Writing Performances Symbolic representations of writing’s power
Organized by Chloé Ragazzoli and Carole Roche-Hawley
In partnership with IFAO and Orient et Méditerranée – UMR 8167
The conference will be held at the Institut français d’archéologie orientale (Ifao) in Cairo, 20-22 June 2023, and will bring together historians and specialists in written cultures from the world, including contemporary writing and the digital humanities.
Writing is much more than a transcriptional tool at the service of the spoken word, of a message or of a memory; it’s purview is not limited to transmitting or preserving statements. Beyond its status as vehicle for a signifié, writing also has great social power, often intimately connected with its visual and graphic shape, but also with the physical and social contexts linked with the acts of inscribing and viewing. This conference is devoted to these broad questions of the social and symbolic uses of writing, as studied through the prism of a very revealing phenomenon, which we consider especially conducive to comparative approaches, and which we have labelled “writing as spectacle”. By this we are referring to those occasions in which an act of writing is itself represented in narrative discourse and/or in iconography [On this, see http://abecedaire.enssib.fr/s/spectacle-decriture/notices].
By focusing on such cases of overtly ostentatious acts of writing, we can observe and better understand just how writing, in its various typological forms, is being socially instrumentalized. Self-representational texts such as funerary biographies, historical annals or commemorative inscriptions are the first to catch our attention, but further examples taken from other genres will also be considered in counterpoint (funerary texts; narrative literature; sapiential and didactic texts; heroic or royal gestes; ephemeral documents such as letters, reports, etc.).
We will also take iconography into consideration, for example the decorative planning of private tombs in the pharaonic world of ancient Egypt, which falls under the logic of self-representation within an established social and decorative model. We will add other cases: for example those in which a document is displayed in a symbolic context, either being quoted, or visually represented in figurative art, by the presence of handwritten documents in iconography or among the accessories of a statue.
This conference is intended to question and advance our understanding of the specificity of writing, as symbol, as pragmatic tool and as social instrument, moving beyond the traditional auxiliary view of writing, which reduces it to a system of encoded linguistic signs.
The conference is structured around three principal axes or themes:
- Narratives about the invention of writing: what do such texts tell us about indigenous “emic” views of writing, and about its links to social power and to the divine world?
- Representations of the act of writing in speech or in images: how exactly do they refer to the act of writing? What the social and symbolic values attached to the act of writing are implied? Why is writing being thus put on display?
- The context and accessorial associations of writing (places in which writing is practiced, the use of space and margins around writing, etc.), and their “performativity”: What role does the written word or the act of writing play in the establishment of knowledge and truth, of a person or group’s identity, or in establishing and affirming social prestige?
These three axes should make it possible to answer, through the study of lexicon, of iconography, of sign forms and paleography, of writing habits, jargon and discourse about writing, a wide range of questions about the power of writing in the societies under study. Among these: How exactly do we refer to the act of writing? What are the social and symbolic values attached to acts of writing? Why should such be placed on display? What role does the written word and the act of writing play in establishing knowledge and truth, of a person or group’s identity, or in establishing and affirming social prestige? What status is accorded to the written sign, in the context of accounting purposes but also in interactions with the divine, sacred and even magical worlds?
Organized in cooperation with Ifao and Sorbonne University’s scientific program entitled “Ecritures: Toward an archeology and an anthropology of ancient Egyptian writing practices”, this conference is also the fruit of the “transversal” project “ “writing as spectacle” conducted in the laboratory “Orient et Méditerranée” UMR 8167 (https://www.orient-mediterranee.com/spip.php?article3965). It has also benefited from financial support provided by the Institut français du Proche Orient (Beirut).
Organisers and contacts:
Chloé Ragazzoli (Sorbonne Université, UMR 8167 Orient et Méditerranée)
Carole Roche-Hawley (UMR 8167 and Institut français du Proche-Orient) : chloe.ragazzoli[at]sorbonne-universite.fr & c.roche-hawley[at]ifporient.org
List of participants
Stéphanie Anthonioz, « Prophetic Performance and Textualization in the Hebrew Bible », UMR 8167, Orient et Méditerranée
Dominique Briquel, “L’Etrurie : un monde sans inscriptions monumentales”, AOROC / ENS
Françoise Briquel-Chatonnet, « Dieu scribe, Dieu enseignant » qui portera sur la mise en scène de Dieu dans la Cause de la Fondation des Ecoles de Bar Hadbeshaba », CNRS, UMR 8167 Orient et Méditerranée
Claire Bustarret, « Photographier l’écrit 1839/1937. Du mur à la page et de la page au mur », Centre Maurice Halbwachs (CNRS-EHESS-ENS)
Nicholas Carter, « Language, Style, and Identity in the Classic Maya Lowlands », Texas State University
Vincent Debiais, « Reliques, reliquaires et authentiques : installations et révélations d’écriture dans l’Occident médiéval », AHLOMA, EHESS
Ahmed El-Shawki, “Human calligraphy, drawing on Islamic Art: An ethno-archaeological study« , Ain Shams University, Egypt
Béatrice Fraenkel, “Performativité des Écritures exposées : les actes d’écriture et leur mise en scènes”, EHESS
Robert Hawley, « Exposing alphabets in monuments before it became prestigious to do so », UMR 8167, Orient et Méditerranée / EPHE-PSL
Christian Jacob, « Polyphonies, symphonies, cacophonies: voix de scripteurs dans les controverses savantes grecques antiques », EHESS
Marc Jahjah, « Spectacles d’écriture et culture numérique : formes industrielles, ordinaires et artistiques », Université de Nantes
Martin Kern, « Sound, Sign, and Symbolic Space in Early China », Princeton University
Baudouin Luzianovich, « Inventer le scribe royal égyptien au Nouvel Empire. Le spectacle de l’écriture dans le discours monumental des scribes royaux à la XVIIIe dynastie (1479-1292 av. J.-C.). », Sorbonne Université / UMR 8167 Orient et Méditerranée
François Pacha-Miran, « L’écrit mis en scène dans l’art du livre syriaque », INHA
Annick Payne, « Show, Write, Act – Anatolian Hieroglyphs in Context », Université de Bern
Olivia Ramble, « Entre texte et image : les sceaux à monogramme sassanides », EPHE-PSL
Chloé Ragazzoli, « Le spectacle d’écriture d’Hézyré dans sa tombe du début du 3e millénaire », Sorbonne Université / UMR 8167 Orient et Méditerranée
Carole Roche-Hawley, « Mise en scène de l’écriture en contexte sacré en Mésopotamie », Ifpo / UMR 8167 Orient et Méditerranée
Filippo Ronconi, « Formes – gestes – significations : l’écriture en scène à Byzance. Exemples et réflexions », EHESS
Ingo Strauch, « Writing, written texts and letters in Indian Buddhism », Université de Lausanne, Faculté des Lettres
Nafisa Valieva, « Symbolic representations of the powers of the written word: Geez manuscripts containing hagiographic texts », Collège de France