Like a blind dog

Almost all the team has spread around. Anna, Sabine and Alex are in Hamburg, where they presented our edition this morning; Johanna and Janin are doing an internship at the German Historical Institute in Paris. Maike has been copying and scanning for 2 days now. I have been cleaning my real desk as well as my virtual desktop while checking on the #dh2012 tweets all day. A book for which I wrote a paper when I was pregnant (one might as well say ages ago) was finally published. Where is it that I am standing exactly?

I know what I would do if I could do just what I want. I would increase my corpora (starting by incorporating the Boeckh data), work on a more solid data architecture, develop a serious German-French interface, think about network visualizations. For one.  And for the other: I would write, seriously, this book that is waiting to be written by me, still existing only in some kind of mental limbo.

Always having hot irons setting your priorities, you end up never doing the things that are not due tomorrow. The list of the things long due but never so urgent that they would come on top of the to-do-list has come to build such a  huge stack that it is impossible for me to go on closing my eyes on it like I have done for years. I have kept on adding to it – and it is what I would do if I started working on the edition and on my book, like a blind dog sniffing a yummy reward at the end of the tunnel.

I admit that it is part of the academic game to be able to live with an invisible burden of due and overdue papers, books and contributions of all sorts, just as it is part of the game to manage to keep it just the tolerable weight. I dream of finishing one thing before starting 3 others, have been dreaming so since I got my PhD (still not published: big burden number one). Would I feel the urge to start so many new projects if I had a permanent position, if I knew I would still be able to do this or that project in 5 years for sure? Maybe, maybe not. I have not given a talk in six months, won’t give classes in the next semester, have been trying to concentrate on what is running already. But the pleasure of seeing my work gain consistency has always been stronger than the urge to get closure on the various long due volumes, papers, etc.

One week ago, I realized that my mid-project report is due on the fall. When summing up for myself what we will have reached during the past 2,5 years, I thought now would be the time to take 6 months to finish the old projects before starting with the new ones. Because we already have achieved a lot, more in fact  than I thought we would have by mid-project. Of course, I will write the necessary applications that will make sure that things go on in six months. But I will have to take all the steps back, like an intellectual psychoanalysis of some sort, from the things due a year ago, to those due 2 years ago, and so forth. Hopefully I will reach the bottom of my working soul before the year is over.  That would be my dissertation. Thinking of it makes me shudder and want to quote Schiller just as Freud did: Es freue sich, wer da atmet im rosigen Licht! Probably true for the blind dog, too.


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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