Another next step

As term has reached its end, I would like to provide for some orientation in the mind map that seems to have drawn itself over the past months to guide me ahead.

First, to the good news: Sabine Seifert is now working at the Fontane Archive in Potsdam and Melanie Siemund at the Academy of Sciences in Vienna, both in exciting projects with no less exciting perspectives. I really hope to host guest posts by them on this blog when time has come (project presentation, conference report and the like). This will be one step towards enlarging the Berlin focus.

Apart from that, I will be travelling a lot this fall and winter and am very much looking forward to the contacts and exchanges of ideas in Germany, France, Austria and the UK. It always does good to one’s research to be shaken a bit by perspectives from the outside. The reasons for me travelling  are: editions (and, yes, digital editions, a lot), textual scholarship, the concept of “the intellectual”, my favorite authors, DH in general. All very good reasons to leave my home desk, really. Continue reading “Another next step”

Konferenzbericht „German Women Writing in its European Context, 1700-1900“

Dieser Beitrag wurde ursprünglich am 6. Juli 2011 auf dem Caroline-von-Humboldt-Forum von Selma Jahnke veröffentlicht.

Internationale Tagung im Rahmen der Womens Writers of the Eighteenth and Nineteenth Centuries Conference Series der University of London, der Swansea University, der University of Sheffield und des Austrian Cultural Forum; Institute for Germanic and Romance Studies der University of London, 25. und 26. November 2010

Über dreißig Forscherinnen und Forscher aus den USA, Kanada und Europa fanden sich zu der an Themen und Vorträgen reichen Tagung an der University of London ein, die einen lebhaften Verlauf nahm: Continue reading “Konferenzbericht „German Women Writing in its European Context, 1700-1900“”

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 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!

Encoding time depends on…

Yesterday was a big pedagogical day. Around noon, Selma and I coached a group of soon-to be teachers in the subtleties of salon culture and women writing habits in Prussia around 1800. In the evening, Toni Bernhart and I had the pleasure to be hosted by Jutta Weber to present our work on archival material to our colleagues from Berlin der Begegnung in the Prussian State Library.

In both cases, I got asked the exact same question: how much time does it take to encode, say, one letter? The answer was obvious and unsatisfactory: it depends. It depends on how long the letter is, on how hard/easy it is to read. But it depends mostly whether you are at the beginning or in the middle of a corpus. My experience is that, when encoding the first 2-3 letters of a correspondence, you feel like you will be dead before reaching the next letter. But once the people and the books the two correspondents are talking about have an ID, once you have the general idea of the writing habits you have to deal with (and once you have developed a strategy to deal with them:  Tieck’s incessant switching between Latin and German handwriting, mixed with a maniac underlining of every other word, has been driving me crazy for a while), you can easily encode up to 3 letters a day. But really: who gets the chance to just encode one day long? Certainly not me. Encoding time depends mostly on time being what it is, that is shared between so many things – you don’t want to know how many, really, especially since I have been dealing with new people coming to the group and funding renewal during the past months. An administrative hell – not over yet, alas.

I thought about the representation which those people that are not in our field, but still able to get what we do, have of our daily work. The contrast with what it really is is striking. I have come to the point where I mostly envy my PhD candidates for having the possibility to spend days on one thing and get to the bottom of it. The sad part is, of course, that they certainly can’t imagine that this situation could in any way be desirable. I remember, back in the time – 15 years or so ago – arriving at the library at 9AM and leaving it at 6PM and wondering what had happened to that day, which was, all of a sudden, just gone, and yet do the exact same the next day, and so forth.

The reason why I really want to write the second book is that the academic situation I have acquired allows me to understand, and more importantly, to savor more, the moments of sheer learnedness when they happen: sitting in the library, gathering and arranging ideas. Those moments now have a sweetness I had never before suspected they could have. A sweetness which is, inevitably, tempered by the bitterness of the struggle to conquer them – or increased by it?

Concentrated time to think comes in unexpected shapes. One thing I like about spring is rediscovering what thinking time is while sitting on the playground an hour and half on a Friday afternoon watching the kids ride their bikes, cover the sidewalk with chalk drawings, get mad at each other for nothing, meet a friend, get a toy entangled in the bushes, grab it back, hop on further, and laugh in the sun. So do my ideas in the meantime.

And then I enjoy putting the hand on a serious book in the evening, too (been reading Herméneutique critique lately).