Awakening

Of course, it is not completely over yet. Neither the book nor my father’s coma. But somehow, sending in the final manuscript on the very day my father shows signs of consciousness again  is too brilliant a day to let it pass unmentioned.

“The book”, as I spoke of it and wrote about it these past weeks, contains the papers of the conference I organized in Paris last November on “Les figures de l’intellectuel” in my favorite setting (France and Germany at the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th century). It was an interdisciplinary conference, beginning by its organization: I was not alone in charge, but together with a bunch of Philosophers. Ayse Yuva, whom I have been preparing “the book” with, is a post-doc at the Centre Marc Bloch in Berlin and we held the conference in Paris-I, where she has done her PhD, together with the professors she had been working with back then. There were few Historians (for a change), and the discussion actually took a fairly different turn than what I am used to. I usually resent working with Historians because they make me feel like I know nothing, especially concerning micro-facts and macro-interpretations. This Philosophers’ conference  felt like a joint effort to scrutinize whether the concept of “intellectual” can actually help understand (and help interpret better) the structural changes in the relationships between scholars and politics – say in the wake of French Revolution. Whether it does so and how and to what extent and regarding what aspects of scholarship and what aspects of politics…

I will not write about the excruciating work on the book’s manuscript, about deleting and adding blanks, about wondering where to put capital letters and where not to (beauty of French spelling – having to ask oneself at least once per paragraph: should I write révolution, meaning the concept of revolution in general, or should I write Révolution, meaning the French one – and mostly, how can I merge into some kind  of general harmony texts that are literally spreading capital letters around and texts that contain almost none, depending on the author’s religion on the subject of capital letters…), about conversions between word and open office leading to having to re-do the whole layouting (if you can call that layout). As you can imagine, I could go on all night on that topic. Let’s say that I sent in a microsoft word manuscript and hope the publisher knows how to scrub and clean it properly, because I can’t.

But let’s talk about the introduction. I have been working with other Philosophers in the past and have always found it difficult to add my literary standards to their philosophical standards. I am probably quite intransigent on the subject of the readability of the texts I sign (although my optimistic self tells me that I am totally cool), and my idea of readability is not necessarily compatible with the requirements of philosophical argumentation. Or at least, making them compatible is a rough process. Plus, this introduction’s task was uneasy in more than just that respect. It had to defend the use of the concept of “intellectual” in the French context, which required to take a historical turn to begin with. It had to explain, too, what sense it makes to consider as one period the time between 1780 and 1848, which also requires historical argumentation. It had to justify the choice of looking at Germany and France without primarily working on the transfers between both countries, and leaving out England for instance, without which the German as well as the French intellectual situation at that period cannot be fully understood. Clearly, there were many things that had to be left aside, and it not easy to find a plausible theory for 60 years of literary history within 10 pages. In fact, this introduction is a little bit too long and still manages to repeat itself in its attempt of looking at all aspects of every important thing. It would have taken months to reach a better text economy in the format of an introduction, so I think we can leave it at that and still be satisfied.

What I find the book and its introduction succeed at is showing how exemplarity can help work out structural elements that do not necessarily need a huge historical apparatus. Of course, we did not play all possible scenarios of intellectual activity in France and Germany between 1780 and 1848. But we managed to show how some major events (the French Revolution, but not only), personalities (Rousseau, Kant, Fichte, but not only), institutions (Universities, Institutes, Academies, but not only) and strategies of communication (books, teaching,… you know what I mean) give a structure, an imprint, not only on the individual level, but on the level of a more general intellectual consciousness.

The interesting point now is how to implement this method (or method in spe) in the tagging of our digital edition. Since I have been out of the digital world for a while, I am really looking froward to trying and put together those analog and digital intellectuals. You’ll hear from me!


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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