Herr Sommer und Frau Sonne (macrons forever)

After initiating what turned out to be an animated debate on the TEI-list, we had still not settled on anything yet concerning the Geminationsstriche on the m and the n, which still appear in the form m[m] and n[n] in the edition as it is.

There were all in all two valid options:

– encoding it as a macron in the form: Som& # 772;er (I had to add a few spaces for html to not transform it into an actual macron…) for Sommer and Son& # 772;e for Sonne;

– encoding it as a glyph in the form: So<g ref=”#mgem”/>er for Sommer and So<g ref=”#ngem”/> for Sonne

The first option is not fully satisfactory as we would have had to encode the diplomatical version and the reading version differently, which means that it would have come up to something like:

So<choice><abbr>m& # 772;</abbr><expan>mm</expan></choice> (or maybe use a <sic>/<corr> combination within the choice element, but it does not make much difference). This would make encoding Geminationsstriche somewhat tedious.

In the second option, it would be possible to define the “mgem”/”ngem” in such a way that we could spare us the use of the choice element while encoding. But this option is not really satisfactory either considering the Geminationsstrich is not a glyph but a macron. And if anyone was to reuse our XML  file for whatever use, we would have to add this definition in the header and it would just add a layer of work and complexity, increase the error potential, etc.

So Alexander Meyer came up with the idea that we encode in the “light” form Som& # 772;er for Sommer and Son& # 772;e for Sonne and he writes a script (for internal use only), that makes all the necessary transformation to get the different versions. The XML-file is encoded properly, we have our two versions and the encoding is not massively more complex.

I can imagine that you could object this and that, but honestly, considering how our project works, this seems the best optimization we can get to me in terms of scholarly reliability, work economy and sustainability.

a word for the ladies

Almost a year ago – wait, no, I have to go back further in time. Two years ago, the Humboldt University created an award for women junior researchers. The award was to carry the name of the wife of Wilhelm von Humboldt, Caroline. The first year the award was offered was the last possible application year for me: first, because of the age limit (35 seems to be one of those symbolical numbers for which the whole institution wants you to change categories, whether you want it or not), and second, because the application requirements changed completely the year after. When I applied, the award was opened to all disciplines. As a comparison, you can find the actual application conditions here.

So I was awarded the Caroline von Humboldt prize in October 2010, right in the middle of the jubilee celebrations. I had received my project donation 3 months earlier, I had just hired my team and it was , considering my expenses back then, a lot of money (boy, did that change when I started setting up a digital edition…), the sun was shining, and thank you Caroline.

The only thing I knew about her was that she had raised her children herself (not so common a habit amongst 18th-19th century nobility) and that she was at some point friends with Rahel Levin. The symbolical connection between that kind of life path and encouraging young women in their scientific or, for that matter, academic career, did not strike me, but I did not care at first.

And then came the ceremony itself. It was only then that I realized how controversial the name was. Caroline von Humboldt was anything but an example for young, intelligent women on the way to intellectual emancipation. She was clever, she was talented, but she was certainly not emancipated. And to make things worse, she repeatedly came so close to antisemitic declarations that you could even think she might really have had ideas that are not compatible with Germany’s mentality today. But the name Humboldt was supposed to wash away all doubts and scruples. Caroline von Humboldt does not need more than her name to shine over young women researchers and give them the necessary aura!

As you can imagine, I considered it my mission to set things straight (wisdom does not come at age 35, but clearly much later…). Together with (women) colleagues from the university (colleagues involved, either theoretically or pragmatically, in questions of gender equality and women recognition), I organized a one-day symposion on Caroline von Humboldt. The idea was to scrutinize different aspects of her life (her activity as a salonière, as a translator, as a letter writer, as a patron to artists – and not least, her position towards Judaism). For the first time in my life, I gave a paper in front of a room that was so full you could almost not breath. And the press was there: there was a long paper in the Tagesspiegel a few weeks later (see here).

I also initiated the Caroline von Humboldt forum, a blog dedicated to a better understanding of Caroline von Humboldt’s life path, especially in the context of her time, e.g. with a focus on lettered women in Prussia around 1800 (the whole work behind the blog is due to my master’s student Janin Afken – thank you, Janin!). The plan was to publish the papers held at the symposion on this blog, but, as I already mentioned at the Weblog Conference in Munich, I did not count on the reluctance of some authors to see their papers published online (some papers were printed somewhere else). So I present you tonight the papers we could get so far, hoping this will convince the other authors it is worth adding their stone. You can find them here. Writing on women writers is such a delicate issue, whatever the point of view you choose: for this paper, I have been weighing each and every word of each and every sentence sentence. Read it, you’ll see!

Mythos and Logos of my Mother Tongue for fr.hypotheses.org

Après dix années passées en Allemagne dont quatre intégrée à un département de littérature allemande, je croyais avoir fini par régler avec moi-même l’usage de mes deux principales langues de communication. Mon allemand professionnel est bien évidemment moins riche que mon francais (désolée, il n’y a pas de cédilles sur mon clavier allemand), mais il est fait de conventions que je maîtrise suffisamment bien pour faire illusion. Et m’étant mise aux humanités numériques, j’avais commencé à réactiver mon anglais, en particulier par l’intermédiaire de ce blog. Autre sphère de langage, autre vocabulaire, là aussi encore plus pauvre (j’estime perdre chaque fois un facteur 100 en termes d’étendue de langage en passant du francais à l’allemand puis de l’allemand à l’anglais); mais autre public aussi: tout cela me semblait tenir la route.

La gêne est venue simultanément de mon projet d’habilitation et du découpage d’hypotheses.org en sphères linguistiques et de l’impression subséquente de me mouvoir dans un no man’s land linguistique. Du côté de mon habilitation, j’ai longuement hésité puis décidé de l’écrire en allemand dans la mesure où c’est en Allemagne que je souhaite poursuivre ma carrière universitaire. La délimitation stratégique du thème de ce travail, savant mélange de divers facteurs (mon temps de travail disponible, les exigences de l’institution, et un peu mes envies), m’a amenée à revenir à des textes théoriques que je lis – dans leur langue d’origine autant que faire se peut. En exhumant Foucault et Derrida, tout s’est compliqué: les traductions allemandes avec lesquelles travaillent mes interlocuteurs allemands sont d’une complexité terrible puisqu’elles tentent de rendre compte d’une part de toutes les strates de sens, d’autre part de tous les jeux de mots et, dans le cas de Derrida, elles essayent aussi de rendre justice à l’influence heideggerienne sur la pensée de Derrida et sont en quelque sorte une retraduction de Derrida en allemand heideggerien ou partiellement heideggerien. Ce sont de surcroît – si on prend par exemple “Qu’est-ce qu’un auteur?”  – des textes qui font partie des basiques du cursus littéraire, systématiquement cités dans tout article s’inquiétant de la légitimité de l’écrivain, donc difficiles à ignorer.

Je n’arrivais pas vraiment à formuler la nature de mon insatisfaction linguistique avec mon habilitation, mais elle était bien là. Quand j’écris en allemand pour parler des choses que j’y traite (questions du rapport au texte, à l’archive), c’est lourdingue, didactique; quand j’écris en francais, c’est tout le contraire: pas besoin d’être didactique, la pensée s’articule d’elle-même. Il y a là  une sorte de contradiction dans les termes avec la réalité de la langue scientifique allemande, qui se passe d’un tas de transitions, annonces, plans compliqués, rhétorique à la noix tels que les requièrent en revanche les standards francais. Comment est-ce qu’il se fait donc que, là où je pourrais argumenter plus souplement, je n’y arrive pas?

C’est ma lecture de Platon d’aujourd’hui qui m’a donné un début de piste. Au fond, ma pensée allemande est une pensée logique et ma pensée francaise une pensée mythologique – sans doute parce qu’elle peut se nourrir de tous ces apprentissages maternels, viscéraux, qui définissent mon rapport au texte, à l’écriture, à la langue. Lorsque j’écris en francais, les images suffisent, les mots parlent, sans que j’aie besoin de réfléchir à leur relation, parce que cette relation semble se transmettre directement de mon cerveau au papier. En francais, j’écris, tandis qu’en allemand ou en anglais, je produis un texte.

Il ne me reste plus qu’à accepter cet état de fait. Aussi lourdingue que puisse être mon habilitation en allemand, je pense que, pour mon bien-être mental, mais aussi pour réussir à construire une heuristique qui tienne la route, je gagne à séparer les différents types d’écriture que sont le travail scientifique d’un part et toutes les autres formes d’écriture de l’autre – blog, lettre, et ces bribes incompréhensibles  qu’il y a dans mon cahier muji et dont je reste persuadée que personne ne pourra rien faire, jamais, étant donné leur état brut.

Il me reste encore – j’y travaille – à vraiment comprendre pourquoi j’écris mon blog en anglais – et pour qui. Une fois que j’aurai compris ca, j’arrêterai sans doute de vouloir que ce soit la rédaction d’hypotheses.org qui réponde à cette question à ma place en me disant dans quel tiroir je dois me ranger.

That’s what I call Digital Intellectuals!

The Berlin Academy of Sciences just launched a digital edition of the minutes of the work sessions that were held there between 1746 and 1786. You can consult it here: it is awesome. Not just because it looks awesome (great design, intuitive orientation, no information overload), but also because it is an actually well conceived resource – and a totally helpful one for my further work too.

The originals are in French (French became the official language at the Academy under Frederick 2nd and remained it until 1810), but you can find a selection of German translations. You can search either through the minutes (“Protokolle”, chronologically ordered) or through the papers presented at the Academy (“Akademie-Schriften”) or by looking for occurrences of a person (“Personen”). I was thrilled to see that my guy Beausobre (see this post on Beausobre) appears 912 times and am looking forward to cross-reference the occurrences with the periods for which I have letters waiting to be read. I so  like it when you find out that the official version of an information is presented in a radically different way in private writings.

The only thing that I think could significantly improve the edition would be a more precise work on the biographies. At the time being, they are pretty scarce. Hopefully those good people writing minutes and attending sessions at the Academy will at some point be integrated in the database of the Personendatenrepositorium. This is also a project of the Academy of Sciences and it aims at bringing together the biographical data emanating from the different Academy projects. One could argue that the PDR has a focus on 19th century and already a lot to do with just one century. But 1760 is really almost the 19th century, if you consider the major turn Berlin took with Frederick 2nd as the beginning of an intellectual era in Berlin (like I do).

It somehow confirms a kind of aporia I have been discussing with Claudia Sedlarz of the Berliner Klassik last Monday:  even if your aim is to seize network effects or connections, it all comes up in the end to the way in which you will be able to connect biographies. You always need a few “lighthouse” persons in your research horizon, like orientation marks, in order to be able to shed any light at all. And with that, you are either stuck in the canon or constituting your own canon. Either way, as soon as you are moving in the field of biographies, a block of normativity falls on your shoulders. But you can’t properly operate without it. Sound like Sisyphus to me…

The next step

In one of my favorite movies (“Ma saison préférée”, by André Téchiné, with Catherine Deneuve and Daniel Auteuil), one of the characters says at some point: The problem is not the wrong step, it is the step after. I find this assertion to be true in all kinds of circumstances. The ability to think the next step, to implement the right corrective at the right time and in the right place, is probably just as important as the ability to achieve and finish something.

I knew very well that the digital edition was everything but finished when I posted the link, but the fact that it is now officially online has allowed my priorities to finally restructurate. I am not obsessed with line breaks any more (what a relief!), but more able to think in terms of what would be the most coherent next step now. I see four main aspects:

* data enrichment: I am not sure at this point whether it would be more clever to first “finish” a corpus or to first add contents to categories of corpora that are, for the time being, empty. We will try to work on both in parallel. Since this part of the work can be divided in small and coherent work packages, I think it will be doable.

* looks: finally people have started to dare tell me what they think of the looks of the page. The fact that we did a good job does not mean that the result looks good. It is more complicated to change things there though.  I don’t want to lose the intuitive and economical general looks on the one hand, the reading comfort on the other hand. But I don’t have 5000 Euro to pay a professional to do the job to realize something in the style of the Van Gogh Letters (a site that still has too many categories in my eyes). I really wish there were something like wordpress for digital editions…

* hosting and data architecture: for the time being, the scans are all stocked on our server at the University. This means that we don’t have yet the option of offering different resolutions for the pictures. It also means that our whole data architecture is a temporary one. We really need to move on on the different workflows there! How will we even bring everything together: the letters, the work manuscripts and their comparison with the first print, the data concerning the persons, the connection to the archives, the connection to the documents (especially the Boeckh documents) for which we only have metadata at the moment (but for that matter, a lot of them!)?

* search engine: what we have online now corresponds to the structure of our data. You can search the index or you can search the text (full-text) including or not including the metadata. Although I know what I would like to reach in the end, I am still not able to formulate it in a way that the people in my team are able to understand it and implement it in the search engine. Especially my idea that, in order to be able to analyze phenomenons of genesis and reception of a literary or scholarly event, you have to isolate a particular period of time (say, 2 months) in the corpus and combine it with some keywords, seems to be completely over the moon.

So the next step for the time being is still to think about the next step. And to conclude that my favorite season is definitely not spring (especially when you get snowfalls on Easter day), but more fall – and in the fall, we will be, hopefully, three or four steps ahead…