feature suggests that magazines are the real inspiration. Much more elaborate software to reproduce turning the pages of books has been used by the British Library for some time now to present rare books and manuscripts online. Much publicity recently surrounded the addition to this collection of the fourth-century C.E. manuscript of the Christian Bible, Codex Sinaiticus.

All of which illustrate the strength of the urge to reproduce the physical page in electronic form. In the case of rare manuscripts, there is at least a functional advantage to turning the electronic pages: codex books frustrate museum and library curators because only two pages can be shown at any one time. Visitors who would never be allowed to turn these rare pages can now do so electronically, often on a computer screen in the vicinity of the real manuscript.

But Google seems to be extending the principle to magazines purely in hopes of appealing to more readers. The iconic page exerts a strong pull on the electronic imagination!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Synopsis of Symposium 2009

Last week-end's Iconic Books Symposium was wonderful! Hamilton College welcomed us to its beautiful campus with fantastic weather. The presentations and discussions were lively and full of new information about how books and other texts function iconically in various cultures and contexts. There was a palpable sense among the participants that we've only touched the surface of this phenomenon and that this subject needs to explored much more thoroughly.

I have posted online a synopsis of the symposium discussions. Though it can't begin to reproduce the dynamics of the conversation, it will at least provide some idea of the materials and topics covered to those who couldn't be there.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Now on Facebook!

The Iconic Books Project now has its own page on Facebook, thanks to Brent Plate. Look for us under Groups: "Iconic Books."

Friday, September 4, 2009

Iconic Books Symposium Today!

The second Iconic Books Symposium begins today at Hamilton College in Clinton, NY. I hope to see many of you there. For those who can't come, I will post a synopsis of the discussions online afterwards.

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

New International Version to be Updated

Biblica announced today that it is preparing an "update" of "the world's most popular Bible." The press release accompanying the announcement presents an array of points worth considering in the transmission of an iconic text, including the positioning of the new NIV in the tradition (and on the 400th anniversary) of the KJV, the expressed goals of the new translation, and the claim to the authority to make the translation:
"We want to reach English speakers across the globe with a Bible that is accurate, accessible and that speaks to its readers in a language they can understand," said Keith Danby, Global President and CEO of Biblica. "This is why we are recommitting ourselves today to the original NIV charter, complete with its charge to monitor and reflect developments in English usage and Biblical scholarship by regularly updating the NIV Bible text.

"As time passes and English changes, the NIV we have at present is becoming increasingly dated. If we want a Bible that English speakers around the world can understand, we have to listen to, and respect, the vocabulary they are using today."

The CBT [Committee on Bible Translation] represents the very best in evangelical biblical scholarship and its members are drawn from denominations across the world. As an independent body, it alone has the authority to revise and update the text of the NIV Bible.

"The committee exists to ensure that the NIV continues to articulate the words of God, as we find them recorded in the original languages, in a form of English that is comprehensible to the broadest possible audience," said CBT Chairman, Professor Douglas Moo.

"As a committee, our response to this challenge has always been to follow the example of the original Bible writers who wrote in forms of Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek that reflected the language spoken by the everyday working people of their day. Just as the New Testament is written in 'Koine' or 'common' Greek, our aim with the NIV Bible is — and has always been — to translate the Bible into what you might call 'Koine' or 'common' English.

"So it is fitting that the new edition of the NIV Bible will be coming out in 2011, the year which marks the 400th anniversary of the King James Version," said Moo. "Our goal in the NIV Bible translation mirrors that of the 17th Century translators themselves: to produce a Bible that removes all unnecessary obstacles to comprehension by drawing on the best available scholarship."

Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Secret of Kells

Meghan Rinn called my attention to an animated movie, The Secret of Kells, that came out earlier this year. She points out that

The film ... uses the Book of Kells as a major plot point for a coming of age story. The book itself is shown several times and the movie ends with several pieces of the text being animated themselves and the film itself takes major design cues from the text.

It would be interesting in this age of electronic texts being designed with movie culture in mind to see a movie taking design cues from an (early medieval!) illuminated manuscript. Has anyone else seen the movie? What do you think of it?

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Social Life of Scriptures

The second book in the Signifying on Scriptures series from Rutgers Press has appeared: The Social Life of Scriptures, edited by James S. Bielo. The blurb reads:

What do Christians do with the Bible? How do they—individually and collectively—
interact with the sacred texts? Why does this engagement shift so drastically among and between social, historical, religious, and institutional contexts? Such questions are addressed in a most enlightening, engaging, and original way in The Social Life of Scriptures.

Contributors offer a collection of closely analyzed and carefully conducted ethnographic and historical case studies, covering a range of geographic, theological, and cultural territory, including: American evangelicals and charismatics; Jamaican Rastafarians; evangelical and Catholic Mayans; Northern Irish charismatics; Nigerian Anglicans; and Chinese evangelicals in the United States.

The Social Life of Scriptures is the first book to present an eclectic, cross-cultural, and comparative investigation of Bible use. Moreover, it models an important movement to outline a framework for how scriptures are implicated in organizing social structures and meanings, with specific foci on gender, ethnicity, agency, and power.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Bibles sell well in garage sale

My wife just staged a three-day garage sale of household items left from her parents moved to a smaller apartment. Among the many pieces of small furniture, dishes and books were around a dozen Bibles. All the Bibles sold quickly, though ten boxes of other books were left over.

The iconic book maintains its appeal even in this bargain-hunting context.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Giant Wooden Qur'an

In Palembang, South Sumatra (Indonesia), it took six years for a team to carve a giant Qur'an on wooden planks 177x140 cms. The Arabic letters appear in gold against the dark tembesu wood, reports the Jakarta Post.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Manipulating Mobs with Desecration Charges

In Gorja, Pakistan, 100 Christian villagers were burned out of their homes and 8 killed by mobs angry over rumors that Qur'ans had been desecrated. I have written here already that scripture's iconic dimension can exert a particularly powerful effect on popular sentiment and that charges of scripture desecration easily lead to mob action. This is especially true in Pakistan with its draconian laws against insulting Islam, the Qur'an, or Muhammed.

The news now that the attacks were orchestrated by extremist groups underscores the point, except with a twist. It demonstrates that the iconic dimension of scriptures provides a convenient lever for manipulating mob sentiment. But in this case, the organizers were no doubt aiming at a larger political audience and are depending on media coverage to get their message across.

August 9: Kunwar Idris, writing in Dawn.com, traces the origins of Pakistan's anti-blasphemy laws and, especially, their capital penalties to the policies of General Ziaul Haq (President, 198 ).

Relevant to the Gojra episode would be the two sections he added to the penal code (295-B & C) which made the offences of defiling the Quran or the name of the Prophet punishable with life imprisonment or death. Ziaul Haq’s aim in enacting these laws was to exploit the religious sentiments of the people for his own power and glory. The fanatics have used them to persecute the minorities and dissidents, the politicians to promote their political ends.

Dying at the hands of fanatical mobs for (allegedly) defiling the Holy Quran or Holy Prophet have been a hafiz-i-Quran at one extreme and an old Hindu woman at the other. The toll runs into hundreds. Then there is the instance of four brothers who languished in jail for five years until a judge found they were maliciously accused of blasphemy or desecration by a villager who coveted their land and the headship of the village. Though acquitted, fearing mob violence they sought asylum abroad. The false accusers got what they had desired.

Sad stories of innocent victims and vile motives of their tormentors abound. A fact hard to deny, however, is that no one has ever been imprisoned for life or hanged under Zia’s laws but a large number have fallen victim to mob fury

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Program for Symposium

The Iconic Books Symposium will take place just one month from now (September 4-6). The program has now been posted online. Go there also for the list of panelists, and information on registration and housing. We hope to see you then!

What Kindle can't do

Andrew Piper on the Book Report lists all the "booky" things a Kindle can't do or provide, including its visual and ritual functions:

The Kindle is not a visual experience. We are only just now remembering how visually significant the book and its history are. The Kindle takes almost two millennia of book design – from bindings to illustrations to typeface and layout — and ends the aesthetic experience of reading. ...

What do you buy when you buy a “book” on Kindle? This is a big question (with a nice recent scandal). As Baker says, “You buy the right to display a grouping of words in front of your eyes for your private use.” This too underthinks the way books have functioned as social objects throughout history. We share books, we excerpt from books, we quote books, we display books, we perform rituals with books. Kindle is not interested in any of this. Kindle relies on one feature of the book – that it is consumable – and makes that principle universal

Saturday, July 25, 2009

Controversy over Writing in a Bible

Many Christians, especially in Evangelical circles, consider writing notes in their personal Bibles as a responsible form of study and devotion. However, an invitation to the public to do so in Glasgow has created controversy, reports the Daily Mail:

Next to the copy of the Bible at the Gallery of Modern Art (Goma) in Glasgow is a container of pens and a notice, which says: 'If you feel you have been excluded from the Bible, please write your way back into it.'

The exhibit, entitled Untitled 2009, was put forward by the Metropolitan Community Church with the aim of reclaiming the Bible as a sacred text. But its pages have been scrawled with comments including 'F*** the Bible' and 'I am Bi, Female & Proud. I want no god who is disappointed in this'.

The exhibition was created by artists Anthony Schrag and David Malone, alongside organisations representing gay Christians and Muslims

The description of the exhibit (actually titled "Made in God's Image") on the museum's website argues:

While some of the works may be controversial from the more traditional and right-leaning positions, the exhibition challenges the assumption that one cannot lead a fully spiritual life while identifying as Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgendered and/or Intersexed.

It is part of an effort to "promote acceptance and understanding, encourage debate, and tackle questions about LGBT representation, place and history in today’s society." But the extent of the controversy seems to have caught the planners by surprise. Jane Clarke, a minister of the Metropolitan Community Church, "said she regretted the insults that had been written in the Bible. ... 'The Bible should never be used like that. It was our intention to reclaim it as a sacred text.'"

From an iconic books perspective, the controversy illustrates the fact that what counts as "desecrating scripture" is a very fluid standard and not just when the interface of religion and sexuality is involved. The negative reactions reported by the Daily Mail also show the mutual influence in today's media linked world between the standards applied within different religious traditions:

Andrea Minichiello Williams, director of the Christian Legal Centre, said: 'We have got to a point where we call the desecration of the Bible modern art. The Bible stands for everything this art does not: for creation, beauty, hope and regeneration.'

'A Church of Scotland spokesman said: 'We would discourage anyone from defacing the Bible.'

A spokesman for the Catholic Church said: 'One wonders whether the organisers would have been quite as willing to have the Koran defaced.'

(h/t Bite My Bible)

Bindings of Human Skin

I have recently been thinking about the close identification between people (authors, readers, devotees) and their books, but until now it did not occur to me to link them physically. While describing one book in the Philadelphia Athenaeum, however, Atlas Obscura provides a summary of the practice of binding books in human skin:

Anthropodermic bibliopegy or the practice of binding books in human skin has a curious history begining in the middle ages when parchments made of human skin began showing up. The first known books bound in human skin come from the French revolution when a number of copies of the French Constitution were bound in the skin of those who opposed the new republic. (These can be seen in the in the Museum Carnavalet in Paris.)

By the 19th century the practice become almost commonplace. Criminals such as James Allen, James Johnson, William Burke and William Corder, were hung, flayed and then bound onto books that cataloged their misdeeds. The other use of anthropodermic bibliopegy was by physicians. Dr. John Stockton Hough bound three medical volumes in the skin of a patient with the first diagnosed case of trichinosis. The doctors found the material to be "relatively cheap, durable and waterproof." Books such as the "The Dance of Death" were being bound in human skin as late as the 1890's. Many libraries, including Brown University's, Harvard's, the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and even the Cleveland Public Library contain examples of books bound with human skin.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Digitizing Relics

An international effort to preserve centuries-old Indonesian manuscripts has run into trouble getting access to privately owned texts. The Jakarta Globe reports that:

the surviving manuscripts were written in various languages and scripts, including Arabic, Malay, Javanese, Sundanese, Sasak, Balinese and the Wolio language of Buton Island. ... Jeje Abdul Rojak, the program coordinator for digitalization at Islamic pesantrens, said that many manuscripts from pesantren , or traditional Islamic boarding schools, have already been secured using digitalization. “The problem is that there are many more important ancient manuscripts in private hands,” he said. “The owners usually refuse us access to them because they consider them sacred relics that have been handed down for generations.”

This situation differs from the resistence to scholars of private owners of pieces of the Aleppo Codex in that here scholars only want access in order to make photographs and publish them digitally. The owners, however, seem to think this would desecrate the relic text and/or reduce its potency.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Obama with Constitution

President Barack Obama's speech today about closing the Guantanamo Bay detention facility was carefully staged in front of the iconic American political text, the Constitution. (Images from Zimbio.)

He spoke in the Rotunda of the National Archives with the Constitution and Bill of Rights displayed right behind him.

From the side, he was framed by paintings of the Constitution's signers.

Former Vice President Dick Cheney presented a strong rebuttal speech immediately afterwards at the American Enterprise Institute. Pictures show him framed by the word "Enterprise." The debate over prisoner detention policy will no doubt continue for a long time, but the dueling pictures give a clear win to Obama.