Texts without a genre, automatized translations and a diplomat called Varnhagen von Ense

There are novelties all over the place in our digital edition and I had no idea about it! Yes, I have finally reached the blessed state in which I can’t seem to keep up with the rhythm of new features or texts implemented online. Sabine gets hold of me once in a week or so and sums up all the 15 e-mails that have been exchanged in the mean time, everyone politely still putting me in CC although I have long ceased to be the one to provide for answers. She then sums up the progress and asks for my blessing regarding the 2-3 things only the boss can finalize. Solomon-like, I choose and decide, feeling very much empowered and hoping to be back at the right level some day – the level that would allow me to get the point, really.

So, what have we got today? A nice feature that allows some metadata entries made in German to be automatically translated into English and French for the corresponding interfaces, the possibility to attribute several genres to one single text without having it appear as many times as you have attributed genres to it, and new texts, even some from Krakow (I mentioned the Krakow situation in this blog post).

The manuscripts coming from Krakow are part of the Varnhagen Collection and they appear in two corpora which one could have supposed would not overlap or interface at all in our edition: Helmina von Chézy and August Boeckh.

The first new text we have online is an unpublished fictional text by Helmina von Chézy adressed to Bettina von Arnim, with the title “This book belongs to Bettina”, an unveiled allusion to Bettina von Arnim’s “This book belongs to the King”. Helmina von Chézy’s text has an intricate history, so we publish two versions of it, which are aimed at being collationated at some point in a future that I hope will be close enough: this one and that one. As editor Selma Jahnke notes in her introductory statement, this text shows the deployment of a series of literary strategies aiming at constituting a kind of alliance of women writers in mid-19th century Prussia. Both Helmina von Chézy and Bettina von Arnim were  strongly engaged in social fights, which adds a socio-political dimension to the purely literary aspects. Helmina von Chézy never reached the fame of Bettina von Arnim, although she managed to live from her books and journal productions. She certainly saw herself as a literary persona in 19th century Germany, and conserved her papers accordingly, with a rare meticulousness for a woman of that time. When Varnhagen, who had started collecting papers from intellectuals of the Prussian scenery, inherited her archive, he picked the best pieces and burned the rest. Among these pieces, there was the text addressed to Bettina von Arnim – addressed even as a letter, that turned out never to have reached its addressee in its time, as said addressee mentioned while finding the text lying on a table at Varnhagen’s years later. Intricate transmission, a concurrence situation possibly even harsher than among men, men who intervene and want to be the ones who tell the real story of the text – when reading texts of women writers of the first half of the nineteenth century, the history of the text matters just as much as its literary texture per se.

So really it is not a wonder that it is the women’s texts that seem conceived only to blow up our textual categories (“genres“). Because it is one of the originality of our edition to offer different genres of text under the same roof, it seemed one of the first necessities, when we reconfigured the possible doors leading to the corpora, that we put some order in those different type of texts. “Letters” seemed the less problematical of all, and turns out to be the heart of the problem. Helmina von Chézy, just as Adelheid Reinbold in her “Letter addressed to Ludwig Tieck“, uses some formal aspects of correspondence rhetoric to give her text a certain shape, and, more importantly, an addressee that justifies its existence against all odds.

Frontseite von Adelheid Reinbolds "Literaturbrief" an Ludwig Tieck
Frontseite von Adelheid Reinbolds “Literaturbrief” an Ludwig Tieck
Weiterverwendungsrechte bei der Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin-PK

These texts are no “real” letters in the sense in which actual letters were sometimes re-used, re-written for a later publication. No, they are their own publication end, and they are called letters because they take advantage of the comfort of using a genre that was considered “feminine”. In the case of Adelheid Reinbold, choosing the genre “letter” also has to do with hiding behind a protector, in this case the writer Ludwig Tieck, by then at the climax of his glory. Also, these pseudo-letters live in and of the myth of the one singular addressee good enough to replace the whole public, this topos of a pseudo denial of success and wider recognition that Rousseau had already pushed to its more extreme limits (this is probably the most interesting part of my argument in my paper on “Communication” in the Rousseau Encyclopedia that was published this summer).

The composition of fictional letters is certainly a particularly delicate exercise, since they need to inforce the gullibility of both their main quality as letters – namely, authenticity – and their fictional character.

A problem which our second set of texts from Krakow does not present with. Back to the males, things are amazingly simple. August Boeckh writes to Varnhagen in 1830. They exchange books and book reviews before publication, and Boeckh recommends to suppress some delicate passages of the review. Sometimes, literary life can be so easy to bring to a point: intellectuals exchange books and opinions on books, and with that, they get material to write new books. What I originally thought would be the ultimate refinement of our digital edition, the combination of genesis and reception phenomena, of books as material goods and intellectual inspiration, turns out to be its most obvious feature. Go figure…

Add New

Seldom (maybe never) has it felt such a relief to open hypotheses.org as it is tonight. Weeks of forced blogging abstinence, rushing ahead without looking left and right, with the edition seemingly stuck in its rachitic state. But victory, victory at last! We are moving on! What a relief –

I have been obsessed by the single aim to get more text online for months and trying to move mountains to reach that goal – with little success at first. It seems that the fruits of those efforts will finally be harvestable in the days ahead:

– the transcriptions of all letters from Tieck to Raumer already online have been reviewed by Henrike Both; Johanna is now feeding them in the XML files, adding missing xml:ids and enriching the comments (the following letters awaiting her then – she is so good at reading and commenting Tieck and in encoding in general that I think, with the two of us, we will wrap up the corpus before the end of the year) – link to the corpus here!

– Sabine has been actively encoding Boeckh’s reports on the philological seminar and we received yesterday the authorization to publish (online and in print) the scans of the original documents from the University Archive – a first ever. The link to the corpus is here (the scans should be online on Monday)! The director of the Historical Collections of the Grimm-Zentrum is to be thanked greatly for scanning the documents and making this publication possible.

– Julia has almost reached entry 2 000 of Boeckh’s book catalogue (which counts a little less than  6 000 on the whole). This is still not online since the visualization involves a direct link to the work index which requires some tuning, but Alex and I settled on a reasonable solution this morning, and it should be online before the end of the month. I will certainly let you know about it!

– Sophia is almost done preparing the Voß-Solger letters (a print version) and especially the commentary. As soon as this is done (only a few more days), she will get back to unifying some 15 Chamisso letters that are on our internal platform, waiting to be polished. Those should be published in the course of summer.

– Selma has encoded her reference text by Helmina von Chézy (an open letter / fictional text addressed to Bettina von Arnim). This should be online in a month or so.

– Alex and I agreed today on activating the pdf button of the edition by Mid-September. The pdf conversions already works pretty well for letters as it is, but need some re-working to be reasonably clean when applied to the other types of manuscripts we have. Roxane, being the only drama (and the only manuscript with comparatively short lines), always requires specific attention. And will get it for the pdf function as well.

Which means that we will be able to work on the collation from the fall on (sooo looking forward to developing something new!!!), with 2 out of the 3 due volumes in print (one is Voss, in German, and the other one is the “figures of the intellectual”, in French – I had rather not think about who is going to take care of the Solger volume right now, but I see it coming that I will have to pay someone to do the copy editing and translating in order to preserve the time I want to dedicate mainly to writing, e.g. August-October and December-February).

You can count on me to tell you more on the workshop DH Kompetenzzentren and on the Manifesto for young researchers in DH soon, since I spent most of June preparing both. See you soon!

Old flirt

Having had to stay at home for a few sick days, I had the unexpected opportunity to spend some time encoding. It was a relief to finally manage to find time. It was a pleasure to see the edition growing again. It was a delight to approach new themes and enrich the index of persons. It was depressing to open a new topic, that will require some intense reading before I can write good comments on the letters.

We are now in the early 1820s. Tieck has moved to Dresden in 1819 when the father of his mistress died, thus freeing her from her duties towards the family. Change of setting, but no real change of characters: Tieck lives in Dresden with said mistress, but also, still, with his wife Amalia and his daughters Dorothea and Agnes.

Change of activities in comparison to his time in Ziebingen, for sure. After having spent years in an isolation that lead to depression and, in order to escape  the isolation as well as the pressure of the life in the castle of his mistress’ father together with his own family, to travels. In Dresden, Tieck re-discovers life. Water parties, meeting with people, writing again. From the Summer 1819 on, he was so absorbed by this resurrection to social life that he forgot to write letters, even to his best friend Solger, who was trying to get him a job at the Berlin University. And died in October. Tieck felt terribly guilty about not answering Solger’s letters on time, I mentioned that already, and this was a motivation to publish Solger’s leftover papers. This, he did together with their common friend Friedrich von Raumer. It is precisely the letters from Tieck to Raumer in the time when they prepare this edition I am talking about now. That part of the correspondence, I can comment on and assess.

Two things are particularly interesting in that respect in the four letters I have encoded this week. First, it appears that Brockhaus, the publisher, contributed greatly to shaping the book. He modified the order of the texts (Tieck writes: “zu meinem Erstaunen stehen die kleineren Aufsätze und die Correspondenz im Ersten Bande” and “da nachher doch immer, wie ich sehe, meine kleinen Zwischensätze eintreten” in the letter from December 10th, 1825). Second, there is the conflict between Solger and his friend Friedrich Heinrich von der Hagen. This (sometimes pretty rough) exchange of letters from 1819 deals with the question what philology has to be, what its scholarly meaning should be: a debate that can be read as a way of defining two very different “romantic” approaches to cultural history. It seems that Friedrich Heinrich von der Hagen had some reluctance at showing himself under that light after all:  “Aber der lange Brief an Hagen! Er hat damals gesagt, er hätte ihn mir hier gelassen. Das ist aber nicht der Fall. Es scheint, er will ihn nicht drucken lassen.” (Tieck to Raumer, letter from May 14th, 1824). Sure thing is, Tieck found the letter after all, because it is printed in Solgers Nachgelassene Schriften and Briefwechsel, and is frankly polemical. (note to self: check correspondence between Tieck and von der Hagen in that period)(additional note to self: don’t keep hopes too high, since von Raumer and von der Hagen were colleagues at the Berlin University and might have discussed this orally, leaving no trace).

Now to the really new part: the theater. The 50 year-old Tieck seems to have intensified socializing with theater people in Dresden in the early 1820s. The letters deal with young, promising actresses he directs, he teaches, he protects, or sends to his Berlin friends asking them to be nice to them: Rosalie Wagner (sister to Richard), Julie Gley, Auguste Stich. The letters deal with young, promising theater writers Tieck despises when they threaten him (Holtei), supports when they abide by him (Uechtritz). Directing actors the way Tieck did in Dresden seems to have involved a clash of narcissisms – and Tieck was certainly not the one with the smallest ego.

Beyond the gossip, beyond the 50 year-old flirt wanting to experience real life again, there is one passion, though: Shakespeare. Reading through the lines, you realize that it was only Shakespeare Tieck cared about, whether on the stage and in the form of books. I do wonder why, in these letters, he never mentions the real work that was done by then. Because in those 1820s, Dorothea Tieck und Wolf von Baudissin were translating Shakespeare for what would become its most famous translation in German: the Schlegel-Tieck.


Things you cannot see

Let me tell you about some progress and why I miraculously managed to put a new letter online yesterday (all by myself).

While I have not been able to work on the digital edition for a while, Alex has been developing much of the non-visible part of it. He created an internal work interface, which turned out to be a relief to everyone. To him of course, for not having to take care of all the uploading. In general, when you think you are done encoding a letter, you upload/send the file and then you find at least 3 or 4 details that you also want to improve. Hence the typically 4 e-mails to Alex entitled “This version is the right one”, then “This version is *really* the right one”, “This is the final version”, and finally “OK, last time I bug you today, promise”. Then he would have to check for absurdities (ids given twice or wrong ids for instance), and e-mail me back “Can you please change the id on line 155”. I would have to do the change, send the file back again… not one bit economical.

What is more, we have more and more data needing to be stocked, versioned and visualized properly in order to progress: the work on the collation, the work on the pdf version, the students’ assignments, bigger documents like the Schlemihl which will be put online at once in a couple of weeks but has been in the pipes for six months. It had become necessary to have a working space where we could do all that and not (something that had become a bit difficult in my fuzzy and daily growing mailbox) by trying to find the e-mail from December when Alex had sent the sample or the link to this or that. The internal work interface is not particularly cute, but perfectly functional and clear. Alex knows Anna, Sabine and me good enough to know which kind of information we need to use it properly. In the part where we upload new XML-files, he has integrated an automatic check whether it is well-formed or not, thus disabling us to upload a file that would not be fit for visualization.

This really is a new step for the work in the team. It is the recognition of the fact that Sabine, Anna and I are now able to take more active responsibility for uploading “final” versions by ourselves. It is the result of the discussions with the Schleiermacher team from the Academy of Sciences and with Peter Stadler on the solidity, valuability and functionality of an internal work environment. It is also, hopefully, a step towards the change of scale in the corpora I have been wishing for a year now (we just need more corpus!). From April on, the two students working for the project will be paid to do encoding. The work force will then be dispatched differently. Sabine, Anna (who will be on maternity leave for a year soon) and I will be able to upload, but not the students, so that we will have to work on the workflow on that level.

A big change of the webinterface has also been in the pipeline for a few months now and should be finalized soon as well. General wish was to have something cleaner, more traditional. There certainly are some design absurdities in the actual form of the webinterface, and we will very likely end up with a white background (that will tear my heart apart – but hopefully not my eyes). The voice of reason tells me this is the best way to go. I will regret the warm colors though, and an interface that was so original that it had a great visual recognition effect, even if not totally professional in the conception.

It is a great pleasure to see that things have been progressing after all. I know I can see it and you can’t. Don’t worry: I will let you know, with trumpets and tweets, when you can enjoy the new interface, the new texts, and the new August Boeckh manuscripts portal (also close to being published).

Bibliography and other metaphysical questions

So the next Digital Edition meeting finally took place today. A nice thing happened in the first 15 minutes: Alex was asked by Sabine and Johanna to explain XSLT and XQuery. I am always amazed not only at how much technique Alex knows, but also at his ability of making us understand how these things work (not in detail of course, but the general idea). Just as I am amazed at the complexity of the debates we can have during these sessions. Thankfully, we are through arguing about Geminationsstriche. We found a nice replacement for this formerly everlasting discussion though: the bibliography.

As it is, primary sources (first editions and other prints we use for comparison purposes) are to be listed in the header and referred to in our editorial notes if need be (depending on the specifics of the corpus). But the question we had today concerned primary and secondary literature. The first suggestion was to have a general bibliography for each corpus, on the corpus’ presentation page. I was against it for several reasons (maybe I am wrong on that, though), the main one being that if you provide a bibliography, you have to do it in an exhaustive way and we would not realistically manage to do so for each corpus (or to do it in a harmonious way for all corpora). The second suggestion was that we have for each document (in the very convenient < additional > element in the header) a bibliography that would contain first the primary, then the secondary sources. Again, this was not very satisfactory, on the one hand because of the obvious repetitions that would occur between the different documents of one corpus, on the other hand, because there are books or papers that are of major importance to conceive the commentary of a document, while some are only locally of some help (for situating an event for instance). Those two types of references should not be given the same importance, but it would take us too far to conceive a hierarchical systematic in the secondary literature (all of this, again, in the improbable < additional > element). I was surprised that this turned out to be an important issue arising with the edition of the letters from Chamisso to de La Foye (the corpus we are editing in our DH class of this summer). For the Beausobre letters as well as for the Tieck letters, I had given in my editor’s notes all the bibliographical information which I considered relevant. In fact, there is some information I did not quote systematically my references on, because I did not see the point in quoting a common encyclopedia or dictionary, the source of a simple Latin translation or, concerning the many commentaries that have to do with Solger, my own publications of the last 10 years. The more I think about it after this afternoon’s work session, the more I am starting to consider that we should, after all, provide for a corpus bibliography of secondary works, but more in the form of “The main works we have been referring to for this corpus are… ” followed by no more than 5 to 10 titles.

This has to do with how serious we want to look. I have been looking up the Alfred Escher letters and the Alexander von Humboldt letters and I cannot help but wonder at the differences with our own edition. While we aim at not overloading the page and I even hesitate to add a 10 title-bibliography for each corpus, these editions are not afraid of delivering long text passages and thorough bibliographies. I have been annoying my whole team for weeks with my obsession for a NOT white background for the text, because I find it too tiresome for the reading eye, but this is what all those sites go for (also Carl Maria von Weber, even the all-time best Van Gogh letters). Are we doing something so different?

We necessarily are, because we are a small group with limited time and money: we will never reach or even intend the thoroughness of a complete edition. We select representative corpora and the job of our edition is to empower them with this representativeness and show it. I am not saying that we are deliberately doing bad scholarly work. I only mean that we take decisions (in the rendering of the transcription, in the tagging, in the layout) that have to do, for instance, with the tools we want to develop (for the search, for the collation) and that these are still only in germination phase. Many decisions were taken on a small corpus with the aim of being implemented on a somewhat larger one and will need correction at some point. This certainly is an uneasy position, but it is what it is: a work in progress that will stay so for a while…