Colloque “Sign and Design”

2012 Symposium
Sign and Design
Script as Image in a Cross-Cultural Perspective (300-1600 CE)
October 12-14, Dumbarton Oaks, Washington, D.C.

Dumbarton Oaks is pleased to announce a symposium, to be held in the Music Room of Dumbarton Oaks in Washington, D.C., on Friday, October 12th, Saturday, October 13th, and Sunday, October 14th, 2012. Please note that the symposium will be two and a half days: sessions will begin at 9 am on Friday, and conclude Sunday afternoon.

In the Middle Ages and beyond, legal, documentary, exegetical, literary and linguistic traditions have organized the relationship between image and letter in diverse ways, whether in terms of equivalency, complementarity or polarity. In this symposium, we wish to explore those situations in which letter and image were fused, forming hybrid signs that had no vocal equivalent and were not necessarily bound to any specific language.  Although imagistic scripts work on the visible, arranging representation, they challenge the legible in terms of linguistic signification. The incorporation of figures, objects, colors, even events, within the letter insists on the material dimension of the sign. As the iconicity of the letter transforms reading into gazing, the script-like character of the image compels consideration of the co-signification of sign forms. In mediating each other into altered formats, the script-image disrupts a-priori models and ideas and thus redefines both text and image in terms of their signifying and representational processes. The disruptive effect of imagistic script inheres in a suspension of meaning that opens the system of representation and signification in which it was produced and circulated.

During the three-day conference, we propose to bring together scholars of Hebrew, Greek, Latin, Arabic and Pre-Columbian cultures from numerous disciplines – art history, history, literature, religion, linguistics, and law – to consider the purpose, operations, agency and specular forms of iconic scripts. What sort of communication did they facilitate? Did they imply reception by the inner eye? In prompting recognition of the aesthetic dimension of texts, did they open governance, law, literature, diplomatics, and theology to sensorial appreciation? Did they enforce a latent principle of non-representability? Does their use imply what might be called an iconomy, a practice of policing images?

The symposium is organized with Brigitte Bedos-Rezak (New York University) and Jeffrey F. Hamburger (Harvard University). Symposium speakers include Elizabeth Hill Boone, Ghislain Brunel, Anne-Marie Christin, Tom Cummins, Vincent Debiais, Ivan Drpić, Antony Eastmond, Beatrice Frankel, Cynthia Hahn, Herbert Kessler, Katrin Kogman-Appel, Didier Méhu, Irvin Cemil Schick and Irene Winter.

Space for this event is limited, and registration will be handled on a first come, first served basis. For further information, including preliminary abstracts, please visit the website ( or contact Francisco López

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