“I see something that you don’t see…”

It is under this title that I have announced my paper to be given at the workshop “Data modeling in digital letter edition and its interpretative potential“. So begins the sentence of a children’s game (of some use to make time pass by faster in case of weary travels or long walks in the forest), and it proceeds with the indication of a color: “… and it is blue” (or red or grey, etc.). The principle is that the others, being indicated the color only, have to guess which object in the surroundings the one who poses the riddle is thinking of. Usually, you get to the answer quicker by pink than by green (in a forest for instance, although things might turn the other way around at a 5 year-old-girl-birthday’s).

This title is a cute disguise for a question that has been keeping editors busy for a long time. Where can an editor draw the line between objectivity and subjectivity, between fact and interpretation, between “Befund” and “Deutung”? My argument (which is also the argument of a series of reputable textologists) explains the choice of the title: you cannot draw such a line without first considering from which angle you approach it. Something that you did not notice, a dot, an erasure, a scratch, is of crucial importance to another editor based not on your premises, but on his/hers.

It does not only matter to be able to see a dot one had not seen before. It also matters to settle on the significance of the dot. The communication among editors can only work if there is some kind of general agreement on basic phenomena and on the ways to go deeper into some aspects of the text. German edition sciences have developed standards, schools, structures, so that this basic agreement has long taken a referable shape.

Things are different in the world of TEI & co. What exactly is, for instance, a critical digital edition? How deep do you have to go in the encoding of the variants to deserve being called a “critical edition” in the digital world? Why are so many editorial endeavors hiding behind the name “project”, which only states the o so precarious funding that determines the scholarly terms in which the edition is conceived?

I will explore these questions with specific regard to letter editions, which bring with them different layers of information. Some are facts (“I have read Rousseau”), some are communicational (“I miss you so much”), some are at the border of both (as do show the numerous hidden references to the Nouvelle Heloise in the letter writing practice of the early 19th century). Quotations might be hidden, as in free mason letters, in order to signalize the right “code” and be recognized. Beyond the choice to render corrections on the level of a word or on the level of a letter (an expensive option considering the numerous occasions where it is almost impossible to really see if one or two letters are being stroked through), the choice to include all these hidden references is part of the editorial (and decidedly interpretational) work in letter editions. Where are the lines to be drawn there? I hope to have at least some possible answers to feed the discussion in two weeks!

Anne Baillot

I studied German Studies and Philosophy in Paris where I got my PhD in 2002. I then moved to Berlin, where I have been living & doing research ever since. My areas of specialty include German literature, Digital Humanities, textual scholarship and intellectual history. I am currently working at the Centre Marc Bloch in Berlin as an expert in digital technologies for the humanities.

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