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More than Words on a Page: Letters as Substitutes for an Absent Writer

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Chapter Summary

This chapter explores the significance of letter writing in the Geniza society. The author's analysis of the notion that a letter stands in place of its author provides additional evidence for conventions and thematic. The author argues that inherent in that notion are ambivalent attitudes toward the written text that situate the Geniza letters within their near eastern environment. On one hand, the motif reveals the persistence of an ideal in which face-to-face communication takes precedence over communication through the mediation of writing. At the same time, it suggests a somewhat opposing fascination with the written text, an attitude that may in turn have implications for our appreciation of the Geniza's origins. Both attitudes have been identified with the process of textualization in the Near East, and in registering them Geniza letters would thus appear to be mirroring reactions to the growing reliance on written authority in the Islamic world.

Keywords: face-to-face communication; Geniza letters; Geniza society; Islam



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