Happy Jew for the Happy Few

It was Dominique Bourel’s 60th birthday yesterday. Though he is not too strongly involved in the German academical system, he knows enough people in it to be entitled to a jubilee “Kolloquium”. Maybe because he is not a German Professor, he was given not the full 3-days-of-very-long-lectures-programme, but a 3-hour-firework retracing the life paths of “Happy Jews” from the 18th to the 21st century. This main theme, as organisator Christoph Schulte explained in his introductory speech, was inspired by Dominique Bourel’s thesis in his biography of Moses Mendelssohn – who was according to him a “happy jew”. The talks were interlaced with piano performances.

Honestly, I was a little bit scared when I received the invitation and saw that no less than 14 speakers were announced. As it turned out, it is absolutely possible, within 10 minutes and with 5 to 10 slides, to sketch a lively portrait of an interesting persona – or, for that matter, to make a persona interesting. Which gets me back to my wikipedia/biography questions (see this post, Christof Schöch’s comment on it, and that post): What I appreciated was, in fact, the underlying breadcrumb, the motive of the “happy jew” – the idea that one should not read the history of the jewish people as teleologically determined by the Shoah. Progroms were mentioned, the shoah was mentioned, sadistic, antisemitic murder – it was not ignored. But the story to tell was another one.

This is probably the best possible example to make my point about biographical narratives: whether you are aware of it or not, they are undermined by an ideological subtext and it is only if you question that subtext – if you drive it to its limits as with the provocative “happy jew” – that you become aware of it. And since it is not possible to do without it, it is best to do with it, to be aware of it and to consider it a structural, hierarchical component of the biography. Which is why I still doubt that wikipedia can, in the end, be a good reference for biographies: it would suppose an epistemological coherence which it cannot provide.

The colloquium took place in a wonderful place called the Mendelssohn-Remise. They have a great cultural programme that you can consult here.


Missing Link

This week, we had the honor and the pleasure to welcome Helga Meise in our group, for a fruitful and Ersamus-sponsored exchange of ideas – including an intervention of her in our BA-class on Romantic German female writers (awesome presentation on Sophie von La Roche’s Geschichte des Fräuleins von Sternheim and its importance in German literary history) – and a presentation of her latest research results on the novel writer Maria Anna Sager. Now that is someone you can try googling and wikipedying as much as you want: you won’t find any trace.

As she explained it to us, it took Helga Meise no less than 30 years to reconstruct who that writer was. As Helga was working on her dissertation, she found by total chance a novel, written by a woman (“ein Frauenzimmer” says the frontispiece) in the year 1771 – significantly, the exact same year Sophie von La Roche’s Sternheim was published. The difference between both texts is all the more striking. Not only does Sager dismiss any kind of male patronizing – which was in itself a significant way of breaking with the rhetoric of female writing preceded, explained, introduced by at least one male editor in a preface or a foreword. She also invokes all the traditional elements used in these prefaces – the usefulness of the book, the style, the reader it is conceived for – but only to ironically flip them to their opposite: not a legitimation discourse, but a discourse of non-legitimation. Which is, ultimately, as we know, an interesting form of legitimation. But in 1771? The modernity of the writing, Helga Meise showed it in her further interpretation, extends to the whole novel and to the following one, published in 1774.

In order to get to know who that extraordinarily writer was, there were very few tangible elements to start the search 30 years ago. The first book was edited, as I wrote, by a “Frauenzimmer” (a lady), the second one carries the initials M.A.S. This, and the publisher, a known representative of Enlightenment in Prag, were pretty much the only two leads. With the help of colleagues who went through archives in Prag and Vienna, Helga Meise reconstructed parts of Sager’s life. But only parts, really. These will be presented in her edition of Sager in the collection “Frühe Frauenliteratur in Deutschland” (Olms Verlag, coordinated by Anita Runge). Hopefully, you will be able to read it all in a year or so.

There is no definite proof that Maria Anna Sager (whose testament carries no trace of anything connected to writing, for instance) is in fact the author of those two Pirandellian novels. Only four copies of the books are still preserved (at least in Germany and Austria – please let me know if you find a copy somewhere else in the world!). Apart from a quotation of a recension of the first book in the second one, almost none of the historical information reconstructed through the archive matches the text or gives any kind of clue as to her position and her self-understanding as a writer.

In that sense, Maria Anna Sager is a missing link between us and those two novels (which, that at least is for sure, have been written by the same person). But we need that link in order to be able to make sense out of those two novels in a publishing context where the hits were called Fräulein von Sternheim and Leiden des jungen Werthers. We need it even if it is empty. We need a mental placeholder, something to fill out our inner metadata on these texts. Why it it so? Well, in this case, it does not have so much to do with a craving for information and with the need we have to put everything in the appropriate drawer. It has to do with the fact that these novels, although published in the 1770s, seem to be written just for us, addressed to us. They are so amazingly modern that it is just unbearable to think that there was someone, back then, who was so close to us, and we know absolutely nothing about her. She could be a symbol, she could be a living memory. But she is desincarnated, even her archival, paper self does so much as not exist. So – should she have a wikipedia entry? Should she exist on the web? How? As what?

The part I personally find the most delectable is the irony of having a woman, and a woman we know nothing of, being an exemplary and, maybe (surely) in its kind, unique connection between us and the writing of the late 1770s – in spite of all the male writers of the late 18th-century constantly showing off with their despise for their contemporary readers and their hope to be writing “for future generations”. They certainly had the publishing establishment backing them up on that. But when it comes to the text, four copies are enough…


Corpus Part Two: My dearest friend (to whom I owe so much money)

In my post Corpus Part One, I presented the work manuscript of Ludwig Tieck’s Roxane, a youth drama which Johanna Preusse is editing.

Now Ludwig Tieck did not only have several focus of interest, he also lived a very long life, being thus able to experience the early Romanticism, the Napoleonian Wars, the Revolution of 1848 and in between all that, several moments of Restauration. Through this long period of time, the one who was in his young years one of the very first writers to actually live on his book sells, refusing any form of dependency from a Prince, turned into a reactionary court theater director. This evolution did not happen from one day to another. The literary and financial crisis Ludwig Tieck went through after 1800 and before he started his successful novel phase in the 1820s contributed decisively to the changes in his personality and in his life vision.

This crisis phase is known for Tieck’s apparent lack of productivity. At this turning point, he in fact ended up a production cycle he had begun in his school years, reworking and re-editing some of his major youth work in the collection Phantasus and working in parallel on what would become central elements of his post-1820s work (especially Shakespeare).

In that sense, most of his literary activity of that time is not so much recorded by his works than by his sketches and his letters to the friends.

Friendships are probably the saddest part of Tieck’s life. Like many of his contemporaries, but maybe even more than most of them, Tieck needed an alter ego that would make him productive. At first, it was his school friend Wackenroder who took this role. Wackenroder had a great influence on Tieck’s Franz Sternbald’s Wanderings and they wrote together  the Outpourings of an Art-Loving Friar, both major literary successes in the late 1790s and milestones in the development of romantic art theory.

But Wackenroder died as early as 1798 and left Tieck unconsolable.

When Tieck married and came to Jena shortly after that, a similarly intense friendship started between him and Novalis, one of the most amazing romantic thinkers and writers – and a successful one, too: in his Heinrich von Ofterdingen, he introduced the now well-known blue flower.

But Novalis too died not long after, in 1803. (I told you it would not be funny)

A few years later, around 1811, Tieck got to know someone completely different. His name was Karl Wilhelm Ferdinand Solger and he was all what Tieck hated: a philosopher and a philologist in the most institutional way, a patriot, an appointed professor. Surprisingly, they became very close (if you want to know why, you can read my paper  on “Tieck and Solger. Un dialogue philosophico-littéraire” in: Philosophy and literature and the crisis of metaphysics, ed. by Sebastian Hüsch).

But then – you guessed it, I suppose – Solger died unexpectedly. We are now in the fall of 1819, and Tieck recently managed to escape his year long depression. He moved to Dresden together with his wife, two daughters and mistress, left his depressive mood behind – and enjoyed life so much that he did not find the time, in the summer and fall of 1819, to write to Solger. He had left several of Solger’s letters, requests and essential life questions unanswered, when the news that Solger had died reached him. We can retrace this quite precisely thanks to the 1934 edition of Tieck and Solger. The Complete Correspondence by Percy Matenko (transcription: accurate; layout: not fantastic; commentaries: mediocre to wrong – but still the only edition sofar).

Together with Solger’s other two best friends, Friedrich von Raumer and Ludwig Krause, Tieck decided to publish Solger’s papers as a tribute to their friendship and to Solger’s intellectual influence and pertinence in his time (a point that is still not really recognized today – but you are welcome to read Solgers Nachgelassene Schriften und Briefwechsel, ed. by Ludwig Tieck and Friedrich von Raumer, anyway!). The correspondence we will be editing is the one Tieck had with Friedrich von Raumer starting after Solger’s death and ending in the 1850s.

You will not be surprised to read that Tieck transferred part of his friendship affects on Friedrich von Raumer (Krause died before the book was even finished). He reflects it himself in one letter, complaining that Wackenroder left him, Novalis too, Solger too, and someday, for sure, Raumer too would leave him alone (he was wrong: Raumer survived him by twenty years). As you can imagine, the first part of the correspondence has a lot to do with the remembrances of Solger and the preparation of their common edition.

Surely, Tieck and Raumer did not share as many literary interests as Tieck had shared with his previous best friends. But two things brought them closer to one another: one is politics and the other one is money. In my paper “Intellektuelle Öffentlichkeit. Friedrich von Raumers Weg zwischen Politik und Wissenschaft”, in: Berlins 19. Jahrhundert. Ein Metropolen-Kompendium, ed. by Berbig, D’Aprile, Peitsch, Schütz, you can read why Raumer is an interesting correspondence partner when it comes to politics. The money question was for Tieck a crucial one, his life long, especially when he was less productive. He even had to sell his book collection at some point. The correspondence shows how often he borrowed money from Raumer, who could not only rely on a solid family inheritance, but had also – if I may put it this way – as serious job. Tieck trying to escape his debts, the strategies, the hopes to write a lot in order to make all the necesssary money – you can find all that in theses letters.

But the letters also deal with Shakespeare. So everything is saved, isn’t it?

For an introduction to Tieck’s life and work, I recommend L. Tieck. A literary biography by Roger Paulin. There is a German version too, but the original is English 🙂


Never look back?

Some nine months ago, I gave an interview (in French!) to Maud Ingarao. She was preparing a series of papers presenting German DH projects for the French public, so I had the pleasure to come after Christof Schöch and  Torsten Schaßan (excusez du peu). I had the feeling this was a little bit premature considering how foggy the whole concept of the project was. At that point, I had not the feeling that I was managering it, more that is was managering me. But the deal was to have something about a project that was right in the starting blocks.

I was afraid to have changed radically my mind on some crucial topics in the meantime and was somewhat dreading the moment when I would have to face the transcription of the interview. Well, here it is (I added a couple of hyperlinks in the interview text, linking to some relevant blog posts I wrote in between). In many ways, the questions that I considered important then are still important now, even if my answers might now be slightly different – and a few new questions have come on my radar too.

First, there is the question of the relation between paper edition and digital edition. So early in the process of getting digital as March 2011, I still saw as my primary aim to produce books, paper editions. In fact, I think that I did not envision back then how powerful markup can be to sort out larger corpora. Once I started seeing the way we could link the different subcorpora of our digital edition together, I also considered the digital edition on a completely new scale. I still am the boss of a small project. But a small project with an evolving potential to becoming a middle-sized one. (note to self: need to move on seriously on the indexing)

Second, I was baffled when I realized that I did not mention Long Time Archiving at all during the whole interview. It is true, too, that the importance of that aspect of project development only became clear to me during the TEI-conference in Würzburg in October. But then, it revealed immediately its splendor as a long-time malediction – only making me more eager to find a solution involving not only me in my pretty unstable institutional situation, but partners that would still be here when I would be long gone. And here I must say that the recent developments of the cooperation with Michael Seadle and, most of all, with Jutta Weber and the kalliope team, worked out faster than I first thought. We are getting closer to a more than satisfactory solution.

And a third thing that might be worth mentioning here: project management in DH seems to be very different in France and in Germany. So few project managers know about their own TEI schema, understand the logic of the encoding decisions made for their own project in France, while I see a lot of people working on both the technical and the let’s-name-them-philosophical issues in Germany. The two digital cultures that develop in parallel look very different. The reasons for that are probably historical, but I find it worrying when it comes to working out common projects. I already have more and more the feeling to be considered like a technician by the elder generation in my scientific community, probably the younger one will start harvesting a similar feeling soon – as for France, I guess I will pass for a decent ingénieur soon.

Again: you can find our actual project guidelines as an attachment here, probably the best way to know where we stand!