Analog Intellectuals

I seem to have lost touch with the digital world lately. Have not encoded in weeks, have not made any inner progress concerning the structure of the corpora, have not moved on one bit in my reflexions concerning the search engine and am not really sure what to do concerning the new looks (check it here: one the one hand I like it a lot, the new background makes me totally happy, on the other hand, it looks like two ideas patched together – which it is – and does not satisfy me). It sounds like I would need to dive into encoding for  a little while, for sure. This is not going to happen though, since I have to finish a book till June 11th. I don’t even want to know how many (how few would be more accurate) days I have to do all that has still to be done.

The book contains the papers from the conference “Les figures de l’intellectuel entre révolution et restauration – France/Allemagne” I organized with Ayse Yuva and Christian Bonnet in Paris in November 2011. You can find the programme here and the conference report here (all in French). We don’t usually have such tight schedules for publication. In fact, it is almost science-fiction to say you want to get the publication ready only six months after the conference, but we have a nice opportunity to do so in optimal conditions (e.g. if everything works well, without having to pay for the print and all). Luckily, most of the authors proved very cooperative. I had to throw all my other planned – e.g. urgent – publication projects off track for a while just to get that book done. The book of the conference on Solger of December 2009, the book of the conference on Voss of July 2010, to name the two hottest irons. Boy, are those two hot, and have they been hot for long already! Of course, we should stop the whole theater of systematically publishing conference papers as books. But the temptation is always so big – the money for the print is there, and it would be so sad not to have something in your hand in the end, something that would be more palpable than the remembrance of how you have been sweating for your own paper, more concrete than the feeling of bliss while hearing the other papers, more constructive than the enjoyment of pleasant scholarly conversations at the conference dinner. What else than a book could provide for that?

It is one thing to participate to one such book with a paper and to be the person who edits it. As much as I am happy that some of my very super-specific topics managed to find a little spot in some of such books, I am sorry  for not having published more in papers these past years. It does not make much difference now, but it is certainly true that the first 3 papers I published were crucial for the rest of my career, because I was lucky enough to have them accepted in major journals. But that was it, because after that, I landed in the vicious circle of always having one conference book after the other. And I am far from being able to take a fresh start, as you see (I suppose the Solger book will only be ready in the winter).

When you are the person who edits it, and it is the second, third, fourth, etc. book you are doing, you really have to ask yourself about the relevance of the thing. Why does it make sense? In fact, I end up thinking that the main interest of doing those books is to write the introduction. This really forces you to bring things together you usually either sprinkle or dilute. The first one (*I realized after having published this post that it was in fact the second already by then, sigh…) of such introductions I did was pretty crappy, but I learned a lot (having re-written it about 4 times from scratch, which took me a year and a half). This is when I realized how much you must know to be able to write that kind of texts. If you really want to read it, it is the introduction to the book “Les formes de la philosophie” – it was 7-8 years ago. About a year ago, I wrote (much faster and with a much more satisfying result), alone again, the introduction to the book “Netzwerke des Wissens”. It really helped that the papers were much more solid than in the first one, I must say. I managed for the first time to give a clear profile to the concept of “intellectuals” I have been working on for 12 years now. It was interesting to see that this concept that I held on to against my PhD advisor, this concept that caused me to defend a thesis in my dissertation he didn’t agree with, this very concept I had feared was only a juvenile strategy to assert myself, turned out to be a scholarly powerful tool I could still work on shaping even ten years after the whole dissertation drama.

It is a pleasure to pursue these reflexions – this time, not in German, but in French – for the new book. Since we write it four-handedly (Ayse Yuva is doing this with me), I am confronted with the blind spots I had been only too happy to ignore for so long. I have to expose clearly what the German research says and what the French research says and why one is so and the other one is so. And what makes it legitimate, so or so, to use the category “intellectual” to describe early nineteenth-century scholars in France and Germany. It gives me doubts, too. Is it really so legitimate to cling on to the concept of intellectual? Is it not as much as staring at one’s own belly button? And  is it not desperately French?

Thankfully, I have the work on the papers – harmonizing the bibliographies, adding the missing dots and comas, checking first names of referenced authors, etc. – that keeps me so busy that I don’t have time to lose myself  in metaphysical considerations on the scholar’s destination.


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