on blood writing

Image-One2Hunter Dukes at 3:AM Magazine:

Perhaps the strangest object to surface after the 2003 US invasion of Iraq is known only as the Blood Quran. When I first heard its name, I pictured Dead Sea scrolls of carmine papyrus, quartered away in some limestone crypt. But while the words are ancient, the edition is new. Commissioned by the late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein on his 60th birthday, the book was printed in the blood of its patron. Over the course of two years (and twenty-something litres) master penman Abbas Shakir Joudi al-Baghdadi calligraphed 605 pages of sanguine verse. Now, kept under lock and key in a Baghdad mosque, the book presents a double bind. It has been ruled haram (forbidden) to copy the Quran in bodily fluids; it is also frowned upon to destroy a working copy of the sacred text. This exegetical uncertainty, the language’s messy entanglement with the actual life force of a former despot, and the surprisingly aesthetic quality of the object make it difficult to determine what should be done with the book of blood.

Knowingly or not, Hussein was acting in lineage with a number of religious precursors, real and imagined. The British Library holds a tenth-century copy of the Diamond Sutra, written in the blood of an ascetic octogenarian who pricked a finger when his nib ran dry. The Codex Gigas (or ‘Devil’s Bible’) might be the largest surviving medieval manuscript, but its red ink is rumored to have flowed through human veins before being set upon the page. H.P. Lovecraft’s Necronomicon, a fictitious grimoire that appears across his writing, was revised by horror director Sam Raimi into a work of anthropodermic bibliopegy—bound in skin, written in blood.

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