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, November 16, 2010

Iconic Manga

I'm just back from a few weeks researching gardens in Japan, the kind of Zen-type designs that are most idealized in a place like Ryoan-ji. The wonderful thing about Japan, like so many modern contemporary places today, is the ancient-modern juxtaposition that stares you down around every corner. You can walk out of the austerity of a 500-year old garden and in five minutes be at the local 7-11 skimming pages of the latest manga series. Which is somewhat what I did.

Along the way I stumbled upon the manga title Seinto oniisan, which usually gets translated into English as "Saint Young Men," but also carries "brotherly" connotations. The brothers in question are none other than Jesus and Buddha, who take a vacation from otherworldly life to shack up together in the Tokyo suburb, Nachikawa. They share a spartan, tatami-clad flat, wonder over new technology, do their own laundry (mostly jeans and t-shirts with various Buddhist and Christian references), visit amusement parks, get their food from the local 7-11, and celebrate Christmas and Shinto festivals.

continue reading at NYU's The Revealer

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

"Most Beautiful" Campus Libraries

Campus Grotto has produced a list and pictures of the "Most Beautiful Campus Libraries" (reproduced as a top-ten list by Huffington Post). It is limited to U.S. colleges and universities. Nevertheless, it is obvious that the list is dominated by architectural styles inspired by European religious traditions: most are either Gothic or Neo-Classical.

Yale's Stirling Library exhibits the extreme end of this tradition, with its circulation desk dominated by an icon of personified wisdom surrounded by the seven liberal arts.

But Yale also hosts the most stunning modernist library architecture, the Beinecke Rare Book Library, whose glass-enclosed climate-controlled cube within an alabaster exterior cube displays the books themselves as the objects of veneration.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Launch of new scholarly society: SCRIPT

I'm very happy to announce the launch of a new scholarly society: The Society for Comparative Research on Iconic and Performative Texts (SCRIPT).

Its goal is to foster academic discourse about the social functions of books and texts that exceed their semantic meaning and interpretation, such as their display as cultural artifacts, their ritual use in religious and political ceremonies, their performance by recitation and theater, and their depiction in art. SCRIPT then incorporates the interests of the Iconic Books project, but also invites broader consideration of both iconic and performative dimensions of texts.

The society will sponsor programming at existing regional and international scholarly meetings and at colleges and universities. The first of these will be a concurrent meeting with the Eastern International Region of the AAR at Syracuse University, May 6-7, 2011 (see the Call for Papers).

We welcome new members and ideas for programs and venues to host them.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Who Needs a Library Anyway?

The Long Now Blog passed on this piece from Stanford libraries:

Who Needs a Library Anyway?

When then-President Gerhard Casper rhetorically asked this question, 12 October 1999 – as the title of his remarks at the dedication of the Bing Wing – there was much talk in the air about the imminent demise of libraries. Were these not a bunch of dinosaurs about to be smacked by the meteoric impact of the Web? Was the book not rapidly becoming an anachronism, a fetish object of a dying pulp-based culture? Many of us, with President Casper, disagreed with these glib notions then. But that was several generations ago, on the timescale of the information world around us. How have we fared since on the extinction short list?

Last month, forecaster and chair of our Advisory Council Paul Saffo delighted a select group of our donors with a talk about books, revolutions, and timescales. In a dense web of connected thoughts, he tied the great information revolution of the late 15th century to that of the late 20th, likening the titanic publisher-scholar Aldus Manutius to Steve Jobs, linking the once-revolutionary idea that a printed book is what it is (not a cheap knock-off of a proper manuscript) to the emerging identity of digital works as being something other than bad substitutes for physical books. He reminded us of an intrinsic life-cycle law of objects: things fade, or even disappear, after about a half-century, even (or particularly) Aldine editions or 1960s bestsellers. I am reminded that we avidly collect medieval “binding fragments,” i.e., pieces of manuscripts, mostly on vellum, that were cut up and recycled as stiffeners in bindings of later books, a practice we would now consider barbaric and wasteful (and very expensive). Apparently, after a century or so of European printing, manuscripts were considered expendable, rendered technically obsolescent by the printing press (and the scholarly efflorescence it made possible).

Universities and their libraries have been around for a fairly long time, say 700 or 800 years. The great university libraries that we are familiar with – those with millions of volumes addressing myriad subjects and disciplines – evolved through the vast post-war growth of academic research, coincidentally about a half-century ago. Are they – or, should I say, we – suffering decrepitude and irrelevance? I offer as evidence our experience with the New Graduate Student Orientation program last month, detailed later in this issue. It seems that Stanford’s new crop of grad students, arguably the most savvy and motivated class of information users alive, are quite aware they need libraries. Some of them may even need Aldine editions or binding fragments. All of them will use electronic resources on various sorts of devices. Whatever the form, the libraries will stand ready to help them obtain and use the stuff of scholarship.

Also past the half-century mark,
Andrew Herkovic