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Workshop | Libraries in Exile: 'Old Books, New Homes'

Dec 07, 2023 - Dec 08, 2023

Organised by Michail Leivadiotis and Nicholas Longinotti, Research Area 1: "Competing Communities".

The workshop aims to investigate how geographical displacement of libraries or collections of books shape collective identities and function as community-building mechanism. We see the (forced) mobility of libraries in a context of migration, diaspora and exile as a highly performative gesture of identity negotiation, as a claim of continuity through narratives and allusive materialities.

Under the pressure of politics and violence, collections of books, like humans, cross borders, settle anew and speak new languages. In these circumstances, communities resort to a highly symbolic reduction of texts and books into a cohesive link. Books in search of refuge become a narratological key to tell stories about displaced identities. Libraries reflect a deeper historical construction, a craving after a lost past and a longing for an imagined future of linguistic and cultural communities: the meandering of Petrarca's library; Byzantine libraries seeking refuge in the West; the dispersion of Bibliotheca Corviniana; the confiscation of Bibliotheca Palatina; Feuchtwanger Memorial Library, the Warburg Library and Franz Rosenzweig's private library; the Timbuktu Manuscripts and the Gest Collection; wars, political oppression, linguistic or ethnic minorities crossing borders and carrying books.

Edmund De Waal's exhibition "library of exile" in Venice Biennale 2019, addressed the topics of exile and migration by introducing the subjectification of the materiality of books as a narratological key to tell stories about displaced identities. We wish to discuss the deeper connection between textual (im)materialities, displacement and identity. Discussing "exile" as both historical and metaphorical context for dispersion and re-formation of cultural communities, the workshop aims to investigate (between macro- and micro-history) patterns of ownership, networks, communication, symbolic capital and competition. We investigate semantic evolution or transformation of libraries on the move, new meanings and/or different narratives emerged through geographical, epochal or conceptual displacement of books.

We aspire to address topics of mobility, cultural extractivism, currency, value, re-appropriation and re-signification of narratives of books and about books as transcultural and transtemporal space of identification. We aim to discuss in a global perspective the dynamics of power, types of competition, temporal entanglements as well as the materiality, mediality and performativity of exiled libraries.