14-16 March Charisma of the book


The primary goal of this workshop is to develop global perspectives on the history and future of the book, exploring comparative and interdisciplinary interpretations applications of the concept of charisma.  Bringing together scholars of the Arabic book with scholars working on its western uses and meanings, it will explore literary, aesthetic, and historical perspectives on charismatic presence of the book, at a moment when other media are vying for cultural dominance. Bringing together scholars of the Arabic book with those working on its western uses and meanings. How might the concept of charisma illuminate the materialization—and marginalization—of the book's cultural status and social power in the digital age?  What does a transcultural history of the physical artifact of the book reveal about the social interfaces and media platforms of its possible futures?  Fostering multidisciplinary conversations about local forms and global meanings of the book's physical presence and social power, this workshop will develop new methods and concepts for describing and interpreting the phenomena of charisma in its historical, literary, artistic and technological manifestations.

Research questions

‘Charisma’ has in its etymology ‘divine gift’ (kharisma), leading back to ‘grace’ as well as ‘beauty’ (kharis). This workshop explores the material devotions, sacred and secular, popular and learned, by which particular texts acquire charismatic authority in the lives of individuals and communities.  Possible research questions include:

a. How does the concept of charisma illuminate the transcultural history of the book? How is charisma ‘present’ or ‘current’ in books—art books, holy books, religious books, forbidden or banned books—in different cultures and in different cultural regimes? How can we begin to draw a comparative, transcultural map of the book as a magical, auratic object? Through comparative analysis of individual case studies (particular texts, authors, etc.), we seek to map the geographies of literacy practices, ritual systems, and media ecologies in which particular forms of textual experience acquire power to inspire personal devotion, cultural resistance, and communal belonging both within and across cultural and national borders.

b. How is charisma embodied in book objects, as well as around these objects, in their material, tactile, visual, and institutional setting? How has the book functioned as a display object, from holy books to artists books? What can we learn from a comparative analysis of particular books with a ‘transcultural’ charisma (the bible, the Koran)? What is the charisma of the book within the “religions of the book”? How have sacred texts functioned as instruments and platforms for divine presence, and how might comparative histories of their production and reception illuminate the evolving power of the book's material form to attract and transmit exemplary forms of spiritual, aesthetic, and intellectual experience? Conversely, how has charisma informed processes of literary canonization, and how does this relate to the status of the author, authority, and authenticity as aspects of book cultures? How does this idea of authority contrast or relate to charisma and presentation in oral literatures—i.e. what is the relation between charisma, the body, and the voice in this context?

c. How is the charisma of the book being produced today in relation to the growing dominance of new, digital media? The standard view in the interaction between old and new media, between book and screen, is that the latter will replace and obliterate the former. Yet since the 1990s, and especially since the 2000s, the book has reinvented itself materially as a literary and artistic medium. Young authors choose the book, rather than hypertext, as a site of innovation, while artists are discovering (hand)writing and the book anew as charismatic media of inscription. At the same, the charisma of the book persists electronically as e-readers and Ipads are iterating the standard forms and conceptions of the book (pages and gutters included) on screen again and again. Even in the digital sphere, or precisely in the digital sphere, we have not yet been able to move past the charisma of the book. How does the concept of charisma here help to gain new insights into the complex interplay between digital and ‘analog’ modes of bookishness?

This conference has been made possible by the generous support of NYU Abu Dhabi