On text genesis, hot water and historical depth

While preparing my presentation for next Wednesday (which I announced under the emphatic title “The digital methods facing the challenge of text genesis”), I had to realize once more how difficult it is to think about text genesis in German the same way that I do in French or even in English. Even to me, it seems weird that the language in which I think seem to modify the questions themselves as well as their relevance. When I read definitions and analyzes written by the grey-haired popes of the discipline (as I did this morning), it all seems simple. This tradition and that tradition, textual criticism, philology, bibliography. They have been through it in the 70s already, it has all cooled down since. As for me, I was born in the 70s and I still find the water quite hot. Still, how can I pretend to any depth when I have no history?

I don’t want to argue about text genesis or its limits per se. My focus is on what to do with text genesis in a digital context. I am interested in what we should do with the illusion that the digital context seems to be particularly appropriate to render text genesis, while we, in fact, still use a computer like a book and have, so far, not really developed a sense for non-linear reading. On Wednesday, I will tell about encoding and visualizing genetical phenomena (deletions, additions, comments in letters regarding the writing process). I will argue that something like intertextuality can be much more efficiently shown with digital methods than it has been with analog ones.

But the real question behind that is: how do we teach readers and editors to address text differently than they did with a book? How can we help our children conceive text in terms of design too, and get past the mental barriers that we cannot, ourselves, pass? What should be the skills of tomorrow’s text scholars? And are we doomed to deny them depth because they will seemingly have no history?


Anne Baillot

I am a Professor of German Studies at Le Mans Université. My areas of research include German literature, Digital Humanities, textual scholarship and intellectual history.

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