WORKING GROUP 6 Destruction of Writings

Ansprechpartnerin: Carina Kühne

Chiselling, tearing apart, burning, eating, burying, dissolving, wiping off, melting … - the destruction of writings can assume various shapes and it can fulfil just as many functions. From Ancient Egypt to Mesopotamia and the Roman Empire, from the Islamic culture to the old and the more recent history of Europe and all the way to China, inscribed artefacts have been subject to intentional destruction throughout the ages and in every culture. A legal document is cancelled, so that or because it is not valid anymore; a name in an inscription is chiselled out in order to destroy the memory of the person bearing the name; a bread in the form of the hieroglyph for ‘office’ is eaten in a ritual, for the purpose of conferring the office of the king; an old papyrus is cut, so as to reuse the material in the production of coffins. This widespread phenomenon is addressed in the research conducted by the working group “Destruction of Writings”. The study focuses on the inscribed artefacts themselves, on (meta-) texts about the destruction of writings as well as on the manipulation of the objects and the moment of the destruction. Regarding the function of the destruction, the working group concentrates on the question, in which cases the destruction of writings is meant as an assault on the artefact as a symbol of something or someone, and in which cases the destruction of writings represents a neutral and concerted action, aiming for example for the ‘activation’ or ‘release’ of the text.

The objective of the working group is to discuss the phenomenon “Destruction of Writings” within the framework of cultural comparison and if possible, to lead the research in the direction of an “anthropology of writings” of sorts. The activities will be guided by the question, why actors belonging to a specific cultural context deal with writings in a certain way, what this can tell us about their relation to writings and inscribed artefacts, and if there are intrinsic or comprehensive characteristics from one culture to another.