"Let books be your dining table, / And you shall be full of delights. / Let them be your
And you shall sleep restful nights" (St. Ephraim the Syrian).

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Beware the Idols

The appalling news that a French political-satirical magazine has been bombed because it featured Mohammad on its cover reminds us again of the puerile reaction that erupted in the 2006 Danish cartoon absurdity. It has not always been thus, and is not consistently thus today, but incidents like these two make it clear that Islam--even more than Judaism and Christianity--remains deeply disturbed by the prospect or even the perception of "idolatry." As a result, Islam remains much more deeply committed to iconoclasm (often quite literally) than its two monotheistic predecessors.

Along comes a new book to examine this phenomenon, bearing the apt title Idol Anxiety. Edited by Josh Ellenbogen and Aaron Tugendhaft, this new publication comes from Stamford University Press (2011, 256pp.), which tells us that:
This interdisciplinary collection of essays addresses idolatry, a contested issue that has given rise to both religious accusations and heated scholarly disputes. Idol Anxiety brings together insightful new statements from scholars in religious studies, art history, philosophy, and musicology to show that idolatry is a concept that can be helpful in articulating the ways in which human beings interact with and conceive of the things around them. It includes both case studies that provide examples of how the concept of idolatry can be used to study material objects and more theoretical interventions. Among the book's highlights are a foundational treatment of the second commandment by Jan Assmann; an essay by W.J.T. Mitchell on Nicolas Poussin that will be a model for future discussions of art objects; a groundbreaking consideration of the Islamic ban on images by Mika Natif; and a lucid description by Jean-Luc Marion of his cutting-edge phenomenology of the visible.

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