Looking at Words

The Iconicity of the Page


  • S. Brent Plate Hamilton College




Sacred texts, typography, book history, word and image


Regardless of their semantic meaning, words exist in and through their material, mediated forms. By extension, sacred texts themselves are material forms and engaged in two primary ways: through the ears and eyes. This article focuses on the visible forms of words that can stir emotional and even sacred responses in the eyes of their beholders. Thus words can be said to function iconically, affecting a mutually engaging form of "religious seeing." The way words appear to their readers will change the reader's interaction, devotion, and interpretation. Examples range from modern popular typography to European Christian print culture to Islamic calligraphy. Weaving through the argument are two key dialectics: the relation of words and images, and the relation of the seen and the unseen.


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How to Cite

Plate, S. B. (2012). Looking at Words: The Iconicity of the Page. Postscripts: The Journal of Sacred Texts, Cultural Histories, and Contemporary Contexts, 6(1-3), 67–82. https://doi.org/10.1558/post.v6i1-3.67