This seminar deals with the meaning and forms of signatures, marginalia, gift inscriptions, and other marks of ownership, especially as they illuminate the emotional and intellectual relations to artifacts. We will examine books as parents, children, friends, mentors, loved ones, prompt texts for performance, witnesses, cultural capital, and sources of authority and authorization. The latter case is part of the work of commonplace books, though transcribed or edited extracts serve multiple personal ends. Working with specific artifacts, the class will engage the charged vocabulary of things, commodities, possessions, and belongings and will ask the question in what way is a book "owned." One point of departure is the assumption that any collection of books is an autobiography written with objects rather than words and focuses on collecting as both preservation and the conferral of new meanings onto texts. All of these concerns turn on the history of reading and the complexities of readerly identification with its edification, dangers, and pleasures. Drawing heavily on the interest of class members, the pay-off of the class will be the multiplication of the kinds of questions one can ask of books in their incarnational mixture of materiality and meaning.
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