The Day After January 7th

We all woke up with a headache on January 8th, I guess. Even my kids. They had called me in the middle of the night, saying they felt cold, way too cold.  Their first question in the morning: “Were they caught?”. At that point, it is clear that all my professional worries are not much more than your typical first-world, really-not-that-important problem. So what does matter? Probably trying to live according to my principles, even if it means to rely on a husband with a stable position, which then again does not accord to my principles, oh boy, this is just too complicated with so little sleep to rely on.

Anyway, when I finally managed to get ready to go to work, it was only to discover that a shooting was happening practically under my sister’s windows in the south of Paris.1 What kind of a world are we living in? I hopped on my subway to work. We live in a world in which we go to work, obviously.

My group and me were meeting today to discuss progress in the different research projects. Tomorrow, we have an editorial meeting, so you can count on a new blog post explaining all the improvements we will finalize then.

But today, we (or at least I) had the pleasure to hear the whole width of fields our project has been exploring over the past years. The morning was dedicated to Boeckh and history of science. In her paper, Julia Doborosky showed how you can give depth to a dissertation theme that, at first sight, may seem flat and dry. She is working on the reconstruction of August Boeckh’s book collection and has presented how she put the titles listed by Boeckh in connection to his activities as a reviewer, as a translator, as an editor. Suddenly, the book list turned into a dynamical and complex network of authors, ideas, works, dedications and controversies. In the second paper, Sabine Seifert presented the chapter she has been writing lately that deals with the exercises which Boeckh had students do at his seminars. Some of these exercises were oral, others written. Sabine’s argument was to show how Boeckh gave his best students the freedom to choose the topic they wanted to work on. Since I was only half convinced by her argumentation, we had an interesting group discussion about what freedom of research really is about – to what extent does one have to name environmental factors in the choice of a research topic? Can intellectual freedom evolve independently from institutional freedom?

I am not sure whether we can learn from the past, but if certainly offers an interesting reflection of our daily struggles…

In the afternoon, we returned to our literary roots. Carolin Hahn presented her dissertation project on German intellectual networks in Rome at the beginning of the 19th century as they are depicted in travel accounts. By comparing a comparatively large amount of texts dealing with a similar constellation (Germans travelling to Rome in the wake not solely of the Grand Tour, but of Goethe and Humboldt) she aims at extracting patterns in the social schemata presented as well as in the narratives themselves, and see how they evolved over time during the first half of the 19th century. Right now, she is still struggling with OCR and putting her corpus together, but I really hope that she will be able to rely on a good basis very soon in order to renew research on what is probably one of the topics in German literary history that could most use a good refreshment.

Finally, Anna Busch presented the editorial work she and Johanna Preusse have been doing these past years on a handwritten copy of Adelbert von Chamisso’s Schlemihl (which I have been longing to see published in our edition for what feels like ages and am very happy to see reach its final stage). What seemed at first sight a clean copy turned out to count no less than 8 different hands. Anna’s work consists in identifying them and defining the nature of the relationship between this manuscript copy, another copy by Chamisso’s hand and the first print. At this stage, there seems to be a missing link between the manuscripts and the first print. I encouraged Anna to publish her very detailed analysis of this work on text establishment as a paper in its own right. In my eyes, this kind of meticulous reconstitution of the clues put in balance with one another are not only of interest for the Chamisso research. They are also a masterly example of what editorial science can do and of how encoding hands and certainty degrees makes it a more reliable science – also one that is able to correct and improve itself along time, when additional proofs are coming to light. In that sense, I am hoping for a release of the edition in a very short time.

If you ask me, there is nothing I enjoy more than learning, discovering, arguing, defending a position, hearing the counter-arguments, listen to what texts tell us.

So we are January 8th, my kids are asleep for their second night without Charlie Hebdo as we knew it, and I think: maybe science really makes the world more luminous after all.

  1. And as I write this, a car has just exploded, also in a southern suburb close to Paris. []

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