Ceci n’est pas un projet – on scholarship and pouring meteorites

In an earlier post, I gave a summary of what I then intended to talk about in the paper I gave at the conference on Data Modeling in Digital Editions of Letters that I organized with Anna Busch last week. While writing the paper, my thoughts drifted in another direction than what I had announced there and I did not came to any consideration regarding editions typology or the unease generated by the concept of project in the understanding text sciences have of themselves. 

I realized my own unease in that regard when it came to archiving the results of the conference – posters, presentations, reports. The material – especially the 14 posters brought in from all around Germany (I could even write: from around the world) for the poster session – seemed to call for a central hosting that would make it possible to refer to the state of the art as it has been presented on this conference. But where should such an archiving of the presentations be hosted? The conference page will land somewhere in the institute’s website archive limbo soon. This blog does not seem to offer the right format for what will probably end up being a series of  static pages with a picture and an abstract for each poster. So, why not open on our edition itself a category “conferences & presentations” which could include these mini-proceedings and show what has been achieved in and around this digital edition? Many of the editions that presented their work at the conference do so: A.W. Schlegel under the keyword “current achievements”, the connected correspondences under “activities”, the Fontane notebooks under “papers and presentations” (not on the edition page, but on the editorial team’s university page), to name examples well established and recognized in the literary studies. But I don’t think I can agree on doing so. Of course, there is a connection between Letters and Texts and this conference, as there is with a series of papers given on diverse occasions over the past 2 years. One might even be tempted to think that connecting the editorial work to the conceptual evolution that can be retraced through all these papers would do good to the edition, would give it some depth and self-justification. All in all, it would sell the project better. But I don’t want it to be a project. It is not, and shall not be a project. It is a digital edition.

The project – and it is painful enough to have to consider this as a project not to have to add insult to injury by extending this self-understanding to the edition per se – is my junior research group. A project: a stone thrown four years ago and approaching the landing runway, a projectile, really, ripping through the air, having its curve corrected here and there by air or water – sweat and tears -, slowed down sometimes, and sometimes accelerated. This is what research has become: opportunities to go from A to B in 2 to 5 years. There is little room for research in project work, because you have to go from A to B. The only creativity room you have left is in the arrangement of the curve between starting and landing point. How do you gain momentum in a project? If I had to summarize my experience of the four last years, I would say: you gain momentum by being good and fast, by getting better and faster every day. The pressure does not ease off one second. it rather increases all the time. Every achievement is considered to be the promise of a better one and none of them is the guarantee for a stable job.

If project work has to do with any kind of science, I would not say it is scholarship proper, I would say it is the experimental part of science. Trying out, being able to show results, gain feedback, maybe, if you are lucky, work with partners and not against competitors. This should also be what is evaluated at the end of the project time. Have interesting experiments been realized, experiments that opened up new horizons, new questions?

It goes without saying that this is only a part of what can make scholarship move on and that if most of research is reduced to projects, there will be no one left to assess the epistemological value of this fabulous meteorite rain. We need the dinosaurs – and maybe it would not be bad if we were the dinosaurs ourselves and be given time to sit and think on these experiment results for a while, without any regard to being thrown from A to B.


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