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.)

Friday, July 30, 2010

Topical Bibliography of Iconic Books Scholarship

I have now added a topical bibliography to the Iconic Books Projects webpages. It is categorized by approach, broad time periods or cultures. Please let me knowif you think some items are miscategorized.

It can be accessed here or by clicking on Bibliography at left and following the link to Topical Bibliography.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

The Death of Sacred Texts

Kristina Myrvold has edited The Death of Sacred Texts: Ritual Disposal and Renovation of Texts in World Religions (Ashgate, 2010) which gathers descriptions of book disposal rituals in a seven different religious traditions: Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Japanese Buddhist, Hindu, Jain, and Sikh. I was honored that she asked me to write the conclusion, in which I muse on some parallels between the religious concerns cataloged in these excellent essays and "secular" worries about the preservation and disposal of books. The authors and chapter titles are:

1 Marianne Schleicher, "Accounts of a Dying Scroll: On Jewish Handling of Sacred Texts in Need of Restoration or Disposal"

2 Jonas Svensson, "Relating, Revering, and Removing: Muslim Views on the Use, Power, and Disposal of Divine Words"

3 Dorina Miller "Parmenter, A Fitting Ceremony: Christian Concerns for Bible Disposal"

4 D. Max Moerman, "The Death of the Dharma: Buddhist Sutra Burials in Early Medieval Japan"

5 Måns Broo, "Rites of Burial and Immersion: Hindu Ritual Practices on Disposing of Sacred Texts in Vrindavan"

6 Nalini Balbir, "Is a Manuscript an Object or a Living Being?: Jain Views on the Life and Use of Sacred Texts"

7 Kristina Myrvold, "Making the Scripture a Person: Reinventing Death Rituals of Guru Granth Sahib in Sikhism

8 James W. Watts, "Disposing of Non-Disposable Texts: Conclusions and Prospects for Further Study"

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Stewart on Book Art

Garrett Stewart, writing in Critical Inquiry (Spring 2010), theorizes the nature and function of book art. In "Bookwork as Demediation", he notes that "Book sculpture is something done to a book, done with it and others like it, or done in place of it--alteration, assemblage, or simulation." He calls this action "demediation" which "peels away the message service, leaving only the material support."

Stewart notes that book art, or as he prefers to call it, "bookwork" calls attention to books' materiality:

It is one way of studying their material preconditions, and this in the absence of their function as conduits--a function absent and gone but not forgotten. For nonbooks serve to itemize the features of book-based textuality that may otherwise be subsumed and elided by the channels of tansmission.

And that is just the beginning of his analysis...

Moerman on the Lotus Sutra

D. Max Moerman writes about "The Materiality of the Lotus Sutra: Scripture, Relic, and Buried Treasure" in Dharma World:

What is the Lotus Sutra? The scripture itself provides one ready answer: The Lotus Sutra is a Buddha relic. Like a number of other early Mahayana sutras, the Lotus Sutra asserts an equivalence between a roll of scripture and a relic of the Buddha. Employing a new theory of embodiment, the Lotus Sutra replaces the Buddha's corporeal remains with his textual corpus. The material form of the Buddha's word, rather than the material remains of the Buddha's body, is recognized as the central object of veneration and, as such, is to be enshrined in a stupa, a reliquary previously reserved for the remains of a buddha.

Moerman charts the development of ritual practices in medieval Japanese Buddhism that involved creating elaborate copies of the sutra in order to bury them in stupas. Such practices were motivated by concern "with the postmortem salvation of both the religion and the religionist." Moerman draws the moral for scholars of religion:

... the texts themselves did not bear the communicative or pedagogical function usually attributed to scripture. Great care and expense went into the production of these texts .... Yet the texts were never to be recited, studie, or taught, or at least not for 5.67 billion years. The value of their production and use lay in their media as much as in their message .... the power of sacred texts lies not only in their words and ideas but also, as the Lotus Sutra insists, in their materiality and instrumentality.

Moerman revists much of the same material in his essay published in The Death of Sacred Texts: Ritual Disposal and Renovation of Texts in World Religions, edited by Kristina Myrvold(Ashgate, 2010, see summary here).

Stolow on Artscroll

Jeremy Stolow has written a fascinating analysis of the Orthodox Jewish publishing phenomenon, ArtScroll. In Orthodox by Design: Judaism, Print Politics, and the Artscroll Revolution (University of California Press, 2010), he documents the history of ArtScroll, its products, and their appeal to buyers. He then applies the analytical models of the field of book history to show how this publisher's attention to the material look and feel of its books has powered its sales.
... through their material properties ArtScroll books can be seen to possess forces that strcuture and constrain the ways they are stored, read, displayed, or otherwise used in their designated social settings. This agency, embedded in thematerial design of the books themselves, is hardly incidental to the centrality ArtScroll texts are said to enjoy, whether in everyday life situations or in the ways ArtScroll is publicly imagined, discussed, embraced, or even rejected. (146)
This leads Stolow to draw some conclusions about religious books in today's rapidly changing book marketplace:
... books can be said to possess a material agency whereby, for example, a leather covering has the power to convey an affective charge through its signifiers of dignity, solemnity, and artisanal authenticity. Form this perspective, it would appear that the continued (and indeed growing) vitality of the market for printed books rests on a deeper set of cultural assumptions about what kinds of technologies and institutional frameworks are best suited to generate "authentic" religiosu experiences and to sustain the bonds of religious community. ... Far from being rendered obsolete as "old" media, today's printed books have been reinvented as viable means of exercising authority and securing legitimacy through the particular disciplines and habits and the connective tissues that constitute
text-centered religious community." (178)
It's a great read!

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Symposium Schedule

The Third Iconic Books Symposium is only a bit more than two months away! I have now posted a more detailed schedule of panels and presentations: click "Symposium 2010" in the margin to the left.

I hope to see many of you in Syracuse in October!

Thursday, July 1, 2010

Stephen Doyle's Book Art

Stephen Doyle is a graphic designer who has worked with Barnes & Noble, Martha Stewart, The New York Times, and Wired magazine, among others. (See his company's website here for more information.) More recently he started using books as his media, cutting up the pages, and reforming the paper into sculptures. The images here are Andre Malraux's "Man's Fate" (top), and "The Trial," using Franz Kafka's book.

"Felt and Wire" has a nice interview with him on this process. Especially interesting was this comment in response to the reason he uses books:

Books are where ideas come from. The book is such a great form. Before doing these works, I was making concrete casts of books. What interested me was, if you take all the information out, does the form still have any power?

Somewhere along the line I started wondering, well, what does happen when you take the ideas out? So, I started taking out the binding and the pages and setting the words free. And I’ve been working from there.