Finding the way to the archive

Preparing my stay at the Literature Archive in Marbach, spending the week there working off mountains of information and then, when I came back. taking care of all that had remained pending didn’t stay clean of collateral damages. I haven’t blogged in a month: it is a shame, really. To make things worse, this infidelity to my blog happens precisely when I am trying to get more active within the editorial board of hypotheses and when I am organizing my first hypotheses workshop. I am not sure about the credibility I will bring to the workshop. “Hello, youngsters, let me give you the right recipe: blogging 6 times a month is a good average”. And then I will proceed explaining it is totally doable. Or so I intended to say a month or so ago – I might consider revising that part of my introduction…

I have missed blogging. Continue reading “Finding the way to the archive”

The father’s hand (3)

In part one of this series, I described how Immanuel Hermann Fichte was falsely accused of having presented a philosophical essay of his dead father Johann Gottlieb Fichte, wanting to make it pass for his own. The accusation was based on a denial of intellectual genealogy that had its roots in a commonly admitted rule according which sons of scholars should not operate in the same disciplinary field as their fathers, and certainly not publish together with them. In order to take Immanuel Hermann Fichte’s defense, August Boeckh opposed to it the bad reputation of Johann Heinrich Voß, whose cooperation with his son I presented in the second part of this series. When he tried to abide by another intellectual father figure, young Voß was finally rejected by him and turned back to his father. The symbiotic relationship they then developed made him almost blind for their bad reputation and unable to connect to his old university friends: he lived his short life apart from all generation, being old before having really been young.

These two cases are rather well documented, contrarily to the third example of a child-father collaboration that I would like to explore now. Continue reading “The father’s hand (3)”

The father’s hand (2)

In part one, I described the way the mineralogist Weiß constructed the fiction of a collaboration between Immanuel Hermann Fichte and his father over the latter’s dead body. One of the persons who protected Immanuel Hermann Fichte most vigorously against the accusation of plagiarism was his former teacher August Boeckh. In order to foil Weiß’ assumption that Immanuel Hermann Fichte’s not explicitely quoting his father was a sure sign that the text had been written by the father himself, Boeckh wrote in his note:

“It is very natural for the son to want to avoid giving the impression that he is resuming his father’s philosophy, Continue reading “The father’s hand (2)”

The father’s hand (1)

Our conference “letter around 1800 – on the mediality of generation” was a step towards the modelization of interpersonal relationships within correspondence corpora in German in the early 19th century. It allowed me to experiment with categories like intellectual genealogies and the way they are reflected in the manuscripts of the letters themselves. My contribution dealt with a singular collaboration situation, the one between father and child. It was based on three case studies that showed mainly:

  • that it was considered as a sign of moral weakness for a son to walk in his father’s footsteps;
  • that the “sons of” sometimes turned to “second fathers” – with variable success;
  • that what was the rule for the sons was the exception for the daughters: they had to stick to their father and to evolve as their very shadow. Continue reading “The father’s hand (1)”

The grandfather’s hand

I had intended to blog an English summary of the paper I gave on Thursday, but I will postpone the father’s hand (title of my paper) to go to the grandfather’s hand first.

In her keynote at our conference of last week, Ulrike Vedder introduced the idea that all writing is testamentary and that reading is a way of communicating with the dead, especially when it comes to manuscripts of deceased persons. How come (was one question) that touching the manuscript of a dead person causes respect, emotion, creates a connection, instead of generating disgust for dead matter? When you hold the old manuscript of a letter in your hands, the mechanisms of addressing make you feel like it was written for you. You revel in the idea that you are, beneath the actual addressee, the first one to lay eyes on a somehow virgin text – virgin of other eyes to read it and hand to touch it. Of what nature are these feelings? You can probably argue that there is something aesthetical about them. But in the end it has to do with possessing something unique and identifying with it. The manuscript and the first reader (whom the editor always is in some sense) make one. This why editing is always a fight for Deutungshoheit, why all manuscripts are not equal and why editions develop a textual canon that does not only answer to research questions, but reflect the archives’ and the families’ fears and prides.

It is obvious that there never will be enough competent manpower to edit well all the texts that would deserve it (for whatever scholarly reasons): in my eyes, the only possible consequence to draw from this situation is a coordinated and competent work that optimizes the process of making most of these texts available on the basis of a minimal, extensible scholarly standard. Every well edited text is a victory for everyone, because everyone can work with it. But this point of view is based on the assumption that everyone shares it, which is by far not the case. Last week, an archive denied us edition rights on a manuscript on the grounds that the manuscript is too good for us to be the prime editors. The edition should be done by the institution that hosts the manuscript itself.

It is a complicated situation, not solely reducible to the economical survival and the prestige of the institution feeling threatened to be robbed of one of its treasures. It is a general problem of smaller (private) institutions and their relationship with scholarly projects. Certainly, the fact that this is “just a junior research group” intending to do the edition played a role, too. But there is another interesting point. The person in my group who intended to do this edition is a descendant of one of the manuscript’s authors. What is at stake is also who is the real heir of a work of art based on a letter exchange. The archive denying any relevance to this aspect of our request is another way of enlightening how archival preservation was constituted along time and understands its mission in the 21st century. Once a manuscript has passed on to an archive, family members are no more no less users of the archive, like anyone else. The inheritor function has passed on to the archive.

I will never emphasize enough how exceptional and exemplary the cooperation between all concerned institutions and partners is in the case of Boeckh (heirs, university archive, state archive). Of course, it is the result of years of hard work, of assessing all partners’ interests. But the hard work – worked. In the small film on our Boeckh project, the interviews go from Angela Boeckh telling about the portrait in the entrance hall of her parent’s home, the passing of the books from one generation to the next and the discovery of the hugeness of the name in high school, then to Jutta Weber describing the papers as left by August Boeckh to the state (then royal) library and end with a statement by Philipp van der Eijk on the significance of Boeckh for the history of Classics. The heirs authorized the university library to scan all scholarly relevant material they had left, but retrieved them afterwards. Now we are struggling to find a stable way to archive all these scans which no library wants to host because it does not correspond to a physical object they possess (an interesting archiving question which I hope to solve rapidly and satisfyingly)

In this case, the materiality, the grandfather’s hand, goes back to the family. We, the scholars, had the manuscripts and the books in our hands and we have made sure that, were they to get lost or destroyed, their scholarly content would still be available. Also, we could consult them again for any research purpose requiring the original. But the emotionality of the contact with the manuscript is taken away from us by the (grand-grand-)grand-children: they are the ones who keep the manuscripts, who can touch them, those who know the papers were destined to them for real, those to whom they are precious to for a reason legitimated by blood and the construction of a family history. And were the papers to burn, they would have been kept in the hands of the family – it would be their natural death as manuscripts.

Scholarly and editorial work on manuscripts is awakening the dead: and not everyone wants the dead to be awaken.