The end is the beginning

I wrote a message to my kid’s educator this morning dating it August, 29th. Only to discover half an hour later that today is the 30th – 30th as in only one day left and this month is over. calendrier


I have lived in a world where being in August and working on my book were equivalent and, as I painfully realized this morning, evolving in some kind of  temporal infinitude. As it turns out, time is finite, and it passes. Some might even be tempted to say that it flies (I know people who pretend it is so. I for myself believe in time passing on one’s life not such much like a feather as like some kind of pressing iron).

So one more day, I thought, and the day-to-day will be back. No more “in August I work on my book”. I mentally prepared Monday’s to-do list: talk 1 in September, papers 1 and 2 in September too (both almost from scratch), 2 volumes to finish copy-editing in October, 3 talks to give in November. It feels like Christmas is the day after tomorrow or so.

I didn’t write 100 pages this month. I read over 1000 of them and wrote something like, let’s be honest, 10 to 15. But I have not changed the disposition of the parts and chapters over the past three weeks (which I have been doing literally every other day when I tried working on it before) and I have even been able to write a one-page abstract of the whole project. I have my piles of books organized after the chapter they will help me write. I want to have part one finished in the spring. I have a plan. I suspect that said plan will be good to throw away in two months for whatever reason. But hey, that’s what plans are for, right? Not being followed. So, final statement: situation OK, fulfills expectations. The most important thing – knowing where to begin when I have time to work on it – is now plain clear and will stay so for me to survive winter. The end is a beginning. What do I want more?

There is one thing I have been surprised by this month. Over the past 6-7 years, not a term went by that I did not have the feeling to have learned something. It is essential for me, be it only professionally. This continuous learning is precisely what keeps me moving on and somehow regenerates my energy. And at no point in the last year have I had the feeling that I learned less than before, that I was not evolving towards some questions and answers getting clearer and clearer. But this month, while reading huge amounts of literature on things I had been implementing and thinking about in an unformalized way for 2-3 years, I felt like I was beginning to learn again. It probably has to do with the fact that I have learned from experience for 3 years and now yearn to formalize and systematize this empirical insight. But it was uncomfortable to suddenly realize that I could learn much more, much faster, if only I had time to read. You can’t do everything, that is for sure. Let’s try to get the best out of it, at the very least…

(En)gendering texts

The last chapter of D.C Greetham’s Theories of the Text is dedicated to “Gender in the text”. It comes last for a good reason, since it actually allows him to put in perspective all the aspects – including the most intricate deconstructivist or post-modern ones – that are dealt with in a book that keeps pouring out scholarship 480 pages long. I am not knowledgeable enough to judge how relevant Greetham’s considerations on “ovarian” or “feminist” readings are. I don’t think either that an exclusively gendered reading of texts would be pertinent for the type of work I am doing. But I find most interesting what this approach does to the construction of authority in the text.

Editing has been – this is probably the one fact that no one can contradict in any way when considering text constitution, an otherwise highly contradictable topic – a mainly male activity over the centuries, which means that the history of texts has been, not only because most authors were men, but also because most of the editors were men, a patriarchal one. The moral norms reproduced were dominated by men, leading to a kind of self-comfortation of male authority that would leave only little space for women to find an authorial space.

Many of the arguments that Greetham exposes have to do with the fact that gendered readings tend to balance this situation by saying that female writing has developed in reaction, opposition, resistance to the male domination. The female writer is under the influence of the patronizing husband/brother/father, then dealing with a (in most cases) male publisher, and the patriarchal reproduction of text in editorial and literary history is then  pursued in the same logic.

The question of the relationship between author and editor is a central one, that deserves to be asked regardless of either’s sex. What is interesting about the gender perspective, is that the terms of the relationship are being posed in a much more radical way. It is so not only in itself, but also because the sex of the person writing about text/author/editor is also considered a bias. The spiral involves at least three levels of authority, three levels of time, three levels of self-consciousness of one’s role: the writer, the first publisher, the later editor/scholar. The gender perspective at the very least allows to consider the intricacy of the question, and makes it clear (to my eyes at least) that a great deal of historical knowledge is necessary to be able to assess the relevance of many of the aspects involved.

What am I really entitled to write, today, as a woman, about a woman who wrote in 1800 and published either at a male or at a female (there were those in Germany around 1800) publisher? Greetham’s argument (which is pretty much the core of mine as well) that it all comes down to accepting, as an editor or as a scholar, to consider one’s own practice with a certain amount of awareness for the traditions and the epistemological premises one works under, is reaching the limits of its feasibility. Would not, then, if one wanted to really trace back all relevant aspects, the epistemological caveats cover the actual text; would we not risk to lose the sense of proportion between the text speaking for itself and us letting/having it speak? Or, to consider it in a more post-modern light, how is it possible to make understand the misunderstanding?

Yes, one has to be grateful for economical arguments, since the epistemological ones would – obviously – lead mainly to intellectual paralysis.

Having to deliver in due time, we are happy to present Adelheid Reinbold’s “Literaturbrief”, a text dedicated to her mentor Ludwig Tieck and in which she situates him among his peers – writers like Goethe and Jean Paul. I will write more about the way writing about the mentor allows her to take her own position in the literary field in a later post. Before the end of the month, we will also put online Helmina von Chézy’s “Dieses Buch gehört Bettinen”, an unpublished text in which she stages a generational and sexual solidarity among women in literary Germany – a dream that never really came true: the letter did not reach its addressee.

But do they ever?

Schreiben, sagte sie

Ja, es geht es ums Schreiben. Allerdings nicht ums akademische Schreiben allgemein: Es geht um das Schreiben der Habilitation, genauer gesagt um das Schreiben einer deutschen Habilitation (außergewöhnliches Thema ruft außergewöhnliche Sprache hervor).


Die Sache ist die, dass ich lange Zeit nicht daran geglaubt habe, dass ich im deutschen akademischen System fester Fuss fassen könnte als es jetzt der Fall ist – und jetzt ist spätestens Mitte 2016 zu Ende. Damit hatte ich mich selbst einigermassen von der Pflicht befreit, eine Strategie zur Professurerlangung zu entwicklen. Ich habe die digitale Edition aufgebaut. Ich habe 2-3 Jahre lang die Dinge beobachtet, wie sie sich strukturieren. Nach den Stangen gegriffen, die ich in dem Moment für mich oder das Team wichtig fand. Gelernt – manchmal schmerzhaft, immer leidenschaftlich. Eine Zeit lang habe ich komplett aufgehört, Vorträge zu halten – um meine  Zeit und Energie der digitalen Edition zu widmen. Danach habe ich wieder Vorträge gehalten. Das Schreiben der Vorträge, der Aufsätze, das macht mir in der Regel Spass. Diese Schreibart gelingt mir meistens (wohlgemerkt: nicht immer. Im Frühling/Sommer konnte ich beide Extreme, einmal des gelungenen und einmal des mislungenen Vortrags erleben – beides half mir allerdings weiter). Der Vorwand, mich in eine Kleinigkeit, was ein Vortragsthema immer ist, zu vertiefen, ist mir immer willkommen. Dann vorzutragen, was sich alles aus besagter Kleinigkeit schöpfen lässt, das sind Goldgräbergefühle. Wenn die Materie einmal da ist, brauche ich meist 2 Tage, um den Vortrag zu schreiben. Der steht dann für sich da, oder höchstens für den Sammelband, der ihm Einleitung- und Schlusswendung gibt. Es hat jeweils etwas von einem Minirausch. Kurz was geschlürft vom Glück des Erfindens, sechs Monate später über die Fussnoten geschwitzt, eine Zeile im Literaturverzeichnis, und Tschüß.

Die Idee mit der Habil hat sich parallel, langsam entwickelt. Gespräche insbesondere mit den Institutskollegen führten immer wieder zu der Empfehlung, dringend etwas Vernünftiges aus der Literaturwissenschaft etwa zum 20. Jahrhundert zu schreiben. Das ging gar nicht. Zum Einen, weil das Einarbeiten in DH mit dem Öffnen eines neuen Korpfusfeldes nicht kompatibel war. Selbst meine Tage haben nur 24 Stunden, wovon ich 8 zum Schlafen und 3-4 für meine Familie brauche. Zum Anderen war das Ziel des zweiten Buchs, mir eine zusätzliche Qualifikation zu erarbeiten, und das Einzige, was ich hätte machen können, wäre die Anwendung meiner gewohnten Methodik (die für Vorträge gut klappt) auf ein anderes Korpus gewesen, was mir sinnlos und zweckfremd erschien. Nun also: was schreiben?

Die Schwierigkeit ist es eben, die institutionellen Anforderungen mit dem eigenen Forschungsweg zu vereinen. Sicherlich wäre es institutionell optimal gewesen, ein Kompendium zu Lyrik bei Brecht zu schreiben oder grundsätzlich irgendwas zu einer literarischen Gattung im 20. Jahrhundert. Dann hätte ich bewiesen, 1) dass ich eine richtige Literaturwissenschaftlerin bin; 2) dass ich fähig bin, mich mit etwas Anderem als Berlin um 1800 zu beschäftigen: die zwei Sachen, die aus meinem Lebenslauf und aus meiner Veröffentlichungsliste nicht hervorgehen. Aber die Situation der Nachwuchsgruppenleitung lässt keine Abkopplung von Habil-Thema und Gruppenthema zu (außer vielleicht für Leute, die nicht 8, sondern 4 Stunden Schlaf brauchen). Und der Fehler lag lange, lange zurück, nämlich 2005 mit der Beantragung eines Projekts, das sich in direkter Linie von meinem Dissprojekt ausgehend entwicklelt hatte. Weil ich meine damalige Bewerbung im Emmy Noether-Programm nicht als eine Strategie zur Erlangung einer deutschen Professur konzipiert habe, sondern einfach das Thema vorgeschlagen habe, zu dem ich Lust hatte zu arbeiten.

So hat es dann Jahre gedauert, bis sich herauskristallisierte, was ich schreiben könnte. Naheliegend war zuerst etwas zur Brieftheorie, aber Briefe sind inzwischen weit und breit erforscht. Und in diesem Feld habe mich von jeher als Pragmatikerin positioniert. Mir gelang es nicht, eine theoretische Herangehensweise an dieses Thema zu konstruieren. Intellektuelle und Netzwerke wiederum hätten mich in eine steile historisierende Richtung geführt, für die ich mich nicht ausgerüstet genug fühlte. Auch wenn es meinem Lebenslauf nicht unmittelbar zu entnehmen ist, empfinde ich mich als Literaturwissenschaftlerin, nicht als Historikerin – weil es mir am Ende um die Texte geht.

Vor anderthalb Jahren bewegte sich endlich was, als ich anfing, genauer in Phänomene der Aufbewahrung und – wichtiger – ihrer Kopplung mit Zerstörungsmechanismen zu gucken. Den Text unter dem Aspekt der Bewahrung/Zerstörung, also seiner Archivierung, zu betrachten, schien mir ein Weg zu sein, meiner täglichen Arbeit eine neue Dimension zu geben – eine Dimension, die ich bei aller Liebe fürs Hand-On all diese Jahre vermisst habe. Die in der Diss entwickelte Begrifflichkeit (genau gesagt: die gegen die Meinung meines Doktorvaters entwickelte Begrifflichkeit, die damit auch in sich etwas vom Verteidigungskampf hatte) hat mich zehn Jahre begleitet, mich vorangetrieben. Es ist, als hätte ich daraus alles geschöpft, was sie mir bringen konnte. Und mit der Wende zu DH fehlte es mir fast von einem Tag zum anderen an einer Begrifflichkeit, an die ich mich festhalten konnte, um meine Fragen zu stellen.

Die Idee ist (wie mir jetzt scheint) einfach: den Text als Archiv betrachten. Derzeit soll das in drei Teilen gehen: 1. Der Text als Zeitobjekt; 2. Archivieren; 3. Das digitale Textarchiv. Ich denke, dass ich für die Teile 1 und 2 ca. ein Jahr brauchen werde, und vermutlich noch ein weiteres Jahr für Teil 3.

Da sitze ich nun, eingeklemmt zwischen den Franzosen (Foucault, Derrida, Barthes, und und und), den deutschen Editionswissenschaftlern, und den amerikanischen Mega-Theoretikern, und muss mir diese ganze Literatur zusammenreimen. Das Gefühl, an der Mündung dreier Flüsse zu stehen, ist teilweise überwältigen. Daran liegt auch die Tatsache, dass sich die Frage der Sprache immer wieder stellt. Ich arbeite in drei Sprachen und schreibe in einer. Nun: Deutsch wird es. Weil es eine deutsche Habilitation sein wird. Sie wird mir auch möglicherweise keine Professur geben. Gegeben hat sie mir auf jeden Fall die Perspektivierung, und das Gefühl, endlich wieder etwas Neues zu denken. Der Bogen geht nicht zum Semesterende hin, sondern zum Ende des ersten Unterteils des ersten Kapitels des ersten Teils – und dann des zweiten.

Und so stehe ich kurz vor vier vor der Schule und versuche mich zu erinnern: In zwei Stunden ist Abendbrot. Was essen wir da. Und was für ein Tag haben wir eigentlich heute überhaupt. Dann klingelt es: Schulschluss.

Es sind nur vier Stunden, denn um 20 Uhr geht es weiter mit dem Lesen. Kann wohl nicht anders.


Proudly presenting: August Boeckh’s “Catalogue of my books”

Further reproduction of the facsimile only with authorization of the Historical Collections at the University Library of the Humboldt University in Berlin.

The handwritten catalogue of Boeckh’s books is only since yesterday (here).

Including it in the digital edition is only half satisfactory in the sense that the point of this project does only partially overlap the general idea of the digital edition. A book catalogue can hardly provide information on networks; the history of the text is of limited interest (only one hand is at work) and there is no further version of it, published or unpublished, we might compare it with. What the book catalogue allows to do, though, is to see how books operate as information deliverers and how the chronological constitution of the book collection reflects an evolution in the history of scholarship.

Since Boeckh designed this catalogue to his personal use, the information about the books is more than often pretty allusive. The work steps of this project hence include:

– transcription of the manuscript

– identification of the book; realization of a complete bibliographical dataset;

– connecting this dataset with an exemplary of the book.

This is certainly at this stage the most interesting part of the work process. The Historical Collections at the University Library of the Humboldt University (whom we greatly thank for providing the scans as well as access to some of the least easily findable archiving data such as ex-libris catalogues) did not only inherit the catalogue, but also the books listed in it. Since those were along time incorporated in the University Library’s collection – and since its archiving system changed a couple of times since 1865 -, finding the books is not as easy as one might presume. Some of them are to be found at the Prussian State Library. Some of them have remained by the family (whom we are also grateful to for having given us permission to have those books scanned).

How can we know that these are Boeckh’s personal books? This is where, in a further work step, things should get really fun. Boeckh annotated his books, or at least, some of them. These notes he made on the books – for instance those by classical philologists he might have been in concurrence with – have the potential to be retraced as a first formulation of what may have become, in a further work step, part of a class (for instance his famous “Encyclopeadia of the philological sciences”), an argumentative point in a critique or even a chapter in a book that he wrote. In that sense, this project is not as far of the general idea of our digital edition as it could seem at first, since it also allows to retrace text genesis and reception phenomena, exchange of ideas, and stonemarks in the history of sciences – in this case, in the history of Classical Philology.

For the time being, the webdesign gives access (by mouseclick) to a complete bibliographical dataset as well as to the connected entries (for instance, if you check an edition of Homer’s Ilias, you will be given a list of all versions of Homer’s Ilias mentioned on the list – and there are a few of them…). When a free accessible scan of the corresponding book is available online (not Boeckh’s exemplary, but one that has already been scanned and made available online), a link leads you to it. By the end of the year, we will add links to Boeckh’s personal, annotated volumes that will be by then scanned and hosted by the University Library (this should concern about 35 books).

We are still looking for ideas to improve the design or the general concept – don’t hesitate to leave a comment here!

What this will not be about

Moment of truth today: I read what I had left lying a year ago, dreading to have to start all over again.

The last five pages are, indeed, crap. But I was suprised – and happily – at how well the first two subparts of what is supposed to be the first big part had hold on steady along time. What I have to do is now clear: read some more to expand those two first subparts so that they actually look like one part in a month or so. I have to read: Ricoeur, critique génétique stuff, historical approaches to ancient archives, and more on materiality of the text in general. The pile of books waiting to be read is already impressive, and bound to grow.

I began today by reading two smaller texts by Benjamin – more out of curiosity than for wanting to do something precise with them. Both texts (“Der Autor als Produzent”, “Literaturgeschichte und Literaturwissenschaft”) confronted me with the evidence of what I do not want to write about, about what one (anyone really, including myself) would have expected me to write about. So, this will not be about political writing, about intellectual networks, about how intellectual networks make writing become political, and it will not be about letters either.

For a long time, I figured that the one thing I knew about and could write about were letters. But I turned out to be unable to renew myself there. I have written so much about letters already – it is as I were unable to write something new, as if I were damned to repeat myself, which I seem not to be able to stand. And really: if the deal is to write, then the point is to write something new. And to hurry up, as was told me today again. They said that the wave of the post -68s generational change is about to end soon and no reasonable opportunity should be disregarded since there won’t be so many of them any more. But I won’t tell you today about my hesitations regarding my application strategy.  Because what I write will, also, is not be about science policy, although that might be the second best topic I might have wanted to write about. I think there will still be time for me to do so, and to it better than I would now, in ten to fifteen years.

What this will not be about is, too: new corpora to explore and present. I have not even two years to wrap up at least a coherent part of this titanic project of mine, after all.

What this will be about: make wishful thinking become reality, and get to what texts are. There will be a digital part to it, I promise. But you will have to be patient,  because I need another six months to reach it.