Translating the Holocaust: The Ethics of Memoir

Paper delivered at the conference, “Holocaust Writing and Translation” Institute of Advanced Study, University of London, Feb. 2011.

In his provocative 1998 study of the theory and practice of translation, critic Lawrence Venuti makes the following claim for the power of translated texts to disrupt the target culture’s literary and ideological hegemony.  Although “foreign literatures tend to be dehistoricized by the selection of texts for translation, removed from their foreign literary traditions where they draw their significance”(Venuti 1998, 67), translation, he asserts, “simultaneously constructs a domestic subject” (Venuti 1998, 68) who can be transgressive or conservative.  Translation possesses for him “an identity-forming power” that can change canons and concepts of self-identity by forming new domestic subjects through “a process of “mirroring” or self-recognition: the foreign becomes intelligible when the reader recognizes himself or herself in the translation by identifying the domestic values that motivated the selection of that particular foreign text and that are inscribed in it through a particular discursive strategy.” (Venuti 1998, p. 77)  In other words, translated texts, although removed from their historical context in the source culture, retain a transformative power in the target culture because that which was seen to be relevant to the target culture is identified by the new audience.

Venuti takes as case studies two canon-changing translation trends in Classical and Japanese literature.  However, I would like to test this claim on perhaps the far thornier literary and historical phenomenon of Holocaust memoir.  To what extent could Venuti’s insight help us to understand the complexities of reception of the translated text of personal testimony in Holocaust literature.  To what extent does a target culture recognize itself in the translation of the text of witness?  To aid me in this inquiry, I will draw on the work of Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben, in a brief examination of Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz, and the publication history of Ruth Klüger’s weiter leben (1992) and its English version Still Alive (2001).

Recent critical studies of Holocaust memoir have made, what is euphemistically known, as the “linguistic turn”, using either speech act theory, or recent trends in linguistic pragmatics to examine the implicit and explicit assumptions about the truth-value of the utterance of witness and testimony in Holocaust memoirs.  Such an approach can be found in Ruth Franklin’s A Thousand Darknesses: Lies and Truth in Holocaust Fiction, newly issued from Oxford University Press, in which she bravely points out that even “the canonical work of Holocaust literature, involves some greying of the line between fiction and reality.” (p. 11)  Alan Rosen in his Sounds of Defiance: The Holocaust, Multilingualism and the Problem of English (Nebraska UP, 2005) problematizes the use of English, both within the camps and in immediate post-war texts of testimony as well as in the proliferation of Holocaust memoirs now written with English as their first language.   Piotr Kuhiwczak’s “The Grammar of Survival.  How do we Read Holocaust Testimonies” (in Translating and Interpreting Conflict, (2007) pp. 61-73 examines the fascinating phenomenon of using how English, with its status of non-Native language, can access memories of trauma that remain inexpressible in native tongues. (P. 67)  All these studies problematize the use of English in critical literature on the Holocaust as well as, for Rosen, examine the potential liberatory value of English in the camps.  However, as Franklin’s title would suggest, what is also at stake here is the question of authenticity; the authenticity of the speaking and writing “I” in testimony, the authenticity of the memoir (most famously disproven in the scandalous case of Wolfgang Koeppen’s “ghost-writing” of Jakob Littner’s first-person account “Journey through the Night”) and the examination of the power of, what critic Philippe Lejeune has famously termed the “autobiographical pact.”  This pact, he has theorized, is the necessary agreement between reader and author that the grammatical, speaking “I” of the autobiographical text is the same as the experiencing “I” who is the principal character of the memoir.  This equation constitutes the classical autobiography.  There are variations: where the speaking “I” is not the experiencing “I” and the text, therefore, becomes a “biography in the 1st person;” in other words, a homodiegetic narrative of witness, approaching what Italian philosopher Giorgio Agamben  posits in his examination of the impossibility of writing the testimony of the “Muselmann” in his brilliant study of the ethics of witness and the Holocaust Remnants of Auschwitz: The Witness and the Archive (Zone, 1999).  Or, the writing grammatical subject can be referred in the second person but still be identical with the writing subject, in which case we have an autobiography in the second person, such as we find in Christa Wolf’s Kindheitsmuster.  The choice of grammatical speaking and witnessing subject is crucial to the testimonial nature of Holocaust memoir.  Given that many critics, from Adorno to George Steiner, consider Holocaust testimony to reside outside the realm of aestheticization or fictionalization, we arrive at a demand for a kind of “radical authenticity” in Holocaust memoir that, as Agamben argues, carries the impossible and tautological burden of bearing witness to the gas chambers, an experience that one cannot survive.  For Agamben, “ the value of testimony lies essentially in what it lacks; at its center, it contains something that cannot be borne witness to and that discharges the survivors of authority.” (Agamben, 1999, p. 33)  If then, one cannot bear witness to an event, such as being inside a gas chamber and survive it to write of it, the meaning of testimony has to be sought elsewhere. For Agamben, that meaning is to be found in the ethical decision to write of the (untranslatable) Muselmann, the state of simultaneous being human and non-human.

Let us return momentarily to Venuti’s claim with which I began this paper, namely that the potential for cultural disruption that the translated text possesses lies in its ability to “enable a process of self-recognition”.  Now, Venuti here is arguing for a model of [re]cognition that stems from the German Romantics and has been most thoroughly examined in terms of translation studies by Antoine Berman in his work, L’épreuve de l’étranger: Culture et traduction dans l’Allemagne romantique. [Paris: Gallimard, 1984] .  Berman identifies in his work the twelve deforming tendencies of translation

  • Rationalisation,
  • Clarification,
  • Expansion,
  • Ennoblement,
  • Qualitative impoverishment,
  • Quantitative impoverishment,
  • the destruction of rhythms,
  • the destruction of underlying networks of signification,
  • the destruction of linguistic patternings,
  • the destruction of vernacular network or their exoticisation,
  • the destruction of expressions and idioms,
  • the effacement of the superimposition of languages

Of these tendencies, the ones that might prove to be of most conceptual use to the study of Holocaust memoir and translation are the “destruction of underlying networks of signification” and those deforming tendencies that deal directly with the inter-lingual translation as also an inter-semiotic one.  For example, what would be the linguistic patternings of the source text, the vernacular network, expressions, idioms, the multi-layering of language in Holocaust memoir?  In Primo Levi’s Survival in Auschwitz, the author makes frequent reference to the “Babel” of the carbide tower of the Buna works, built with its “Ziegel, briques, tegula, cegli, kamenny, mattoni, téglak”, (p. 73) the ziggurat of linguistic brickwork preserved in Stuart Wolf’s translation.  German in the camps is a language of survival, English the language of potential liberation, signified by the grinning English POWs in their fur-lined jackets, clandestinely giving the extra-linguistic Victory sign as they pass the lines of slave workers.

But what must also evade deformation in translation is the untranslatable, the sign that cannot be deciphered, to which no equivalent may be found in any target language:  the Muselmann.  Again, avoiding the deformation of the loss of vernacular networks, Stuart Woolf lists the labels one could assume within the camp system, the “Organisator, Kombinator, Prominent” and if one cannot become one of these, one soon “becomes a musselman” (p. 89)  Strangely, Woolf decides to attempt a translation of Muselmann and produces a deformed term—“musselman”, what is this, a collector of mussels? Not even using the lexical equivalent of the German term “Muselmann”=muslim, Woolf produces a neologism, perhaps to exoticize, to alienate, to make the reader stumble over the term.  But, I would argue this is not satisfactory, which also seems to be Woolf’s judgment as he switches on the following page between his newly coined and deformed term and the German original.

The “Muselmann” provokes much discussion in both Holocaust literature and criticism.  For Agamben, Levi’s account embodies the paradox of witnessing the “Muselmann” in that the ethical moment of Holocaust memoir comes in self-recognition of the witness in the human/non-human whose gaze has now become milky, whose skin has developed sores and whose body displays the edema of severe malnutrition: that gaze of self-recognition that produces the guilt of the survivor and the exhortation to witness.  The subversive tendency of translation in this perversely Lacanian mirror-moment would then consist of a disruption of the radical anti-semitism of the Nazis that pro- and re-duces the human to the non-human, that translates the Jew into the “Muslim”, the “Muselmann.”[1]  What is left, as an act of permanent restitution, in the sense of Steiner’s fourth hermeneutic motion, would then be to give the “drowned their story” to quote Primo Levi.  The untranslatable “Muselmänner” of Auschwitz, etymology better left unknown, present themselves as “the anonymous mass, continually renewed and always identical, of non-men who march and labour in silence, the divine spark dead within them, already too empty to really suffer.  One hesitates to call them living: one hesitates to call their death death, in the face of which they have no fear, as they are too tired to understand.” (Primo Levy, Survival in Auschwitz, p. 90)

The ethical question that Agamben poses, and on a much wider cultural plateau that Venuti echoes, is how to bear testimony to “this inhuman impossibility of seeing.”  (Agamben, p. 54) Is then what is recognized as the “tohu-bohu” of preconscious existence?  The chaos of the existent world before God moved upon the waters?  That state of non-being of which each of us is capable, that is beyond the ethical, the moral, the conscious? And what does that then make of the witness? Not only one who recognizes that this state is present in the other and the self, but also that the presence of this state radically disrupts the moral fabric of those who survive, of the world that continues on after the “non-death” of the Muselmann.

How, then, does the survivor “weiter leben”?

In 1992, Ruth Klüger published her Holocaust memoir, weiter leben.  Wildly successful in Germany, selling over 250,000 copies and on the bestseller lists, the book actively engaged the German reader in an interrogation of the Nazi past.  Immediately translated into Dutch, French, Italian, Spanish and Japanese, the book did not appear in English until 2001, after the death of Klüger’s mother.  However, as Caroline Schaumann has pointed out, Klüger’s English Holocaust memoir was an act less of textual self-translation than a substantive cultural translation.[2] Schaumann has already painstakingly traced many of the linguistic and stylistic changes from the German version to the English and has linked the changes to specific events in the ensuing years after the appearance of the German volume.  For example, Klüger’s mother dies, new facts arise as to the actual end of Klüger’s father (in fact from a reader of the German version), Klüger writes the English version in America and not in Germany.  There are multiple places within the work where Klüger performs deformations à la Berman of either expansion or clarification, whether dealing with German terms, Jewish, or allusions to American parallels.   Schaumann examines the comments made by the author that are specifically targeting her audience, either in Germany or in the US and comes to the conclusion that Klüger’s text is “the first Holocaust testimony devised as a specific dialogue with a culturally specific readership.” (p. 336)  Putting the question of primacy aside, I would like to focus on one culturally specific change to the Holocaust memoir that caused Klüger to rewrite the whole work as an English memoir and not as a translation of a German memoir, bearing in mind Venuti’s claims for translation’s potential to form cultural identities.

Klüger was also in Auschwitz.  The argot of the camp produced, from nowhere, the term “Muselmann” as referenced above in Levy’s work.  In the German text of her memoir, Klüger writes of the importance of not giving up hope in order that one did not become like the Muselmann:

Es gibt eben außer der Hoffnungslosigkeit, die Mut macht und die Borowski über die  Hoffnung stellte, noch die apathische Hoffnungslosigkeit, verkörpert in dem Phänomen “Muselmänner”, Menschen, denen der Selbsterhaltungswille im KZ abhanden gekommen war, und die nun wie Automaten reagierten, fast autistisch.  Sie galten als verloren, kein Muselmann könne lang überleben, versichterte man mir.  (weiter leben, p. 106)

Echoing Primo Levy, Klüger defines the Muselmann as the non-living, the autistic, non-communicative existent, soon to be memorialized in her “aalglatte[r] Kindervers” Der Kamin, which follows, transcribed from memory as the poet had in Auschwitz, of course, neither paper nor pencil.

In the English version, as though suddenly faced with the ontological paradox of translating the phenomenon of the Muselmann, Klüger omits the remembered children’s verse, and writes the following:

Maybe there are two types of despair, the kind that enables you to take risks, as Borowski thought, and which he held in higher esteem than hope, and then the kind of despair that makes you listless, sluggish, impassive.  There was a type of prisoner who had given up, whose will to live had been destroyed, who acted and reacted as if sleepwalking.  I don’t know the source of the moniker Muselmänner, Muslims, which was used to describe them, but no racial slur was implied, since Islam wasn’t an issue either for the Nazis or for the inmates of the camp.  The Muselmänner were walking deadmen who wouldn’t live long, I was told. (Still Alive, p. 90)

Bearing in mind her politically sensitive American audience, Klüger removes the reference to autism, and performs a quantitive and qualitative deformation by substituting “listless, sluggish, impassive”  (hardly a PC way out for the readers who knew the German as well as the English!).  Faced with the “épreuve” of translation, of the foreign, Klüger (like other prisoners in Auschwitz) denies knowledge of the source of the term “Muselmann,” at the same time as she assures us of its non-racist intentions, removing from its conceptual grid the very irony commented on by others (Mansoor et al).  Klüger’s  American version has been deformed, with the destruction of the underlying networks of signification, of the vernacular network of the KZ and its idioms.  Schumann has identified the places in the American text where Klüger has drawn sometimes uncomfortable parallels between the experience of anti-Semitism and American racism, places that she, Schaumann elevates to the status of a direct interrogation of the target audience.  I would disagree.  To return to Venuti: the phenomenon of racial discrimination may well be that which the target audience (of which Klüger herself has become one, as an American not German author) sees reflected in the translated text and recognizes as the reason the text speaks to them.  But, the ethical moment of translation, is to endure the “épreuve” of the foreign, the gaze of the slave worker, the non-death of the Muselmann.

[1] See Parvez Manzoor “Turning Jews into Muslims: The Untold Saga of the Muselmänner” Islam21 (April 2001) pp. 8-12.  Accessed on 2/5/11 at http://www.algonet.se/~pmanzoor/Muselmann.htm

[2] Caroline Schaumann, “From weiter leben (1992) to Still Alive (2001):  Ruth Klüger’s Cultural Translation of her “German Book” for an American Audience” in German Quarterly 77 (Summer 2004), pp. 324-339.

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The Hidden Work of Moravian Wives

The Hidden Work of Moravian Wives:

A Conversation with Anna Nitschmann, Eva Spangenberg, Martha Spangenberg, and Erdmuth von Zinzendorf

Moravian Archives, Bethlehem

February 13, 2018

 

Katherine Faull, Bucknell University

 

Introduction

Thank you for the invitation to talk this evening on the subject of Moravian women’s work and how it has been “hidden” in the records and from the eye of those who study labor history. I am going to talk tonight about the concept of “labor” in the colonial period of the Moravian Church, with a special focus on where women’s work was deemed to occur, how it was described and valued, and how in the historiography of the church this work has been described. I am going to look at the role that female leaders of the church played in defining what constitutes work in the church and how that contribution was later obscured.

The notion of concealed labor or hidden work is nothing new to scholars of gender and race where in the historiography of knowledge making and invention, the work of women and minorities has been regularly elided. One only needs to look at the history of discoveries in the field of science to repeatedly come across the trope/meme of the white male scientist working with a lab team that is remarkably male and white in a Nobel Prize winning discovery. See, for example, the discovery of the structure of DNA at the Cavendish laboratories at Cambridge University in 1953, credited to James Watson and Frances Crick which in their own relations of the discovery, hid the contributions of Rosalind Franklin’s earlier research into the crystallography . Or the case of the discovery of the Epstein-Barr virus that can lead to lymphoma also leaps to mind, where the hours of work done by both microbiologist Yvonne Barr and Trinidadian electron microscopist Burt Achong in the laboratory also go without recognition.

Within Moravian historiography the contributions of Zinzendorf’s first wife, Erdmuthe Dorothea, have certainly been recognized, probably a product of her class position coming from the nobility. Her contribution to the history of Pietism is investigated in the thoroughly researched, if dated, work of Wilhelm Jannasch. This 1915 biography of the Countess tells the story of her life, marriage with Zinzendorf, her mostly hands off approach to the establishment of the early Gemeine, her willingness for numbers of the Moravian exiles to be employed in her household, her gradual assumption of a working role in the leadership of the congregation, her growing role in the financial management of the church, her assumption of fiscal leadership during the time of Zinzendorf’s exile from Saxony, her assumption of leadership during his time in America, with the travels to London, Denmark, and the Baltic states and then her withdrawal, as Jannasch terms it, upon his return and the ascension of Anna Nitschmann to the role of “Mutter” in the church. etc. Although Jannasch’s work has been more recently supplemented by the appearance of Erika Geiger’s short volume (translated by Julie Tomberlin Weber) it is heavily derivative of the earlier work.

Of far more significance to the revised appraisal of the Countess’s work is the scholarly focus on the correspondence networks and the importance of the Reuss family that is being carried out in the University of Jena by Martin Prell; and also the research being carried out on the Countess’ and Benigna von Watteville’s correspondence, performed by Marita Gruner at the University of Greifswald.

Erdmuthe von Zinzendorf’s willingness to open her household to the members of the fledgling community directly benefited the three other leading women of the early Church I am discussing today. Best known is her support of Anna Nitschmann, who was employed in the Zinzendorf household as a servant and errand girl and then as companion to Benigna von Zinzendorf with whom she later travelled to America. At the same time as Anna Nitschmann is in the Berthelsdorf household, both of Spangenberg’s future wives are also in the fledgling Herrnhut community. Eva Immig, as she was then, was already widowed, was employed as nursemaid to Christian Renatus, and was counted among the first “Laboresses” of the community among the widows. Like Anna, Martha Spangenberg (or Miksch as she was then) came into the service of the Zinzendorf family in 1727. It is interesting to imagine all four of these leading women in the Moravian church living and /or working under one roof in the late 1720s.

As I have outlined in several of my other lectures in Bethlehem last year, evidence of Anna Nitschmann’s work was, after 1760, deliberately hidden by destroying records that pertained to her central role in the leadership and development of the church. Anna’s work consisted of both labor in a material and spiritual sense.

In a series of miniatures, presented to Anna to celebrate her 30 years as Eldress to the Gemeine, Anna is depicted as spinning while also receiving the visitation of several leading male theologians of the time. As I discussed in my Zug lecture, this trope is significant as a representation of the intersection of both material and spiritual realms of work. The image of Anna receiving the two prominent churchmen at the spinning wheel and in front of the floor loom encapsulates the idea, promoted by Zinzendorf, that the choir houses were the workshops of the divine. In the SS choir houses the spinning and weaving of cloth were two of the most prevalent economic and artisanal activities. I would also argue that in addition to producing vital goods (and income) for the Gemeine and the Choir, spinning and weaving as traditional tropes of women’s wisdom, also were imbued with spiritual worth.

Is this idea put into practice within the congregation? Let us turn to Spangenberg’s first wife, Eva Maria. Maria, as she known within the Gemeine, had been born in Dresden and married her first husband Dr. Christoph Immig, a lawyer, before coming to Herrnhut in 1727. They had two children, one of whom “went astray” and the other died. Eva Maria was one of the first 12 Laborers in the new community and then became the nursemaid to Zinzendorf’s son, Christian Renatus. When her first husband died at the age of 77, Eva Maria became the Pflegerin of the Widows Choir for 12 years. During Zinzendorf’s exile Saxony she became the Vorsteherin of the whole Gemeine, assisting Martin Dober for two years. In 1739, she left Herrnhut and went to Wetteravia, where she married Spangenberg in 1740.

Alongside Spangenberg, she was central to the foundation of the Moravian congregations in London and Yorkshire, and worked extensively in England and then in America where she was General-Ältestin from 1744-1749. According to her memoir, which was written by Spangenberg, she was much loved among the mission populations in America, and in the mission diaries and travel journals, Spangenberg is repeatedly asked by members of the Iroquois and Delaware nations alike, where his wife is and how she is doing. When Eva Maria and Spangenberg left Bethlehem in October 1749, the Brothers and Sisters bathed the streets in tears (to quote from her Ll). Eva Maria died in 1751 in Herrnhuth. Before she died, her lost child, the daughter, came back to her and tended to her in her final illness. She was in her 55th year.

So what would have made Eva Maria so beloved to the Bethlehem congregation (although there are signs that this was perhaps not such a universal emotion)?

The Spangenbergs arrived in America in October 1744 and came straight to Bethlehem. Anna Nitschmann had left at the turn of year 1742-3, so the memory of her work at the Forks of the Delaware was still strong, and had been regularly kept alive by the reading of her letters from London and Yorkshire. According to the Bethlehem Diary for 1744, Eva Maria immediately travels to Shekomecko (following in the footsteps of Anna) and celebrates a Love feast with the mission workers (the Büttners and Macks) with rolls and chocolate (which we presume she had brought with her from Bethlehem/New York). Upon her return to Bethlehem on December 2, Eva Maria conducts her first Married Sisters ¼ hour service, and then a blessing for pregnant sisters and nursing sisters, and finally a ¼ hour service for the German and English sisters in Bethlehem. Eva Maria’s work also includes conducting the Speakings for the sisters (of all marital status’), leading Lovefeasts for the children, married sisters, and widows.

All of this is quite expected for a woman leader in the Moravian church at that time. However, Maria also conducts Lovefeasts for specific groups of women workers. Sisters who work in the laundry, or who spin, or weave, or knit, or sew also have a lovefeast dedicated to them respectively, and this appears to have been Maria’s own idea. In Oerter’s translation of the 1745 diary he states, “Mary made some orders and regulations for the Sisters spinning wool, cotton, flax and tow.” (Jan. 4 1745) At these lovefeasts for the different forms of women’s work, Maria apparently speaks so powerfully that the Sisters’ production is significantly increased (for example, on January 29 1745 50 sisters at a spinners lovefeast produced record amounts of yarn and also volunteered to strip feathers for the beds of the newborn).

Putting to one side the resonant echoes of Ernst Troeltsch and Max Weber’s appraisal of the Moravians economic activity, (Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism) for one moment, I would like to think about the spiritualization of women’s work not in terms of how to produce more for the community but as a foregrounding of the work that the SIsters did. This work, noted in the Diary, is seen as a form of “Gottesdienst”, a service to God and is valued as essential to the mission of the whole community as spiritual work as well as encouraging the ethic of production.

Does this concept of women’s work operate outside the choirhouses? What effect does it have on the missions, for example? I would now like to draw on the manuscript material that informs my work on the Shamokin mission diary. Shamokin, on the forks of the Susquehanna River, was a strategically important point for Native Americans, colonial agents and traders, and Moravians alike. Zinzendorf, Anna Nitschmann, Benigna, and Spangenberg had all visited this place, not least to foster a relationship with Shikellamy, the vice-regent of the Six Nations.

In a conference held at the confluence of the North and West Branches of the Susquehanna River in August 1747, the Moravian married couples, Nathaniel and Anna Hagen and Anton and Catharine Schmidt sat down to discuss how the blacksmith’s shop that was to be established there was to be run. The first article on the agenda that had been drawn up by Spangenberg was the stipulation that “When the Indians bring something for our Sisters to sew, they will accept it with thanks, and willingness and require nothing as payment.”FOOTNOTE: Footnote Five months later, when they were joined by the married couple Joseph and Martha Powell, this same topic appeared as the first item of business in their conference. The Sisters were to accept sewing from the Indians and require nothing in return.

While this might seem like a small incidental detail in the larger artisan economy of the Pennsylvania Backcountry, I would argue that the work and skills of the Moravian Married Sisters who came with their husbands to the “frontier” country of Pennsylvania in the first half of the eighteenth century were central to the Moravian and Native American understanding of how an exchange of services and goods, whether it be sewing, blacksmithing, shoe or mocassin making, grinding corn and baking could take place. The Married Sisters’ participation in an artisan economy both extends the previous notion of “women’s work” that I have outlined and also challenges the long held notion that women’s role in this early settlement period was primarily as part of the “household economy,” in which women were employed in the raising of crops, production of food and clothing, within an autarkic economy of the settlers’ log home.

Because of the Moravian notion of the “marriage militant,” many of these Brothers took their Sisters (wives) with them into the mission field to work with the female indigenous populations .  However, the Moravian mission in Shamokin, Pennsylvania (1747-55) was not set up as a mission village but rather as a blacksmith’s shop to serve the Iroquois and their protected tribes, the Delaware, Tutelo, Conoy, and Shawnee. The Moravian smithy at Shamokin was established because of its usefulness to the Six Nations, and, as such, its existence at the confluence of the North and West Branches of the Susquehanna River, the intersection of eleven Indian paths, offers an interesting and anomalous microstudy of the artisan in the backcountry.

Shikellamy was quite explicit in his expectations of how the smithy would be run. In a slightly earlier conference with Brother Martin Mack in April of 1747 held at Shamokin, the Oneida chief and emissary of the Five Nations, stipulated that the work done at the smith for the Five Nations should be done for free when the Iroquois are travelling down river to war with the Catawba. He stated explicitly, “I desire, T’girketonti (Spangenberg’s Iroquois name) my brother, that when something is done to their flints that it is done for free, because they have nothing with which to pay. However, when they return, and they have something done, then they would have to pay for it.”FOOTNOTE: Footnote

In August 1747, at the conference held at Shamokin to set down the conditions of the establishment of the smithy there Spangenberg prescribed that the Moravians were to maintain themselves there “auf Indianisch Art.”  That meant that only the Three Sisters (beans, corn, squash) could be planted, no wheat, rye, or oats, and nothing that would make the place seem like a European plantation. All accounts were to be held by Brother Hagen or Joseph Powell; the blacksmith Anton Schmidt had to meet with him at the end of every day and go through the transactions of the day. The price of services had to be set so that one Indian does not get charged more than another, and the accounts were then sent on to the Sozietät für die Heyden (the Society for the Heathen), that paid for the blacksmith’s supplies.

At the Confluence, there was also the presence and agency of the Moravian sisters. In the literature on Moravian artisans and missionaries there is plenty of discussion of the role the men played in the development of settlements, a rural economy that goes beyond that of exchange, but almost no mention of what their wives were doing, what kind of work did they have and did it contribute to this rural economy? While the literature on Moravian missions is large, the multiple challenges and opportunities for cross-cultural trade and knowledge transfer that the Moravian sisters enjoyed, has only recently become the focus of study for historians such as Jane Merritt, Amy Schutt, Gunlög Fur, Rachel Wheeler, and Alison Duncan Hirsch.FOOTNOTE: Footnote In the Shamokin Diary we find evidence of Native, métis and Euro American women’s involvement in trade, care, and mission on an intimate level. Despite the dearth of official records of women’s activities, speech, and agency, from mission diaries we are able to delineate women’s experience as moving beyond the traditional notion of them as refugees for financial, religious, or ethnic reasons or as silent companions of fathers, husbands, masters, or maybe brothers. In Merritt’s discussions of Anna Mack, Anna Smith, and Rowena McClinton’s studies of Moravian women’s mission to the Cherokee women, and Alison Duncan Hirsch’s study of some of the women around the Susquehanna Confluence, the discussion focuses on women and cross-cultural communication, the inter-relation of religious concepts, notions of gender, and medical and pastoral concepts of the body.

Based on evidence from the Moravian mission diary from Shamokin I argue that there existed an artisan economy of sorts in which the skills of both the brothers and the sisters were sought after and exchanged with the Native American and Euro-American population. From the archival records, it is clear that the Married Sisters participated in an exchange economy, where sewing skills, for example, were vital in order to receive gifts of food and medicine from the local Native population. Married Sisters were central to the mission both because of their knowledge of Native American languages, their ability to communicate with the Native women around the blacksmith’s shop, and also because of their own artisanal skills, such as sewing and baking. These skills brought them into an economy of trade and also knowledge.

So how might this relate to the lovefeasts for the knitters, spinners, weavers, and launderers? In her 1995 book on artisans on the North Carolina backcountry, Johanna Miller Lewis argues (somewhat controversially) that women who practiced traditionally female skills such as spinning, sewing, weaving, or knitting for profit commonly have not been classified as artisans by historians.”FOOTNOTE: Footnote Miller Lewis ascribes this to the fact that women did not receive the same training as male artisans, and if they did, it was within the home, invisible to the historical record of craftsmen’s books, journeymen’s passes, and guild records. Furthermore, many historians considered women’s artisanal skills as “merely” part of the housewife’s duties and therefore not an income-generating skill. However, recent studies of rural populations in, for example, Ireland during the Great Potato Famine, have shown that women’s skills were central to the survival of rural populations in times of crisis and famine (Irish famine and women lace makers, for example).  Challenging the dominant notion of the “household economy” that has held sway over early modern economic history and its autarkic self-sufficiency, Miller Lewis argues for a more nuanced understanding of women’s participation in a backcountry economy where their skills in textile production and repair was also key to the survival of the family and also the community.FOOTNOTE: Footnote I would like to argue that what is presented as a paradigm for women’s work in the image of Anna Nitschmann spinning as she receives the eminent theologians, and in Maria’s institution of lovefeasts celebrating the work of women, provided many of the Married Sisters at Shamokin (and elsewhere) with precisely the model of work as Gottesdienst that women outside the Moravian church might have received within the household economy. The difference in the Moravian training was that women’s artisanal skills were taught not for the benefit of a more nuclear “household,” but rather for the larger “oikos” of the mission settlement; and, as such, these skills were both a form of women’s spiritual knowledge and income generating.

So, how crucial were the women’s contributions to this artisan economy? Did the sewing, the baking, the interpreting and negotiating help the mission in Shamokin?

Towards the end of the existence of the mission at Shamokin, the picture of the place has changed. The Moravians now have livestock, cows and calves, and are thinking about getting a bull. A new mission house has been built further from the river and closer to a spring. Letters between Shamokin and Bethlehem talk of the need for sugar and tea (for the Moravian Lovefeasts), of wine and bread for communion; new trousers and shirts; the skins received in payment (racoon and deer) are being transported back to Bethlehem through intermediaries, such as Michael Schäffer, a shoemaker who lives 5 miles down the Tulpehocken Path.

The Married Sisters have gone. The mission has become a plantation, it services the flints of the traders and white settlers and its original purpose has been lost. Spangenberg wonders if they shouldn’t just shut up shop, sell the house and its contents that are no longer needed to Conrad Weiser, slaughter the livestock and sell the meat.

The end of the Shamokin mission almost coincides with the arrival of Martha Spangenberg in America. In the little literature that exists on her, scholars such as Beverly Smaby and Hartmut Lehmann concur that she understood “women’s work” in a very different manner than her husband’s first wife. Where Eva Maria was seen as a leader, much after the model of Anna Nitschmann and Erdmuthe von Zinzendorf, Martha is described as quiet and staying in Spangenberg’s shadow.

Martha Elisabeth Spangenberg was born in 1708 in Berthelsdorf and came into the service of Benigna von Zinzendorf 1727. In 1730 she married Mattheus Miksch and they had two children. In 1733 Mattheus was sent to St. Croix as one of the first missionaries there but Martha was very reluctant to go and preferred to stay behind with their two children in the congregation in Herrnhut. When Mattheus died in St. Croix in 1734 Martha moves into the Widow’s House as their Laboress for sixteen years until in 1750 she is called to London in 1750 to work with the widows there. Then in 1752 it is suggested that she marry Spangenberg. Martha is initially reluctant because she is very happy living and working with the widows. However, she finally agrees and in 1754 proceeds to work with him in North America. As Craig Atwood has outlined in his article on Spangenberg in colonial America, Martha and Joseph worked here to stabilize and consolidate the community’s affairs through the difficulties of the French and Indian War and after the deaths of Zinzendorf and Anna, the dismantling of the General Economy. They return to Europe via Philadelphia in 1762.

As I have argued in the introduction to my recent translation of the Instructions to the Choir Helpers, it is clear that Martha worked with her husband in the composition of the Instructions for the Single, Married, and Widowed Sisters. In 1764, she is one of the Sisters who is given the task of discussing women’s issues in the synod when they come up. However, Martha’s work with her husband appears to have not always been so welcome to the sisters. For example, in 1771 after the Spangenbergs have returned to Herrnhut, the Single Sisters write a letter to the Unity Elders Conference complaining that Brother Spangenberg and Martha are conducting the monthly Speakings with them rather than their Choir Helpers. Although I need to examine the archival record still to unearth more of Martha’s work, it is already clear from the Instructions and then this letter, that it consisted in implementing the Choir Principles and Instructions that she and her husband were formulating. At the close of her wonderful article on Female Piety in Bethlehem, Beverly Smaby makes the point that the dismantling of women’s power and valued work as spiritual leaders was the work of Spangenberg, and that if it was a man, Zinzendorf, who gave women this power, it was also a man, Spangenberg, who took it away. I would refine this claim somewhat and argue that the positive and vital value ascribed to women’s spiritual and material work was modeled and encouraged by Erdmuthe von Zinzendorf and followed by a multitude of extraordinarily talented women and also integrated into the economic and spiritual economy of the congregations and missions. And it is also a woman who helps to redefine what women’s work should consist of after Anna Nitschmann’s and Erdmuthe’s deaths, and that seems to be Martha Spangenberg.

Anna Nitschmann in the World

Anna Nitschmann in the World: Leader, Preacher, Sister

Zug lecture

Bethlehem, October 2017

At the news of the deaths in May 1760 in Herrnhut of both her closest companion and colleague, Anna Nitschmann and the leader of the Renewed Church, Count Nikolaus von Zinzendorf. Anna Piesch Seidel writes in her memoir,

“Now I was completely orphaned, and the grief and worry in my poor soul was great, not only because of these two people, but also primarily because the settlements and choirs had now lost their lead sheep and [because of] how things would go in the future. My anxious thoughts and premonitions did unfortunately come true in considerable measure, and to my inexpressible pain, I had to witness that these dear people were almost completely forgotten, especially the dear Mama [Anna Nitschmann].” (MAB)

I begin my lecture today with this poignant quotation not to retrace the steps taken by scholars before me, such as Beverly Smaby (in whose article this quotation appeared) and Paul Peucker, to show both how and why the Moravian church leadership after 1760 took deliberate steps to not only dismantle female leadership in the church but also to purge the archival record of an traces of that leadership (that passage is actually heavily scored out in the original memoir of Anna Piesch). Rather I would like to begin to rebuild the picture of Anna Nitschmann as a religious leader, who in other times might not have had her legacy scrubbed away and her influence denied.

In my previous lectures on Anna Nitschmann, held here in Bethlehem last spring during my tenure as Visiting Scholar at the Centre for Moravian Studies, I began this exploration. I outlined first how Anna Nitschmann had been depicted in the scant scholarship that exists on her to date. I spoke about how Anna Nitschmann’s time in America changed both Zinzendorf’s estimation of her abilities as leader and led to her subsequent elevation to Mother of the Church. I also investigated in more detail Anna Nitschmann’s activities in America, that led to her change in role in the church. I have delineated the way in which Anna Nitschmann was sent out to America with her father before Zinzendorf and was tasked with speaking to the disparate groups of Lutheran and Reformed emigrants here whom Zinzendorf wished to unite in a vision of his “philadelphian church”. Here, Anna Nitschmann learned English in the space of a year, held conferences with Lutheran and Separatist leaders of religious communities such as Ephrata Cloister, the Dunkers, the New Mooners, the Schwenkfelders (with whom she actually lived in Falckner’s Swamp). Her presence attracted unmarried young women to listen to her speak of Christ. She met the Delaware Indians who lived around what was to become Nazareth, and, once Zinzendorf and his party arrived in Philadelphia, she worked with all these groups to attempt to secure acceptance of Zinzendorf’s bold plan.

Although my research is still at its early stages, the documents that I have found here in Bethlehem and also in Herrnhut, serve to contradict the traditional image of this extraordinary woman in Moravian history. Most often depicted as a “shepherdess of souls” or as the companion of Zinzendorf, almost never is she described as a female religious leader in her own right. The iconography of Anna Nitschmann is one laden with ribbons, and flowers, and little birds, hearkening back to the symbology of the Sifting Period. Scholarly comment on her recently discovered sermons to the Single Sisters remark on the importance of finding a woman’s homilies to other women but also tend to dismiss them as derivative” “typically Moravian and “nothing new.”

Those of us who have been involved in feminist scholarship for most of our careers will recognize these terms as ones that a male-dominated critical discourse has traditionally used to dismiss women’s contributions to art, literature, science, music, engineering and religion. One only has to read Virginia Woolf’s classic “A Room of One’s Own” to see that her incisive criticisms of patriarchal historiography are still unfortunately valid. Whereas the leaders of the post-Zinzendorfian church may have used as an excuse the need to improve the image of the Moravian Church to its contemporaries (see Smaby, 164 Female Piety) what excuse can today’s church posit? Why, when the Moravian Church has ordained women bishops for twenty years, is there no mention of the woman who preceded them all?

Slide 2 Sammelbild

Clearly, Anna Nitschmann’s contemporaries thought of her very differently than those that came after her. Let us take this picture as a paradigm of their esteem. Here we see a picture presented to Anna Nitschmann in 1745 by the Single Sisters on the occasion of her 30th birthday. 18 scenes from Anna’s life up to the age of 30 are included that are clearly considered to be iconic for the single woman who now, in 1745, was considered the “Mother of the Church”.

Starting from top left we see Anna as a 7 year old being forced to attend the catholic church in Moravia; next right, as the shepherdess of her father’s sheep while still in Fulnek; then her exile walking three weeks through the forests and mountains to Herrnhut in 1725; being received by Countess Henriette Katharina von Gersdorf.

On the second row we see Anna living in the castle in Berthelsdorf with her parents and working as an errand girl: here she is warming a little soup for Benigna von Zinzendorf (who is in Anna’s care); next, Anna attends a meeting of the womenfolk of Herrnhut led by Erdmuthe in 1727 and is deeply moved; next, Zinzendorf comforts Anna after the news of her brother Melchior’s death in 1729; next we see Anna being elected to the position of Eldress of all the Sisters in 1730 by Erdmuthe v. Z.

The next row shows Anna being introduced to the Single Sisters by Zinzendorf; then, in 1735 Anna at the spinning wheel (with a floorloom in the background) receiving distinguished visitors, such as here Zinzendorf, Layritz, Steinhofer and Oetinger (I will return to this picture); Anna attending her first Communion service in the church in Berthelsdorf in 1727; Anna with Zinzendorf, Benigna and Christian Renatus at the foot of the Ronneburg in 1736.

On the fourth row we see Anna travelling with Erdmuthe v.Z. through Holland to London in 1737. This is supposed to be the coast of CAlais, from whence they are departing for Dover; then we see Anna visiting Zinzendorf’s mother in Berlin with her second husband, Prussian field marshal Dubislav Gunomar von Natzmer. In miniature #15 we see Anna saying goodbye to the Single Sisters Choir in Marienborn in 1740 (note the handkerchiefs) prior to her departure to America, then her leaving on a ship with her father for America in late 1740. The miniature is quite famous as it shows Anna “preaching” to a group of Quakers in Philadelphia after her arrival, and then the final picture is of a meeting between Zinzendorf and Anna in a Pennsylvanian forest in 1741, that even the artist admits never took place. At the center bottom of the series we see an angel holding a portrait of Anna Nitschmann, which is being admired by a group of non-Europeans. We will also come back to Anna’s meaning for the non-European world.

This exquisite artwork reveals not only the esteem in which Anna Nitschmann was held by her Choir-the Single Sisters- but also the events of her life to date that caused them to hold her in that esteem. Her simple beginnings, her flight to Herrnhut at the age of 10, her election at the tender age of 14 to the office of Eldress, her closeness to the aristocratic Zinzendorf family, the fact that she is visited repeatedly by leading church figures, her preaching to both men and women, and her bravery in the mission field.

What I would like to talk about today are two moments in Anna Nitschmann’s life between 1735 and 1742, (so while she is still in her 20s) when she displays those characteristics of a leader of the church, as a leader of women, and as a religious leader in the model of other women religious leaders in the western church; figures like Hildegard von Bingen, Mechthild von Magdeburg, and the 17th century Madame de Guyon. There is evidence that Anna Nitschmann studied these medieval mystics and later Pietistic thinkers before she left Herrnhut with the Zinzendorf family. Not only was she visited by leading figures of pietism to discuss these ideas, she also corresponded with them. So, rather then look at the depiction of Anna at the spinning wheel in the presence of Oetinger and Steinhofer as a kind of visual translation of the trope of the visitation of the Magi to Christ, maybe we could re-interpret that moment as a pivotal one in Anna’s life.

After that meeting, Anna Nitschmann considered taking the path of contemplation and seclusion but was persuaded by Zinzendorf to take the path of Christian action in the world as we can see from her memoir, which has served as the basis for much of the scholarship on her to date. Unfortunately, this precious document did not appear in print in German until 84 years after her death (and then in extracts) and the only translation into English is 139 years old, appearing in the Messenger in 1878, again in abstracts. However, of this visit at the spinning wheel in 1735, when she is just 20 years old, Anna writes (in the translation published in the Messenger):

“On the 24th of November, 1735, my twentieth birthday, the Savior revealed himself in a most powerful manner to my soul. A short time before, some brethren had advised me to read the life of St. Theresa, by Madame Guyon, a French mystic writer. I was delighted with the book and wished to follow in St. Theresa’s footsteps. There were precious truths set forth in the volume: but the all-essential point was wanting-that point in which all the other doctrines of God’s Word centre-the ransom price paid for our sins, the atonement made by our Savior for a guilty world. Conventual life, I gradually perceived, would not have suited me, though I was not insensible to its attractions. I saw that to spend my days immured in a cell would ill become one whose calling it is to work and do battle for Christ. OUR SAVIOR LED ME TO SEE THIS, THOUGH FOR A WHOLE quarter of a YEAR my mind was more or less unhinged and distracted by various thoughts and fancies which call for shame and humiliation. Thus I had my trials; but the Friend whom my soul loved helped me out of all my difficulties , and showed me that my safest course was to become as a little child.” (Messenger p. 447)

I find this passage remarkable for several reasons. First, what spurred this contact with her from two of the leading figures in Württemberg Pietism at that time? Why would they not only have written to her but also made the trip across the German states to visit her (at her spinning wheel and loom)? Second, Anna here recognizes the need for spiritual leadership in the practise of her faith and the need for a revised theology of action. Oetinger and Steinhofer were already well known to Zinzendorf and his family. Friedrich Christoph Oetinger (1702-1782) had studied philosophy and Lutheran theology at Tübingen University and was a devout reader of Jakob Boehme, the German mystic. In 1730, he had already visited Count Zinzendorf in Herrnhut where he had remained for a few months, teaching Hebrew and Greek.  He is best known perhaps as the German translator of Immanuel Swedenborg’s works, an involvement that brought him censure from his church superiors. His second cousin, Friedrich Christoph Steinhofer (1706-1761) was also a Lutheran theologian who visited Herrnhut and Zinzendorf for the first time in 1731. Zinzendorf accompanied Steinhofer on his trip to Württemberg in 1731 and recognized that he was a potential ally of the Moravians and saw that he received a position in Ebersdorf as the Court Preacher of his brother in law, Heinrich XXIX von Reuss-Plauen zu Ebersdorf. From 1735 on, Steinhofer was the minister in Ebersdorf in the Vogtland. Although Steinhofer later left the Moravians, he was for a time, a bishop in the congregation for the “Lutheran” tropus.

This visit, represented on this miniature, was apparently not a singular occurrence. From newly catalogued records at the Unity Archives in Herrnhut, we find that the correspondence between these two churchmen and Anna Nitschmann stretches over a period of at least two years, between 1735 and 1737. Unfortunately, Anna’s responses are not available. I cannot wait to read these letters and try to work out what was siad during these conversations.

A clue might be given in scholar of Pietism Doug Shantz’s essay on “Women, Men, and their experience of God” in which he examines Anna Nitschmann’s early memoir in the light of the history of spiritual narratives, looking for ways in which male and female discourse about the relationship to Christ might differ. Comparing August Willhelm Francke and Anna Nitschmann’s pietistic autobiographies, and drawing on the theories of scholars of the genre such as Paul Eakin and James Olney, Shantz highlights the images and tropes typical to mystical women’s writings in Anna’s memoir. He describes Anna as “following the way” set out for her by her “Bridegroom”. As we can see from Anna’s own words cited above, she is deeply moved by the writing of St Theresa. She is, according to Shantz, also following the way set out for her by these Catholic mystics because a Protestant tradition “was not yet available to her” (p. 35) Although Shantz does not follow up on this insight in any way, Anna herself does in her memoir. She sees the need to enhance the writings of Catholic mysticism with a deeply Lutheran consciousness of the debt she owes to Christ for salvation. Interestingly it is at exactly this time that Anna Nitschmann to compose her own hymns. She was especially productive as a hymn writer between the years of 1735 and 1748, composing while in Germany, England and North America. In fact, the 1741 Herrnhuter Gesangbuch contains 56 hymns of her composition, the most famous of which is Nr. 1027 “Verlobter König”. Hymn writing, according to Zinzendorf, is humanity’s way of speaking to God. And I would argue that after this meeting in 1735 one of the choices to Chrsitian action that Anna Nitschmann makes is to provide a devotional and linguistic model for the Single Sisters to express their devotion to Christ, their commitment to service, and their sisterhood to her.

If we take a brief look at the hymns that are composed by Anna Nitschmann during this period that are still in the German Herrnhuter Gesangbuch, we find eleven are still included. Thematically, the texts speak of humility, dependence on Christ for protection and guidance, the sacrifice of Christ, the nature of a Christian life of action (described by Anna as “like a lamb in the home, and a lion, when I roam” Hymn 385), and devotion to the Congregation.

The second moment that I would like to examine is that which follows five years after Anna’s “crisis” of 1735; namely, Anna’s activities in America. According to Aaron Fogleman’svolume, Jesus is Female, Anna Nitschmann’s “being like a lion when she roamed” occasioned some of the most virulent opposition to the Moravians among the Lutheran settlers and their leaders in Pennsylvania. He takes as evidence for this claim, Alexander Volck’s 1750 anti-Moravian tract, where one of deeds that proves the “Bosheiten” or wickednesses of the sect known as Herrnhuter, is that women performed the sacrament of baptism. Volck writes that when Anna Nitschmann was here in Pennsylvania there are accounts, some eye-witness, of her administering the sacrament of baptism to women: Anna Maria Seybold in particular. As there is plenty of evidence, Volck continues, for Moravian women participating in the “distributio” of the sacraments at communion, so why would anyone doubt that Anna Nitschmann also would perform baptisms? Of course, to take the words of one the most virulent opponents of the Moravians as reliable would be risky; were it not for the ample evidence of Anna Nitschmann’s remarkable ministry prior to this point in 1742.

Early on, the leaders of the Moravian church recognized Anna’s abilities as a potential leader in the nascent mission field of North America. In 1740, both Zinzendorf and August Spangenberg decided that Anna (at age 25) should accompany her father to the American colonies to work among the German-speaking people here. Both men considered Anna’s gender to be a decisive factor in their choice, in that it would allow her to better speak with the “haughty and independent” colonists (FRIES 1924). So, in July 1740, Anna wrote her farewell letter to the Gemeine, in anticipation that she would never return.FOOTNOTE: Footnote

As I have argued before, Anna Nitschmann’s years in America were pivotal. They were a turning point in her own realization of her calling, in Zinzendorf’s estimation of her abilities, and also in the practice of her female leadership of the church. Although in 1740, before coming to America, Anna Nitschmann resigned from her office as General Eldress of the women because she was uncertain what would greet her in the New World, her time in North America solidified her reputation as one of Pietism’s most important women leaders. Anna Nitschmann left for America with David Nitschmann Episc., her father, David Nitschmann Sr, Christian Fröhlich, and Johanna Molther in late summer 1740. After an arduous journey, they arrived in Philadelphia on December 15, 1740 and travelled immediately to the Moravians’ newly purchased lands in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. Their arrival was known to many of the other German sects settled in the province, such as the Brethren at Ephrata Cloister, and they subsequently came to visit with them. Anna’s “plan”, set out for her by Ziznendorf, was to work with these disparate groups, in the hope that her words, rather than those of a man, would bring them together in a truly ‘philadelphian’ ideal. To this end, Anna and her father travelled around Pennsylvania in the summer of 1741, visiting inter alia Conrad Beissel at Ephrata Cloister and the Associated Brethren of Skippack.

During her time here in Pennsylvania, Anna regularly wrote letters back to Herrnhut, to Benigna von Zinzendorf, to the Single Sisters Choir, and to those she had left in charge of that choir. In a letter dated April 1741, she described her activities among the peoples of Pennsylvania, a place that is a huge confusion “ein gar grosses Gewirre” of different sects and varying religious opinions. Despite this “Atlantic Babel,” Anna recognized that the German-speaking people here were waiting for salvation. In the three months since her arrival, she had already gathered 20 young women who sought the Savior; and eagerly anticipated the school that she and Benigna were to found. (R.14.A.no.26) Although she was living with and working for one of the Brethren of Skippack, she visited the Nazareth tract regularly, and noticed the many Native Americans who visited her. As she was working to clear the land, she was helped by the Native girls and young women to carry wood and water. O Benigna, she wrote, if only you were here to work with them!

Anna’s magnetic presence attracted many other young women. So, despite the plan that a single sisters choir should not be founded in Bethlehem, Anna had other ideas. Not only did she gather 20 young women together, she was quite militant in her defense of their unmarried state (remember, she herself had refused marriage several times at this point). For example, in another letter back to Herrnhut in April 1741, Anna congratulated Sister Brosel that she has refused the offer of marriage. In November 1741, Anna returned to Germantown to set up the Girls School with Anna Margarethe Bechtel and to await Zinzendorf’s arrival. On December 9, 1741, almost exactly a year after Anna’s arrival in America, Zinzendorf and his daughter, Benigna, arrived in Germantown. Due to his lack of both financial and linguistic preparation, the Count deferred to Anna, who used the unspent money she had been given in Herrnhut to help the Count. Zinzendorf also relied heavily on Anna’s knowledge of English to communicate with the other German settlers in the province. As Zinzendorf embarked on his plan to proselytize to the Native Americans and to try to unite the German sects in the colonies, Anna became a crucial factor in his success.

In the year of working with Zinzendorf in America, Anna Nitschmann accompanied him on his three journeys to the backcountry to meet with the Native American nations and also with the women who were either already working as interpreters for the Colonial government or who could work as missionaries because of their linguistic skills in Native languages (such as Anna Rau, later Mack, who spoke fluent Mohican. In January 1743, just over two years after she arrived in America, Anna embarked on the return trip to Europe. Her work in Pennsylvania was foundational: “If others reaped the harvest it was she that sowed the seed, and her name should be written in capitals in the church history of Pennsylvania, instead of being only casually mentioned !” (FRIES 1924, 134) On board the ship from New York to Dover, Anna writes back to Bethlehem: “As I never shall forget Pensilvania in generall so I think I shall remember thee also… an ever Dear Church of Sinners….. It is very weighty to me, that even from out of the English Nation, which hath Erred for so many years, trying many and various ways the Lord should gather a little Flock and bring it to rest on his Holy Wounds.” Life on board was rough, but in a separate letter to Brother Anton Seiffert dated March 1743 Anna describes her journey back to Europe. They Set sail on January 20 from New York and within 6 days had formed a Sea Cong. (they chose Elders). Everyone was seasick except Br Andrew the Negro and his wife. After experiencing two great storms that washed them onto a sand bank where wicked sailors tried to take advantage of them, they arrived Feb. 17 1743 in Dover and then continued on to London on Feb. 19.

As outlined in my previous lectures, the leadership that Anna showed in North America came to the fore in her work in England directly after that North American trip. After a brief stay in London with Brother Hutton, Anna travelled with Zinzendorf and his daughter north by stage coach to Yorkshire, where Anna began her work among the single sisters. Anna writes of this time that the people (sometimes in crowds of over 1000) were e like “hungry bees” , eager to hear her speaking about her experiences in Pennsylvania, and especially her stories of the American Indians. Once back in London, Anna met with and preached (in English) to a group of 30 young women in the Fetter Lane Chapel, where she once again captivated them with her words. If they were not already members of the Fetter Lane Society, they now quickly joined. Anna writes: “On Sunday I held a Qr of an Hour with 30 young women together with 3 Bands. I with 10 Laborers and the 2 others with each 10 Sisters. I can make use of my little English here very well.” And, she tells these English women, perhaps as a form of challenge,, “Don’t you know, my Dr. Br. that the Bethlehem Brethren and Sisters are remarkable above all others?”

All this success had its results. At the 1744 Synod at Marienborn it was decided that from then on, that Anna Nitschmann, as General Eldress of the women should receive the title “Mutter” of the whole Congregation. Anna was considered to be working as the Vice-Regent of the Holy Spirit. By so doing she finally ousted Zinzendorf’s wife, Erdmuthe, from this position.

Conclusion

In his precious, slim 1919 volume on Zinzendorf and women, that contemporary debates on women’s voting rights within the Moravian church occasioned, archivist of the church Otto Uttendörfer researched the tradition of women’s agency within the Unity of the Brethren. Uttendörfer cites at great length Zinzendorf’s speeches and sermons to the married and single men and women on the topic of gender. In this volume, Uttendörfer is not interested in discussing the “marital mystery” of Zinzendorf’s theology or Sifting period language. Rather he focuses on the theory and practice of women in the church. The earliest extant text on this topic, Uttendörfer claims, is Zinzendorf’s speech to the women in Philadelphia in 1742 where he expounds on the moral and religious ideal of women. Women in Christianity, he argues, are blessed by the fact that they can hold inside them, contained and gestated, God, the Divine. Resonant of the Orthodox name for Mary, the Theotokos, Zinzendorf calls on women to conceive of themselves as carriers of the Divine. His sermons on women should also be heard by men, as men need to learn from women the way of the divine. The single sisters choir houses are to be seen as “Propheten-Schulen”, places where women lead not cloistered lives, but are educated to be leaders of faith.

I return to the image of Anna receiving the two prominent churchmen at the spinning wheel and in front of the floor loom. In these SS choir houses the spinning and weaving of cloth were two of the most prevalent economic and artisanal activities. I would also argue that in addition to producing vital goods (and income) for the Gemeine and the Choir, spinning and weaving are also traditional tropes of women’s wisdom. As we know from classical and medieval literature, the image of women at the loom has for 1000s of years signified an alternative realm of knowledge generation. Whether Penelope in the Odyssey, Clytemnestra in the Oresteia, or Christine de Pizan in the City of Women, the creation of cloth is also a creation of knowledge and narrative.FOOTNOTE: Footnote Anna Nitschmann’s weaving, depicted in the celebration of her 30 years as an Eldress of the church, is an image of her other realm of knowledge acquisition and transmission. Listening to the words of the visiting Pietist scholars, Anna continues to work. If the choir houses are to be considered as the workshops of the divine, then it is no surprise that Zinzendorf also considers them to contain prophets and priests. By his definition, prophets are those who further the work of the choir; they have the authority to lead the choir in the right direction; and priests are those who work with the spiritual well-being of the choir. Thus for Zinzendorf, priestesses are eldresses, and prophets are female disciples (Jüngerinnen). Uttendörfer himself points to Zinzendorf’s extraordinary reliance upon women; a Quäckerish trait not approved of by all the leaders of the church, and that later led to the restrictions of women’s roles. But for Zinzendorf, Anna Nitschmann was both a priestess and a prophetess,

Anna Nitschmann’s legacy to the history of Pietism lies in her significant contribution to several branches of the Moravian Church; primarily mission work, hymnody, and religious leadership. And Anna’s efficacy in the mission field was enormous. Although severely under-researched, archival evidence reveals that her interactions with American Indians in Pennsylvania were effective and long lasting, and her work establishing the Girls School in Philadelphia with Anna Margaretha Bechtel (m.n. Büttner, Jungmann) was foundational.

By 1755, just five years before her untimely death, the minutes of the Synod of Single Sisters Choirs, at which both Anna Nitschmann and Zinzendorf spoke, show that the membership around the world of the choir that Anna had founded totalled approximately 3000, with SS choirs in Greenland, England, North America, the German states, Ireland, the Baltic states (almost 800 just there). The registers for the following year show a growth to 4200. At this synod, Zinzendorf remarks that he himself wishes he were a single sister!

The depiction of the non-Europeans staring at Anna’s picture with reverence is actually accurate. There is archival evidence from the diaries of the Single Sisters choirs established in the mission world that portraits of Anna were distributed as far afield as Greenland. We might well ask why when she never visited those places? And the archival records show that Anna Nitschmann corresponded with the Single Sisters throughout the mission world: North America, naturally, as she was well remembered for her leadership here; the Danish West Indies, Greenland, South Africa, West Africa, Persia and Egypt, and even in the diaspora, such as Poland,

Why is a reconsideration of Anna Nitschmann important? For women today she can act as a role model, as a paradigmatic female leader, as a pioneering female missionary to the Native Americans of Pennsylvania and New York, as the composer of hymns, as a woman who not only valued the agency of women but who worked with single women throughout most of her life to ensure that they saw their own strength and salvific value to the redemption of the world. Anna Nitschmann as a reader and thinker is perhaps a new icon that needs to be added to her gallery of tropes.

Anna Nitschmann in America

Anna Nitschmann in America

Katherine Faull, Bucknell University

Visiting Scholar, Centre for Moravian Studies, Spring 2017

Thank you for the invitation to talk about one of the best and least known figures in Moravian history, Anna Nitschmann. She and her father were among the founders of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, 275 years ago. However, although her position as a leader among women in the Moravian Church of the 18th century is often cited, little has actually been written about her that is based on archival sources in her own hand. Scholar after scholar who has attempted to write her biography has come up against two major problems when working on Anna Nitschmann.

One is what we might call, the “Anna Nitschmann legend” according to which, even during her lifetime, she became the paradigmatic Single Sister, elevated through poetry, song, verse, and art to an icon. The other problem is the almost complete lack of a scholarly biography of her, due not least to the deliberate purging of her personal correspondence, diaries, and papers after her death in 1760.

Thus, when scholars have undertaken to write about her, they have relied heavily on Anna’s own memoir, written in 1737 when she was 22 and which ends therefore before her emigration out of Saxony with the Zinzendorf entourage and, importantly for this talk, before her departure for America. Furthermore, this precious memoir (Lebenslauf) did not appear in print in German until 84 years after her death (and then in extracts) and the only translation into English is 139 years old, appearing in the Messenger in 1878, again in abstracts.

Why is a new look at Anna Nitschmann important? In my work on Moravian Women’s Lives for the last 20 years or more, the figure and name of Anna Nitschmann have come up again and again. As a role model, as a leader, as a pioneering female missionary to the Native Americans of Pennsylvania and New York, as the composer of hymns, as a woman who not only valued the agency of women but who worked with single women throughout most of her life to ensure that they saw their own strength and salvific value to the redemption of the world. In my volume of Moravian women’s memoirs, Anna Nitschmann’s name comes up repeatedly in the memoirs of other women: whether Anna Johanna Piesch Seidel with whom she worked closely on the formation and guidance of the Single Sisters Choirs; or Margarethe Jungmann, née Bechtel, whom she met in Philadelphia and with whom she and Benigna Zinzendorf founded the Girls school that would later become Moravian College; or in conjunction with Anna Rosel Anders, another one the leaders of the Single Sisters Choir. She worked in close conjunction with brothers and sisters and, I would argue, moved easily in and out of mixed groups in terms of gender and race. She was an intrepid explorer, a gifted poet, an inspirational leader. But so little is written about her!

This semester, as Visiting Scholar at the Centre for Moravian Studies, I have been working in archives and libraries to research Anna Nitschmann and to bring in the lives of other Moravian women of the 18th century (such as Benigna v. Zinzendorf, Eva Spangenberg, Anna Johanna Piesch) to try to build up a full picture of this remarkable woman. Indeed, my research so far has taken me to the archives in Herrnhut, London, and here in Bethlehem, where I have begun to piece together textual evidence of Anna Nitschmann’s life. I have found letters embedded within other letters, accounts of her travels attached to others’ accounts; I have found that even her autobiography has been neglected as an important source document that tells not only what happened in her life to the age of 22 but also looks at how she chose to describe that life in the context of the larger generic conventions of the Moravian memoir. I have gone through uncatalogued packages of papers in the London archives that revealed, quite by surprise, that someone else wanted to write a biography of her in the 19th century to celebrate the Single Sisters Festival. And that ministers in small British Moravian congregations are remarkably helpful when they discover what I am trying to do.

So, despite the ravages of post-Zinzendorfian archival culling and the 1940s London Blitz there is hope!

 

Respected scholars have seen in Anna Nitschmann a figure that deconstructs the traditional notion of women’s agency in the 18th century. Not a passive heroine, who allows things to happen to her, Anna is a doer, truly a mover and shaker, which is probably why her papers were all destroyed. At a time when to be a single woman in society meant either destitution, servitude, or cloistering, Anna Nitschmann refused marriage multiple times so that she could follow what she felt called to do; namely, provide spiritual guidance to women, especially young women. And her efficacy in this calling can be measured by, as Beverly Smaby has pointed out, the success of the Single Sisters Choir in the mission congregations, especially here in Bethlehem. Originally there was not supposed to be a large Single Sisters Choir here, as the Sisters who came from Europe were to be married in order to work in the mission field. However, Anna’s success in attracting single women from the colonies meant that there had to be Single SIsters Choir here.

What was Anna’s relationship to the much-lauded founding woman of Moravian College?

In 1734, Anna Nitschmann became the companion to Benigna von Zinzendorf, 10 years her junior (1725-1789) and thereby became even closer to the Zinzendorf family. In her memoir she writes that this was a difficult move for her, as she had to leave the solitude of her little room “Stübchen” and join the company of the nobility. The following year, marriage was proposed for her with Leonhard Dober, but because of a mutual reluctance, these plans were abandoned.

In a desire to educate herself further within the concepts and history of Pietism and mysticism, Anna befriended Steinhofer and Oetinger, Württemberg pietists who were visiting Herrnhut at that time, and began her study of Mme de Guyon and St. Theresa of Avila (JUNG 1998). By her own account, these readings tempted her to follow the contemplative life, but Zinzendorf called her instead to a life of action.

Early on, the leaders of the Moravian church recognized Anna’s abilities as a potential leader in the nascent mission field of North America. In 1740, both Zinzendorf and August Spangenberg decided that Anna (at age 25) should accompany her father to the American colonies to work among the German-speaking people there. Both men considered Anna’s gender to be a decisive factor in their choice, in that it would allow her to better speak with the “haughty and independent” colonists (FRIES 1924). So, in July 1740, Anna wrote her farewell letter to the Gemeine, in anticipation that she would never return.

In fact, Anna Nitschmann’s time in North America solidified her reputation as one of Pietism’s most important women leaders. (Here she is speaking to a group of Quakers before her departure from London to Philadelphia) Anna Nitschmann left for America with David Nitschmann Episc., her father, David Nitschmann Sr, Christian Fröhlich, and Johanna Molther in late summer 1740. After an arduous journey, they arrived in Philadelphia on December 15, 1740, and traveled immediately to the Moravians’ newly purchased lands in Nazareth, Pennsylvania.

Many of the other German sects settled in the province, such as the Brethren at Ephrata Cloister, had heard of their arrival and subsequently came to visit with them. Anna’s “plan” was to work with these disparate groups, in the hope that her words, rather than those of a man, would bring them together in a truly ‘philadelphian’ ideal. To this end, Anna and her father traveled around Pennsylvania in the summer of 1741, visiting inter alia Conrad Beissel at Ephrata Cloister and the Associated Brethren of Skippack.

During her time here in Pennsylvania, Anna regularly wrote letters back to Herrnhut, to Benigna von Zinzendorf, to the Single Sisters Choir, and to those she had left in charge of that choir. In a letter dated April 1741, she describes her activities among the peoples of Pennsylvania, a place she says that is a huge confusion “ein gar grosses Gewirre” of different sects and varying religious opinions. Despite her judgment of this “Atlantic Babel” she sees that the people here are waiting for salvation. She reports that in the three months since her arrival, she has already gathered 20 young women who are seeking the Savior; and they are just waiting for the school that she and Benigna are to found to open. (R.14.A.no.26) Although she lives with one of the Brethren of Skippack, she visits the Nazareth tract regularly, she notices the many Native Americans who visit her. As she is working to clear the land, she is helped by the Native girls and young women to carry wood and water. O Benigna, she writes, if only you were here to work with them!

Anna’s magnetic presence attracts other young women. So, despite the plan that a single sisters choir should not be founded in Bethlehem, Anna has other ideas. Not only has she gathered 20 young women together already, she is quite militant in her defense of their unmarried state. In another letter back to Herrnhut in April 1741, Anna congratulates Sister Brosel that she has refused the offer of marriage. Anna writes, ”I congratulate you, secondly, because you have refused your marriage with a conviction of your heart and want to remain a virgin as long as it pleases Him. I know well that we are not here for ourselves, but rather maidens of the Lamb. If He orders it otherwise, we cannot resist Him. But I have to confess, that this gave me not a little pleasure.”

“Zweytens, dass du hast …. Mit über Zeugung deines Herzens und mit … deine Heirath abgeschlagen, und Jungfer bleiben, solange es Ihm gefallen wordt. Ich weiss wohl dass wir nicht unsre sindt, sondern Mägde des Lammes. Wenn Ers uns anders befiehlt, so können wir Ihm nicht wiederstehen: Aber Ich muss bekennen, dass es mich nicht wenig gefreut hatt.”

In November 1741, Anna returned to Germantown to set up the Girls School with Anna Margarethe Bechtel and to await Zinzendorf’s arrival.

On December 9, 1741, almost exactly a year after Anna’s arrival in America, Zinzendorf and his daughter, Benigna, arrived in Germantown. Due to his lack of both financial and linguistic preparation, the Count deferred to Anna, who used the unspent money she had been given in Herrnhut to help the Count. Zinzendorf also relied heavily on Anna’s knowledge of English to communicate with the other German settlers in the province. As Zinzendorf embarked on his plan to proselytize to the Native Americans and to try to unite the German sects in the colonies, Anna became a crucial factor in his success.

During Bethlehem’s earliest months, despite there being explicit plans to the contrary, Anna worked to establish the Single Sisters Choir (SMABY 1999). While Zinzendorf is having a mixed reception among the German Lutherans in Pennsylvania, maybe it was Anna’s enthusiasm about the prospect of working among the Native peoples that convinces Zinzendorf that she (now 27 years old) and his daughter (17!!) should accompany him on his difficult and dangerous travels into Indian country. In 1742, much of the territory that Zinzendorf wanted to cover was known only to the Native peoples who hunted and lived there. Colonial agents, such as Conrad Weiser, were highly dubious about Zinzendorf’s plans to meet with one of the most influential Iroquois chiefs (Shikellamy) who had just been sent by the Haudenosaunee to oversee the politically crucial confluence of the Susquehanna river. And here is this Count, with his teenage daughter and another young woman wanting to travel through Indian country to talk to the Shawnee who were very unfriendly towards anyone (even the Iroquois). Conrad Weiser agreed to help but I can only imagine him shaking his head at such foolishness.

In August 1742, she set off with Zinzendorf’s party into the Pennsylvanian backcountry to meet the chiefs of the prominent American Indian nations, primarily the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee), the Mohican, and the Shawnee.

First, Anna traveled to the Mohican mission in Shekomeko, New York. Here she met with Jeannette Rau, who once married to Br. Martin Mack, quickly became a valuable missionary with her knowledge of the Mohican culture and language. The following month, Anna accompanied Zinzendorf to Shamokin, Pennsylvania, to meet with Shikellamy, the Oneida chief to discuss the possibility of Moravian missionaries working in the Haudenosaunee lands of Iroquoia that stretched across New York state and down into Pennsylvania.

Just up the West Branch, at Ostonwakin, Anna displayed her typical spirit of outreach in speaking at length with the celebrated interpreter between the Iroquois and the Colonial government, Madame Montour. In accounts of these travels into Indian country, Anna was always described as intrepid, taking the lead through difficult terrain, to the point where Zinzendorf had to hang on to her coattails to climb Shamokin mountain. She wrote thus: “The last journey was into the heart of their country, where we sojourned forty-nine days, encamping under the open heavens in a savage wilderness, amid wild beasts and venomous snakes.” (REICHEL 1870, 85n.) Her last foray into the wilds was a hazardous journey from Bethlehem to Ostonwakin on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania and then on to the Wyoming Valley to meet with the Shawnee.

This definitely constituted the least successful and most dangerous of the meetings with the Native peoples, yet Anna returned safely with Zinzendorf to Bethlehem.

In January 1743, just over two years after she arrived in America, Anna embarked on the return trip to Europe. Her work in Pennsylvania was foundational: “If others reaped the harvest it was she that sowed the seed, and her name should be written in capitals in the church history of Pennsylvania, instead of being only casually mentioned !” (FRIES 1924, 134) On board the ship from New York to Dover, Anna writes back to Bethlehem: “As I never shall forget Pensilvania in generall so I think I shall remember thee also… an ever Dear Church of Sinners….. It is very weighty to me, that even from out of the English Nation, which hath Erred for so many years, trying many and various ways the Lord should gather a little Flock and bring it to rest on his Holy Wounds.” Life on board was rough, but in a separate letter to Brother Anton Seiffert dated March 1743 Anna describes her journey back to Europe. They Set sail on January 20 from New York and within 6 days had formed a Sea Cong. (they chose Elders). Everyone was seasick except Br Andrew the Negro and his wife. After experiencing two great storms that washed them onto a sandbank where wicked sailors tried to take advantage of them, they arrived Feb. 17 1743 in Dover and then continued on to London on Feb. 19.

In London, Anna stayed with Br. Hutton. However not for long. As Br Spangenberg was not in London but in Yorkshire, Zinzendorf, Benigna and Anna N. travel on to Yorkshire by coach. Anna continued her work among the single sisters in Yorkshire, and Zinzendorf preaches to the assembled crowds on a Gemein Tag. They are like “hungry bees” she says (sometimes over 1000 people). She speaks about her experiences in Pennsylvania, and especially telling stories of the American Indians.

Once back in London, Anna meets with and preaches (in English) to 30 young women in the Fetter Lane chapel, London. Those women in the audience were captivated by her words and, if not already members of the Fetter Lane Society, quickly joined.

Anna writes of this time: “On Sunday I held a Qr of an Hour with 30 young women together with 3 Bands. I with 10 Laborers and the 2 others with each 10 Sisters. I can make use of my little English here very well.” But, she assures her listeners, “Don’t you know, my Dr. Br. that the Bethlehem Brethren and Sisters are remarkable above all others?”

All this success had its results. After returning from America, Zinzendorf made Anna into the “Gemein-Mutter” of all women in the Moravian church and by so doing finally ousted his wife, Erdmuthe, from this position.

Anna Nitschmann’s legacy to the history of Pietism lies in her significant contribution to several branches of the Moravian Church; primarily mission work, hymnody, and religious leadership. Anna’s efficacy in the mission field was enormous. Although severely under-researched, archival evidence reveals that Anna Nitschmann was a superb missionary and leader. Her interactions with American Indians in Pennsylvania were effective and long-lasting, and her work establishing the Girls School in Philadelphia with Benigna von Zinzendorf and Anna Margareta Bechtel (m.n. Büttner, Jungmann) was foundational. Furthermore, Anna Nitschmann was also an accomplished hymn writer, especially productive between the years of 1735 and 1748, composing while in Germany, England, and North America. For example, the 1741 Herrnhuter Gesangbuch contains 56 hymns of her composition, the most famous of which is Nr. 1027 “Verlobter König”. Despite later efforts to de-emphasize her importance, during her lifetime Anna Nitschmann was an object of widespread reverence. Archival records reveal lavish celebrations of her birthday throughout the Moravian world, from North America to Germany. Her death was as much of a shock to the Moravian church as was Zinzendorf’s.

However, it is important to consider what is missing from Anna Nitschmann’s archival records (SMABY 1997). Falling prey to the masking of female piety in post-1760 Bethlehem, the vast majority of her personal papers, diaries and letters were deliberately destroyed after her death (PEUCKER 2000); SMABY 1997 points to the additional, subtle ways in which Anna Nitschmann’s foundational activities were de-emphasized after 1761.

The recent discovery of a set of Anna Nitschmann’s addresses to the Single Sisters Choirs can give today’s reader some insight into her efficacy as a preacher (ZIMMERLING 2014, 253 and VOGT 1999). As mentioned above, both textual and visual evidence shows that Anna Nitschmann preached in America to men and women, both Quakers, Moravians, and other sects (VOGT 1999). Although VOGT 1999 argues that Anna preached only to other women in the Single Sisters choir and did not preach to men, FRIES 1924 argues the opposite. To date, biographers (JUNG 1999; ZIMMERLING 2005, 2014) have relied heavily on Anna Nitschmann’s own 1737 Lebenslauf. As PEUCKER 2000, SMABY 1997, and VOGT 1999 indicate, the deliberate destruction of Anna Nitschmann’s personal papers, letters, diaries, after her death in 1760 has relegated her to relative obscurity within the history of Pietism; however, her efficacy as a leader of Pietist women, a preacher, a hymn writer, and a missionary here in North America deserve more serious scholarly examination.

Recovering Anna Nitschmann: A Vision for a New Biography

“Recovering Anna Nitschmann: A Vision for a New Biography”

Katherine Faull, Bucknell University

Visiting Scholar, Centre for Moravian Studies Spring 2017

Thank you for the invitation to talk tonight about one of the best known figures in Moravian history, Anna Nitschmann. As we all know, she and her father were among the founders of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, 275 years ago. However, although her position as a leader among women in the Moravian Church of the 18th century is often cited, little has actually been written about her that is based on archival sources in her own hand. Scholar after scholar who has attempted to write her biography, such as Peter Zimmerling, Lucinda Martin, Adelaide Fries, and even Dietrich Meyer, have come up against two major problems when working on Anna Nitschmann.

One is what we might call, the “Anna Nitschmann legend” according to which, even during her lifetime, she became the paradigmatic Single Sister, elevated through poetry, song, verse, and art to an icon. The other problem is the almost complete lack of a scholarly biography of her, due not least to the deliberate purging of her personal correspondence, diaries, and papers after her death in 1760. Thus, when scholars have undertaken to write about her, they have relied heavily on Anna’s own memoir, written in 1737 when she was 22 and which ends therefore before her emigration out of Saxony with the Zinzendorf entourage and, importantly for this lecture, before her departure for America. Furthermore, this precious memoir (Lebenslauf) did not appear in print in German until 84 years after her death (and then in extracts) and the only translation into English is 139 years old, appearing in the Messenger in 1878, again in abstracts.

In my work on Moravian Women’s Lives for the last 20 years or more, Anna Nitschmann has come up again and again. As a role model, as a leader, as a pioneering female missionary to the Native Americans of Pennsylvania and New York, as the composer of hymns, as a woman who not only valued the agency of women but who worked with single women throughout most of her life to ensure that they saw their own strength and salvific value to the redemption of the world. In my volume of Moravian women’s memoirs, Anna Nitschmann’s name comes up repeatedly in the memoirs of other women: whether Anna Johanna Piesch Seidel with whom she worked closely on the formation and guidance of the Single Sisters Choirs; or Margarethe Jungmann, née Bechtel, whom she met in Philadelphia and with whom she and Benigna Zinzendorf founded the Girls school that would later become Moravian College; or in conjunction with Anna Rosel Anders, another one the leaders of the Single SIsters Choir. She worked in close conjunction with brothers and sisters and, I would argue, moved easily in and out of mixed groups in terms of gender and race. She was an intrepid explorer, a gifted poet, an inspirational leader. But so little is written about her!

And so, when just over a year ago I was asked to write an entry on Anna Nitschmann for the Pietismus Handbuch, edited by Wolfgang Breul at the University of Mainz, I accepted the challenge to write about a life that has been simultaneously mythologized and erased by forces both within and without the Moravian Church.

What I am going to present today is the beginning of what I hope will turn into a book-length project on Anna Nitschmann, that will explore the archives and libraries and bring in the lives of other Moravian women of the 18th century to try to build up a full picture of this remarkable woman. Indeed, my research so far has taken me to the archives in Herrnhut, London, and here in Bethlehem, where I have begun to piece together textual evidence of Anna Nitschmann’s life. I have found letters embedded within other letters, accounts of her travels attached to others’ accounts; I have found that even her autobiography has been neglected as an important source document that tells not only what happened in her life to the age of 22 but also looks at how she chose to describe that life in the context of the larger generic conventions of the Moravian memoir. I have gone through uncatalogued packages of papers in the London archives that revealed, quite by surprise, that someone else wanted to write a biography of her in the 19th century to celebrate the Single Sisters Festival. And that ministers in small British Moravian congregations are remarkably helpful when they discover what I am trying to do.

So, despite the ravages of post-Zinzendorfian archival culling and the 1940s London Blitz there is hope!

So here we have the image of Anna Nitschmann as a direct mediator between Christ and the other Single Sisters’ Choirs. And in other scholarship we find these terms used to describe AN in extant printed scholarship:

Hero (A. Fries)

“Handmaiden of the Lamb” (Atnip)

“Pietist and Leader of the Diakonie”

“One of 37 women who changed their world”

A pioneer of the Moravian Church

Activist

A Moravian Foremother

A women of courage and valor

Preacher, Priest and maybe even Bishop

These labels certainly work to promote the first part of the conundrum I outlined above: namely, Anna Nitschmann as legend and icon for female leadership and piety within both the Moravian Church and also in the context of the 18th century. Respected scholars, such as Beverly Smaby, Peter Vogt, Martin Jung, Peter Zimmerling and Lucinda Martin have all seen in Anna Nitschmann a figure that deconstructs the traditional notion of women’s agency in the 18th century. Not a passive heroine, who allows things to happen to her, Anna is a doer, truly a mover and shaker, which is probably why her papers were all destroyed. At a time when to be a single woman in society meant either destitution, servitude, or cloistering, Anna Nitschmann refused marriage multiple times so that she could follow what she felt called to do; namely, provide spiritual guidance to women, especially young women. And her efficacy in this calling can be measured by, as Beverly Smaby has pointed out, the success of the Single Sisters Choir in the mission congregations, especially here in Bethlehem. Originally there was not supposed to be a large Single Sisters Choir here, as the Sisters who came from Europe were to be married in order to work in the mission field. However, Anna’s success in attracting single women from the colonies meant that there had to be Single SIsters Choir here.

.So let us start by looking at Anna’s life as she depicted it herself, in her much-cited memoir. Most biographies that have been published on her, draw heavily on this document and reading it through, several few questions immediately come to mind. First, why would she write her memoir at this point? 1737 is the year in which she is part of the Zinzendorf family entourage which has been exiled from Saxony and is experiencing the challenges of the Ronneburg. Also, according to tradition, this is the year in which Zinzendorf asked Anna’s father to adopt him so that he and Anna could travel together as brother and sister without incurring gossip. (Not that it helped much…)

The memoir is a 26 page manuscript (long for a woman author in the Moravian Lebenslauf tradition) and is interspersed with poetry and hymns. In fact, reading it through, I think of the Moravian tradition of the Singstunde, where thoughts are expressed in musical form to be shared by all present. There are 10 instances in the document where Anna expresses her emotions through verse. Her memoir begins in an almost pastoral mode, describing her early years where she would be sent into the fields to tend sheep and would sing hymns to herself. Hymns are of course a form in which the individual and the communal come together in the expression of a commonly felt emotion. And to me this is a significant indication of Anna’s expressive lyrical style, that manifests itself in her success as a hymn writer and is repeated in her recently discovered sermons to the Single Sisters. Her personal experiences of doubt, faith, joy, are expressed in a form that others can participate in.

From her memoir we know that she was born on November 24, 1715 near Kunewald, Moravia, the daughter of David and Anna Nitschmann (née Schneider).

She speaks in her memoir of visiting her father, David Nitschmann in prison when she was only 8 years old and singing hymns to him and her brother for fortitude. Her family’s escape to Herrnhut was the stuff of movies–her imprisoned father miraculously escaped his cell when he found the locks on the door open, the guards miraculously blinded to his escape.

Although she writes of herself in the time before 1730 (as a young teenager) as lost, in her own “bedenkliche Jahre” it is hearing her brother Melchior pray at night that awakens in her the desire to “win souls for the Saviour”. It is at this point that she describes herself as gathering the other young girls together; she is also elected to the office of “Eldress of the Congregation”. She writes (my translation), “In this year, I moved away from my parents, something I could never have decided to do out of respect for them. But I realized that it was most fitting for my office, and thus did so with their permission. So, on January 26, 1733, I moved into the so-called Virgins’ House (Jungfern Haus) with 13 single sisters. There I was very content. We lived cordially amongst ourselves and many nights were spent in prayer.” Although things start out well, soon there are problems in the Single Sisters House. “Initially we lived in a shared community of goods. Later though certain things began to happen. Some of them became suspicious, and so love and unity were destroyed.” It seems as though several of the sisters were against Anna Nitschmann and she can only express her predicament to the Saviour.

Despite these problems, Anna’s commitment to the leadership of the Single Sisters choir is proven by her repeated refusal to enter into marriage. In 1733, due to the death of the Chief Elder and the absence of his newly elected replacement, Leonhard Dober, Anna assumed the position of Chief Elder for the year. She was 18. According to Zinzendorf, Anna’s activities that year included guiding the spiritual affairs of the Brethren as well as the Sisters, concerning herself with questions of doctrine, casting deciding votes in conferences, and instructing those assuming office. She also had to confirm candidates for communion, give a parting blessing to the dying, and perform much of the pastoral work of a minister (FRIES 1924, 130).

In 1734, Anna Nitschmann became the companion to Benigna von Zinzendorf, 10 years her junior (1725-1789) and thereby became even closer to the Zinzendorf family. In her memoir, she writes that this was a difficult move for her, as she had to leave the solitude of her little room “Stübchen” and join the company of the nobility. But she complies as she sees it as the Lord’s will. The following year, marriage was proposed for her with Leonhard Dober, but because of a mutual reluctance, these plans were abandoned. In a desire to educate herself further within the concepts and history of Pietism and mysticism, Anna befriended Steinhofer and Oetinger, Württemberg pietists who were visiting Herrnhut at that time, and began her study of Mme de Guyon and St. Theresa of Avila (JUNG 1998). By her own account, these readings tempted her to follow the contemplative life, but Zinzendorf called her instead to a life of Christian action.

In 1736, on Zinzendorf’s exile from Saxony, Anna Nitschmann joined his Pilgrim Congregation and, as Benigna’s companion, followed the family to the Ronneburg in Wetteravia (JUNG 1999, 165). In 1737, a year in which Anna traveled extensively with the Zinzendorf family, the Count apparently took the unusual step of requesting Anna’s father to adopt him as a son, so that he and Anna could call each other “Brother” and “Sister’. David Nitschmann complied. Anna’s own Lebenslauf ends in 1737.

So, early on, the leaders of the Moravian church recognized Anna’s abilities as a potential leader in the nascent mission field of North America. In 1740, both Zinzendorf and August Spangenberg decided that Anna (at age 25) should accompany her father to the American colonies to work among the German-speaking people there. Both men considered Anna’s gender to be a decisive factor in their choice, in that it would allow her to better speak with the “haughty and independent” colonists (FRIES 1924). So, in July 1740, Anna wrote her farewell letter to the Gemeine, in anticipation that she would never return.

In fact, Anna Nitschmann’s time in North America solidified her reputation as one of Pietism’s most important women leaders. (Here she is speaking to a group of Quakers) Anna Nitschmann left for America with David Nitschmann Episc., her father, David Nitschmann Sr, Christian Fröhlich, and Johanna Molther in late summer 1740. After an arduous journey, they arrived in Philadelphia on December 15, 1740, and traveled immediately to the Moravians’ newly purchased lands in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. Many of the other German sects settled in the province, such as the Brethren at Ephrata Cloister, had heard of their arrival and subsequently came to visit with them. Anna’s “plan” was to work with these disparate groups, in the hope that her words, rather than those of a man, would bring them together in a truly ‘philadelphian’ ideal. To this end, Anna and her father traveled around Pennsylvania in the summer of 1741, visiting inter alia Conrad Beissel at Ephrata Cloister and the Associated Brethren of Skippack.

During her time here in Pennsylvania, Anna regularly wrote letters back to Herrnhut, to Benigna von Zinzendorf, to the Single Sisters Choir, and to those she had left in charge of that choir. In a letter dated April 1741, she describes her activities among the peoples of Pennsylvania, a place she says that is a huge confusion “ein gar grosses Gewirre” of different sects and varying religious opinions. Despite her judgment of this “Atlantic Babel” she sees that the people here are waiting for salvation. She reports that in the three months since her arrival, she has already gathered 20 young women who are seeking the Savior; and they are just waiting for the school that she and Benigna are to found to open. (R.14.A.no.26) Although she lives with one of the Brethren of Skippack, she visits the Nazareth tract regularly, she notices the many Native Americans who visit her. As she is working to clear the land, she is helped by the Native girls and young women to carry wood and water. O Benigna, she writes, if only you were here to work with them!

Anna’s magnetic presence attracts other young women. So, despite the plan that a single sisters choir should not be founded in Bethlehem, Anna has other ideas. Not only has she gathered 20 young women together already, she is quite militant in her defense of their unmarried state. In another letter back to Herrnhut in April 1741, Anna congratulates Sister Brosel that she has refused the offer of marriage. Anna writes, ”I congratulate you, secondly, because you have refused your marriage with a conviction of your heart and want to remain a virgin as long as it pleases Him. I know well that we are not here for ourselves, but rather maidens of the Lamb. If He orders it otherwise, we cannot resist Him. But I have to confess, that this gave me not a little pleasure.”

“Zweytens, dass du hast …. Mit über Zeugung deines Herzens und mit … deine Heirath abgeschlagen, und Jungfer bleiben, solange es Ihm gefallen wordt. Ich weiss wohl dass wir nicht unsre sindt, sondern Mägde des Lammes. Wenn Ers uns anders befiehlt, so können wir Ihm nicht wiederstehen: Aber Ich muss bekennen, dass es mich nicht wenig gefreut hatt.”

In November 1741, Anna returned to Germantown to set up the Girls School with Anna Margarethe Bechtel and to await Zinzendorf’s arrival.

On December 9, 1741, almost exactly a year after Anna’s arrival in America, Zinzendorf and his daughter, Benigna, arrived in Germantown. Due to his lack of both financial and linguistic preparation, the Count deferred to Anna, who used the unspent money she had been given in Herrnhut to help the Count. Zinzendorf also relied heavily on Anna’s knowledge of English to communicate with the other German settlers in the province. As Zinzendorf embarked on his plan to proselytize to the Native Americans and to try to unite the German sects in the colonies, Anna became a crucial factor in his success.

During Bethlehem’s earliest months, despite there being explicit plans to the contrary, Anna worked to establish the Single Sisters Choir (SMABY 1999). While Zinzendorf is having a mixed reception among the German Lutherans in Pennsylvania, maybe it is Anna’s enthusiasm about the prospect of working among the Native peoples that convinces Zinzendorf that she (now 27 years old) and his daughter (17!!) should accompany him on his difficult and dangerous travels into Indian country. Let’s stop and think about this for a minute. I have worked on the records of the Moravian Indian missions in Pennsylvania for a while now. In 1742, much of the territory that Zinzendorf wanted to cover was known only to the Native peoples who hunted and lived there. Colonial agents, such as Conrad Weiser, were highly dubious about Zinzendorf’s plans to meet with one of the most influential Iroquois chiefs (Shikellamy) who had just been sent by the Haudenosaunee to oversee the politically crucial confluence of the Susquehanna river. And here is this Count, with his teenage daughter and another young woman wanting to travel through Indian country to talk to the Shawnee who were very unfriendly towards anyone (even the Iroquois). Conrad Weiser agreed to help but I can only imagine him shaking his head at such foolishness.

In August 1742, she set off with Zinzendorf’s party into the Pennsylvanian backcountry to meet the chiefs of the prominent American Indian nations, primarily the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee), the Mohican, and the Shawnee.

First, Anna traveled to the Mohican mission in Shekomeko, New York. Here she met with Jeannette Rau, who once married to Br. Martin Mack, quickly became a valuable missionary with her knowledge of the Mohican culture and language. The following month, Anna accompanied Zinzendorf to Shamokin, Pennsylvania, to meet with Shikellamy, the Oneida chief to discuss the possibility of Moravian missionaries working in the Haudenosaunee lands of Iroquoia that stretched across New York state and down into Pennsylvania.

Just up the West Branch, at Ostonwakin, Anna displayed her typical spirit of outreach in speaking at length with the celebrated interpreter between the Iroquois and the Colonial government, Madame Montour. In accounts of these travels into Indian country, Anna was always described as intrepid, taking the lead through difficult terrain, to the point where Zinzendorf had to hang on to her coattails to climb Shamokin mountain. She wrote thus: “The last journey was into the heart of their country, where we sojourned forty-nine days, encamping under the open heavens in a savage wilderness, amid wild beasts and venomous snakes.” (REICHEL 1870, 85n.) Her last foray into the wilds was a hazardous journey from Bethlehem to Ostonwakin on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania and then on to the Wyoming Valley to meet with the Shawnee.

This definitely constituted the least successful and most dangerous of the meetings with the Native peoples, yet Anna returned safely with Zinzendorf to Bethlehem.

In January 1743, just over two years after she arrived in America, Anna embarked on the return trip to Europe. Her work in Pennsylvania was foundational: “If others reaped the harvest it was she that sowed the seed, and her name should be written in capitals in the church history of Pennsylvania, instead of being only casually mentioned !” (FRIES 1924, 134) On board the ship from New York to Dover, Anna writes back to Bethlehem: “As I never shall forget Pensilvania in generall so I think I shall remember thee also… an ever Dear Church of Sinners….. It is very weighty to me, that even from out of the English Nation, which hath Erred for so many years, trying many and various ways the Lord should gather a little Flock and bring it to rest on his Holy Wounds.” Life on board was rough, but in a separate letter to Brother Anton Seiffert dated March 1743 Anna describes her journey back to Europe. They Set sail on January 20 from New York and within 6 days had formed a Sea Cong. (they chose Elders). Everyone was seasick except Br Andrew the Negro and his wife. After experiencing two great storms that washed them onto a sandbank where wicked sailors tried to take advantage of them, they arrived Feb. 17 1743 in Dover and then continued on to London on Feb. 19.

In London, Anna stayed with Br. Hutton. However not for long. As Br Spangenberg was not in London but in Yorkshire, Zinzendorf, Benigna, and Anna N. travel on to Yorkshire by coach. Anna continued her work among the single sisters in Yorkshire, and Zinzendorf preaches to the assembled crowds on a Gemein Tag. They are like “hungry bees” she says (sometimes over 1000 people). She speaks about her experiences in Pennsylvania, and especially telling stories of the American Indians.

Once back in London, Anna meets with and preaches (in English) to 30 young women in the Fetter Lane Chapel, London. Those women in the audience were captivated by her words and, if not already members of the Fetter Lane Society, quickly joined.

Anna writes of this time: “On Sunday I held a Qr of an Hour with 30 young women together with 3 Bands. I with 10 Laborers and the 2 others with each 10 Sisters. I can make use of my little English here very well.” But, she assures her listeners, “Don’t you know, my Dr. Br. that the Bethlehem Brethren and Sisters are remarkable above all others?”

All this success had its results. After returning from America, Zinzendorf made Anna into the “Gemein-Mutter” of all women in the Moravian church and by so doing finally ousted his wife, Erdmuthe, from this position. After stops in Herrnhaag, Herrnhut and Ebersdorf, Anna continued on to Silesia and Riga, where she was imprisoned for 19 days in 1743/4.

For the next ten years, Anna continued her work with Zinzendorf in consolidating the Moravian congregations and helping him to weather the crisis of the so-called “Sifting Time”. In 1749 she returns to London with Zinzendorf and in June they travel again to the congregation in Yorkshire. What I find so fascinating in reading these accounts of Anna’s activities among the ordinary people of the Yorkshire countryside is how seamlessly she is able to slip into vernacular societies and languages. For example, the Fulneck Diary of the Tabernacles reports that on July 5, 1749 “the Ordinary and the Mother sang a good deal of the liturgies, hymns and other verses chiefly in English. “ The importance of the work in Pennsylvania is not forgotten but rather quite a pageant is put on to celebrate the anniversary, (and also Z’s birthday)

11.07. Fulneck Diary: Papa kept the midday ¼ hour and Christel the evening blessing. After the evening blessing our larger hall was very prettily illuminated and decorated because today was 11 years since our much-beloved Mother went to Pennsylvania, and secondly, we were celebrating again our much-beloved Papa’s 50th birthday (he had been 49 in May!!).

A large picture had been painted about the Mother’s departure, in which was seen how Papa and Mama had kept a lovefeast before she went. The Mother stood with her pilgrim staff in her hand and her clothes gathered up ready for going. Below was the Lamb’s text for the day of her departure 11 years ago: Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. In the middle of the hall the picture of Papa’s birthday was illuminated, and on the left hand side the picture completed by the single sisters. The whole room was covered with green and red cloth, and in the middle between the windows was a pretty throne behind which sat our dear and beloved heart with 50 wax candles burning on the gallery, which had been placed in a pretty manner. Next to the middle illumination stood 2 prettily decorated tables, filled on top with confectionary and wine (which had been arranged by the brethren and sisters). In front of one of the tables a large ‘L’ was to be seen and in front of the other ‘A C’ (Anna Caritas), which presented a very pretty picture. Papa, the Mother and the other hearts were very pleased and everyone was very pleased. This blessed lovefeast was closed with the kiss of peace an hour after midnight.

The event is also described in the Diary of the Tabernacles:

In the afternoon was a pleasant lovefeast in commemoration of the dear Mother’s going to Pennsylvania this day 9 years. Several verses made about that time by her and the Ordinary were read and sung, and it was with much pleasure taken notice of how much, even at this time, was felt and spoken of the sidehole of our Saviour. In the evening the brethren and sisters had prepared a lovefeast both with a view to the aforementioned commemoration of this day, as also to testify their hearty joy for having obtained the visit which they had so long wished for. The hall was adorned with lights and with several fine pictures that Br Heldt had painted, which were illuminated, and this being a cloth country, the floor and forms were covered with green and red cloth of their own manufactory. The Ordinary, the Mother, Anna Johanna and Christel, and indeed everybody there were heartily pleased with it, and the Ordinary among others sang a verse.

While in Yorkshire Anna and Anna Johanna Piesch, conduct the Speakings with the Single Sisters, while Zinzendorf and Christian Renatus conduct the Speakings among the Single Brethren. Interestingly, on Communion Day (July 25th) the diary speaks of “ Papa and the Mother shared in the Lord’s Supper with us, which was very important to us all. “ after Zinzendorf had consecrated the wine.

In 1756, Erdmuthe Zinzendorf died. Just a year later, on June 27, 1757, Zinzendorf married Anna Nitschmann and thereby transformed her from “Gemein-Mutter” to “Jüngerin.” Although subsequent church historians have considered the marriage to be an “Amts-Ehe,” a marriage that permitted Zinzendorf to work closely with his adoptive “sister” Anna, it was also commonly known to be a love match. The potentially scandalous marriage that crossed strict class lines was kept a secret from all but the inner circle of the church. Anna and Zinzendorf were married by Leonhard Dober in private in the Berthelsdorf castle, only publicly announced a year later, in November 1758.

Although Zinzendorf wanted a son, the marriage between him and Anna produced no children. Anna, now in her 40s, continued her heavy travel schedule throughout the German states with Zinzendorf. But the health of both was severely deteriorating. After spending his final weeks in the Herrschaftshaus in Herrnhut on May 9, 1760, Zinzendorf passed away, separated from Anna, who was also ailing in the Single Sisters House. It is recorded that, as his coffin passed her windows, Anna was able to stand and watch as it made its way up to the Gottesacker. Twelve days later, on May 21, 1760, Anna died and joined him on the Hutberg. She was buried next to him; on his other side was his first wife, Erdmuthe.

Anna Nitschmann’s legacy to the history of Pietism lies in her significant contribution to several branches of the Moravian Church; primarily mission work, hymnody, and religious leadership. Anna’s efficacy in the mission field was enormous. Although severely under-researched, archival evidence reveals that Anna Nitschmann was a superb missionary and leader. Her interactions with American Indians in Pennsylvania were effective and long-lasting, and her work establishing the Girls School in Philadelphia with Anna Margareta Bechtel (m.n. Büttner, Jungmann) was foundational. Furthermore, Anna Nitschmann was also an accomplished hymn writer, especially productive between the years of 1735 and 1748, composing while in Germany, England, and North America. For example, the 1741 Herrnhuter Gesangbuch contains 56 hymns of her composition, the most famous of which is Nr. 1027 “Verlobter König”. Despite later efforts to de-emphasize her importance, during her lifetime Anna Nitschmann was an object of widespread reverence. Archival records reveal lavish celebrations of her birthday throughout the Moravian world, from North America to Germany. Her death was as much of a shock to the Moravian church as was Zinzendorf’s.

However, it is important to consider what is missing from Anna Nitschmann’s archival records (SMABY 1997). Falling prey to the masking of female piety in post-1760 Bethlehem, the vast majority of her personal papers, diaries and letters were deliberately destroyed after her death (PEUCKER 2000); SMABY 1997 points to the additional, subtle ways in which Anna Nitschmann’s foundational activities were de-emphasized after 1761.

The recent discovery of a set of Anna Nitschmann’s addresses to the Single Sisters Choirs can give today’s reader some insight into her efficacy as a preacher (ZIMMERLING 2014, 253 and VOGT 1999). As mentioned above, both textual and visual evidence shows that Anna Nitschmann preached in America to men and women, both Quakers, Moravians, and other sects (VOGT 1999). Although VOGT 1999 argues that Anna preached only to other women in the Single Sisters choir and did not preach to men, FRIES 1924 argues the opposite. To date, biographers (JUNG 1999; ZIMMERLING 2005, 2014) have relied heavily on Anna Nitschmann’s own 1737 Lebenslauf. As PEUCKER 2000, SMABY 1997, and VOGT 1999 indicate, the deliberate destruction of Anna Nitschmann’s personal papers, letters, diaries, after her death in 1760 has relegated her to relative obscurity within the history of Pietism; however, her efficacy as a leader of Pietist women, a preacher, a hymn writer, and a missionary deserve more serious scholarly examination.

Bibliography

Fries, Adelaide L. Some Moravian Heroes. Bethlehem, Pa: Pub. by the Christian Education Board of the Moravian Church, 1936. Print.

Fries, Adelaide L. “The Lure of Historical Research.” North Carolina Historical Review. 1.2 (1924). Print.

Jung, Martin H. Frauen Des Pietismus: Von Johanna Regina Bengel Bis Erdmuthe Dorothea Von Zinzendorf : Zehn Porträts. Gütersloh: Gütersloher Verlagshaus, 1998. Print.

Jung, Martin H. “mein Herz Brannte Richtig in Der Liebe Jesu”: Autobiographien Frommer Frauen Aus Pietismus Und Erweckungsbewegung: Eine Quellensammlung. Aachen: Shaker, 1999. Print.

Meyer, Dietrich. Lebensbilder Aus Der Brüdergemeine: Bd. 2. Herrnhut: Herrnhuter Verlag, 2014. Print.

Peucker, Paul. ‘In Staub und Asche’: Bewertung und Kassation im Unitätsarchiv, 1760–1810,” in Rudolf Mohr, ed., ”Alles ist euer, ihr aber seit Christi”: Festschrift für Dietrich Meyer (Cologne: Rheinland-Verlag, 2000) , 127-58.

Reichel, William, ed. : “Count Zinzendorf and the Indians, 1742.” Memorials of the Moravian Church. (1870): 9-140. Print.

Sawyer, Edwin A. These Fifteen: Pioneers of the Moravian Church. Bethlehem, Penn: Comenius Press, Moravian Church in America, 1963. Print.

Smaby, Beverly. “Female Piety Among Eighteenth-Century Moravians,” Pennsylvania History, 64, (Summer 1997): 151-67.

Vogt, Peter, “Herrnhuter Schwestern der Zinzendorfzeit als Predigerinnen” : Unitas Fratrum Heft 45/6 (1999): 29-60

Zimmerling, Peter, “Anna Nitschmann (1715-1760) Seelsorge unter Frauen” in Evangelische Seelsorgerinnen, Vandenhoek und Ruprecht, 2005, 103-123

Zimmerling, Peter. “Anna Nitschmann (1715-1760)” in Lebensbilder aus der Brüdergemeine vol. 2, ed. Dietrich Meyer, (Herrnhuter Verlag, Herrnhut, 2014), 245-258.

Anna Nitschmann: the Mother of the Church?

Anna Nitschmann: the Mother of the Church?

Talk, Moravian Seminary, February 2017

Abstract:

Katherine Faull of Bucknell University, Visiting Scholar for the Center for Moravian Studies at MTS, is spending this semester unearthing materials in various Moravian archives on the Chief Eldress Anna Nitschmann and her role in the Moravian Church in the 18th century. Faull is focusing on Nitschmann’s time in Pennsylvania, which was a watershed period for her in moving from being an eldress to being seen as the “Mutter” or Mother of the Moravian Church. Nitschmann was one of the founders of Bethlehem, was a pioneer missionary among Native Americans, and became one of Zinzendorf’s closest collaborators.

Dr. Faull is Professor of Humanities at Bucknell University and one of the leading figures in Moravian studies. Her latest book Instructions for Body and Soul has just been published by Penn State University Press.

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In Alexander Volck’s 1750 anti-Moravian tract, one of the deeds that proves for him the “Bosheiten” or wickednesses of the sect known as Herrnhuter, is that women have performed the sacrament of baptism. Volck writes that when Anna Nitschmann was in Pennsylvania there are accounts, some eye-witness, of her administering the sacrament of baptism to women: Anna Maria Seybold in particular. As there is plenty of evidence, Volck continues, for women participating in the “distributio” of the sacraments at communion, so why would anyone doubt that Anna Nitschmann also would perform baptisms?

Of course, to take the words of one the most virulent opponents of the Moravians as reliable would be risky, were it not for the ample evidence of Anna Nitschmann’s remarkable ministry prior to this point in 1742. Anna Nitschmann and her father were among the founders of Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, 275 years ago. However, although her position as a leader among women in the Moravian Church of the 18th century is often cited, little has actually been written about her that is based on archival sources in her own hand. Scholar after scholar who has attempted to write her biography has come up against two major problems when working on Anna Nitschmann.

One is what we might call, the “Anna Nitschmann legend” according to which, even during her lifetime, she became the paradigmatic Single Sister, elevated through poetry, song, verse, and art to an icon of female piety. As a paradigm of Moravian gender egalitarianism, she was also made into an anti-hero by Moravianism’s opponents.

The other problem is the almost complete lack of a scholarly biography of her, due not least to the deliberate purging of her personal correspondence, diaries, and papers after her death in 1760. Thus, when scholars have undertaken to write about her, they have relied heavily on Anna’s own memoir, written in 1737 when she was 22 and which ends therefore before her emigration out of Saxony with the Zinzendorf entourage and, importantly for this talk, before her departure for America. Furthermore, this precious memoir (Lebenslauf) did not appear in print in German until 84 years after her death (and then in extracts) and the only translation into English is 139 years old, appearing in the Messenger in 1878, again in abstracts.

Why is a reconsideration of Anna Nitschmann important? For women today she can act as a role model, as a paradigmatic female leader, as a pioneering female missionary to the Native Americans of Pennsylvania and New York, as the composer of hymns, as a woman who not only valued the agency of women but who worked with single women throughout most of her life to ensure that they saw their own strength and salvific value to the redemption of the world.

In the early years of the Moravian Church, Anna Nitschmann’s name occurs repeatedly in the memoirs of other women: whether Anna Johanna Piesch (Seidel) with whom she worked closely on the formation and guidance of the Single Sisters Choirs; or Anna Margarethe Jungmann, née Bechtel, whom she met in Philadelphia and with whom she and Benigna von Zinzendorf founded the Girls school that would later become Moravian College; or in conjunction with Anna Rosel Anders, another leader of the Single Sisters Choir. She worked in close conjunction with brothers and sisters and, I would argue, moved easily in and out of mixed groups in terms of gender and race. Named as Eldress of the Church at the age of 15, at the age of 30 she was elevated to the rank of Mutter/ Mother of the church. What did this mean and how did this happen?

What I want to suggest today is that Anna Nitschmann’s years in America were pivotal. They were a turning point in her own realization of her calling, in Zinzendorf’s estimation of her abilities, and also in the practice of her female leadership of the church. In 1740, before coming to America, Anna Nitschmann resigned from her office as General Eldress of the women because she was uncertain what would greet her in the New World. However, at the 1744 Synod at Marienborn it was decided that from then on, the General Eldress of the women should receive the title “Mutter” as she was working as the Vice-Regent of the Holy Spirit.

My research this semester has been focussed on unearthing archival evidence for my hypotheses about Anna Nitschmann. My research so far has taken me to the archives in Herrnhut, London, and here in Bethlehem, where I have begun to piece together textual evidence of Anna Nitschmann’s life. I have found letters embedded within other letters, accounts of her travels attached to others’ accounts; I have found that even her autobiography has been neglected as an important source document that tells not only what happened in her life to the age of 22 but also looks at how she chose to describe that life in the context of the larger generic conventions of the Moravian memoir. I have gone through uncatalogued packages of papers in the London archives that revealed, quite by surprise, that someone else wanted to write a biography of her in the 19th century to celebrate the Single Sisters Festival. And that ministers in small British Moravian congregations are remarkably helpful when they discover what I am trying to do.

So, despite the ravages of post-Zinzendorfian archival culling, and the 1940s London Blitz, there is hope!

Here are some of the terms used to describe Anna Nitschmann in extant scholarship:

Hero (A. Fries) “Handmaiden of the Lamb”

(Atnip) “Pietist and Leader of the Diakonie”

“One of 37 women who changed their world”

“A pioneer of the Moravian Church, Activist, A Moravian Foremother, A women of courage and valor, Preacher, Priest and maybe even Bishop” (Vernon Nelson)

Respected scholars, such as Beverly Smaby, Peter Vogt, Martin Jung, Peter Zimmerling and Lucinda Martin have all seen in Anna Nitschmann a figure that deconstructs the traditional notion of women’s agency in the 18th century. Not a passive heroine, who allows things to happen to her, Anna is a doer, truly a mover and shaker, which is probably why her papers were all destroyed. At a time when to be a single woman in society meant either destitution, servitude, or cloistering, Anna Nitschmann refused marriage multiple times so that she could follow what she felt called to do; namely, provide spiritual guidance to women, especially young women. And her efficacy in this calling can be measured by, as Beverly Smaby has pointed out, the success of the Single Sisters Choir in the mission congregations, especially here in Bethlehem. Originally there was not supposed to be a large Single Sisters Choir here, as the Sisters who came from Europe were to be married in order to work in the mission field. However, Anna’s success in attracting single women from the colonies meant that there had to be Single Sisters Choir here.

In his slim 1919 volume on Zinzendorf and women, occasioned by contemporary debates on women’s voting rights within the Moravian church, archivist Otto Uttendörfer researched the tradition of women’s agency within the Unity of the Brethren. Uttendörfer cites at great length Zinzendorf’s speeches and sermons to the married and single men and women on the topic of gender. In this volume, Uttendörfer is not interested in discussing the “marital mystery” of Zinzendorf’s theology or Sifting period language. Rather he focuses on the theory and practice of women in the church. The earliest extant text on this topic, Uttendörfer claims, is Zinzendorf’s speech to the women in Philadelphia in 1742 where he expounds on the moral and religious ideal of women. Women in Christianity, he argues, are blessed by the fact that they can hold inside them, contained and gestated, God, the Divine. Resonant of the Orthodox name for Mary, the Theotokos, mother of the Divine, Zinzendorf calls on women to conceive of themselves as carriers of the Divine. His sermons on women should also be heard by men, as men need to learn from women the way of the divine. The single sisters choir houses are to be seen as “Propheten-Schulen”, places where women lead not cloistered lives, but are educated to be leaders of faith.

In these SS choir houses, the spinning and weaving of cloth were two of the most prevalent economic and artisanal activities. In addition to producing vital goods (and income) for the Gemeine and the Choir, spinning and weaving are also traditional tropes of women’s wisdom. As we know from classical and medieval literature, the image of women at the loom has for 1000s of years signified an alternative realm of knowledge generation. Whether Penelope in the Odyssey, Clytemnestra in the Oresteia, or Christine de Pizan in the City of Women, the creation of cloth is also a creation of knowledge and narrative. Anna Nitschmann’s weaving, depicted in the celebration of her 30 years as an Eldress of the church, is an image of her other realm of knowledge acquisition and transmission. Listening to the words of the visiting Pietist scholars, Anna continues to work. If the choir houses are to be considered as the workshops of the divine, then it is no surprise that Zinzendorf also considers them to contain prophets and priests. By his definition, prophets are those who further the work of the choir; they have the authority to lead the choir in the right direction, and priests are those who work with the spiritual well-being of the choir. Thus for Zinzendorf, priestesses are eldresses, and prophets are female disciples (Jüngerinnen). Uttendörfer himself points to Zinzendorf’s extraordinary reliance upon women; a “Quäckerish” trait not approved of by all the leaders of the church, and that later led to the restrictions of women’s roles. But for Zinzendorf, Anna Nitschmann was both a priestess and a prophetess, and having witnessed her at work in America, in 1740 she also became the Mother of the Church,

Early on, the leaders of the Moravian church recognized Anna’s abilities as a potential leader in the nascent mission field of North America. In 1740, both Zinzendorf and August Spangenberg decided that Anna (at age 25) should accompany her father to the American colonies to work among the German-speaking people there. Both men considered Anna’s gender to be a decisive factor in their choice, in that it would allow her to better speak with the “haughty and independent” colonists (FRIES 1924). So, in July 1740, Anna wrote her farewell letter from London to the Gemeine, in anticipation that she would never return.

“Denkt auch an dieses Volk [Londoner Gemeinde] teuere Geschwister! Insonderheit auch an mich, eure arme Schwester! Ich habe nichts. Ich verlasse mich nun allein auf mein Lamm! Und auf euer Gebeth” (R.14.A.No. 26)

In fact, Anna Nitschmann’s years in North America (late 1740-January 1743) solidified her reputation as one of Pietism’s most important women leaders.  Anna Nitschmann left for America from London with David Nitschmann Episc., her father, David Nitschmann Sr, Christian Fröhlich, and Johanna Molther in late summer 1740. After an arduous journey, they arrived in Philadelphia on December 15, 1740, and traveled immediately to the Moravians’ newly purchased lands in Nazareth, Pennsylvania. Many of the other German sects settled in the province, such as the Brethren at Ephrata Cloister, had heard of their arrival and subsequently came to visit with them. Anna’s “plan” was to work with these disparate groups, in the hope that her words, rather than those of a man, would bring them together in a truly ‘philadelphian’ ideal. To this end, Anna and her father traveled around Pennsylvania in the summer of 1741, visiting inter alia Conrad Beissel at Ephrata Cloister, and the Associated Brethren of Skippack, located in Falckner’s Swamp, south west of Bethlehem.

During her time here in Pennsylvania, Anna regularly wrote letters back to Herrnhut, to Benigna von Zinzendorf, to the Single Sisters Choir, and to those she had left in charge of that choir. In a letter dated April 1741, she describes her activities among the peoples of Pennsylvania, a place she says that is a huge confusion “ein gar grosses Gewirre” of different sects and varying religious opinions. Despite her judgment of this “Atlantic Babel”, she sees that the people here are waiting for salvation. She reports that in the three months since her arrival, she has already gathered 20 young women who are seeking the Savior; and they are just waiting for the school that she and Benigna are to found to open. (R.14.A.no.26) Although she lives with one of the Brethren of Skippack, she visits the Nazareth tract regularly and notices the many Native Americans who visit her. As she is working to clear the land, she is helped by the Native girls and young women to carry wood and water. O Benigna, she writes, if only you were here to work with them!

Anna’s magnetic presence attracts other young women. So, despite the plan that no single sisters choir should be founded in Bethlehem, Anna has other ideas. Not only has she gathered 20 young women together already, she writes, she is quite militant in her defense of their unmarried state. In another letter back to Herrnhut in April 1741, Anna congratulates Sister Brosel that she has refused the offer of marriage. Anna writes, ”I congratulate you, secondly, because you have refused your marriage with a conviction of your heart and want to remain a virgin as long as it pleases Him. I know well that we are not here for ourselves, but rather maidens of the Lamb. If He orders it otherwise, we cannot resist Him. But I have to confess, that this gave me not a little pleasure.”

In November 1741, Anna returned to Germantown to set up the Girls School with Anna Margarethe Bechtel and to await Zinzendorf’s arrival, which takes place on December 9, 1741. Almost exactly a year after Anna’s arrival in America, Zinzendorf and his daughter, Benigna, arrived in Germantown. Due to his lack of both financial and linguistic preparation, the Count deferred to Anna, who used the unspent money she had been given in Herrnhut to help the Count. Zinzendorf also relied heavily on Anna’s knowledge of English to communicate with the other German settlers in the province. As Zinzendorf embarked on his plan to proselytize to the Native Americans and to try to unite the German sects in the colonies, Anna became a crucial factor in his success.

While Zinzendorf is having a mixed reception among the German Lutherans in Pennsylvania, Anna’s enthusiasm about the prospect of working among the Native peoples helps to convince Zinzendorf that she (now 27 years old) and his daughter (17!!) should accompany him on his difficult and dangerous travels into Indian country.

In August 1742, she set off with Zinzendorf’s party into the Pennsylvanian backcountry to meet the chiefs of the prominent American Indian nations, primarily the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee), the Mohican, and the Shawnee.

First, Anna traveled to the Mohican mission in Shekomeko, New York. Here she met with Jeannette Rau, who once married to Br. Martin Mack, quickly became a valuable missionary with her knowledge of the Mohican culture and language. The following month, Anna accompanied Zinzendorf to Shamokin, Pennsylvania, to meet with Shikellamy, the Oneida chief to discuss the possibility of Moravian missionaries working in the Haudenosaunee lands of Iroquoia that stretched across New York state and down into Pennsylvania.

Just up the West Branch, at Ostonwakin, Anna displayed her typical spirit of outreach in speaking at length with the celebrated interpreter between the Iroquois and the Colonial government, Madame Montour. In accounts of these travels into Indian country, Anna was always described as intrepid, taking the lead through difficult terrain, to the point where Zinzendorf had to hang on to her coattails to climb Shamokin mountain. She wrote thus: “The last journey was into the heart of their country, where we sojourned forty-nine days, encamping under the open heavens in a savage wilderness, amid wild beasts and venomous snakes.” (REICHEL 1870, 85n.) Her last foray into the wilds was a hazardous journey from Bethlehem to Ostonwakin on the West Branch of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania and then on to the Wyoming Valley to meet with the Shawnee.

This definitely constituted the least successful and most dangerous of the meetings with the Native peoples, yet Anna returned safely with Zinzendorf to Bethlehem.

In January 1743, just over two years after she arrived in America, Anna embarked on the return trip to Europe. Her work in Pennsylvania was foundational: “If others reaped the harvest it was she that sowed the seed, and her name should be written in capitals in the church history of Pennsylvania, instead of being only casually mentioned !” (FRIES 1924, 134) On board the ship from New York to Dover, Anna writes back to Bethlehem:

“As I never shall forget Pensilvania in generall so I think I shall remember thee also… an ever Dear Church of Sinners….. It is very weighty to me, that even from out of the English Nation, which hath Erred for so many years, trying many and various ways the Lord should gather a little Flock and bring it to rest on his Holy Wounds.”

Life on board was rough, but in a separate letter to Brother Anton Seiffert dated March 1743 Anna describes her journey back to Europe. They Set sail on January 20 from New York and within 6 days had formed a Sea Cong. (they chose Elders). Everyone was seasick except Br Andrew the Negro and his wife. After experiencing two great storms that washed them onto a sandbank where wicked sailors tried to take advantage of them, they arrived Feb. 17, 1743, in Dover and then continued on to London on Feb. 19.

In London, Anna stayed with Br. Hutton. However not for long. As Br Spangenberg was not in London but in Yorkshire, Zinzendorf, Benigna, and Anna N. travel on to Yorkshire by coach. Anna continued her work among the single sisters in Yorkshire, and Zinzendorf preaches to the assembled crowds on a Gemein Tag. They are like “hungry bees” she says (sometimes over 1000 people). She speaks about her experiences in Pennsylvania and especially tells stories of the American Indians.

Once back in London, Anna meets with and preaches (in English) to 30 young women in the Fetter Lane Chapel, London. Those women in the audience were captivated by her words and, if not already members of the Fetter Lane Society, quickly joined.

Anna writes of this time: “On Sunday I held a Qr of an Hour with 30 young women together with 3 Bands. I with 10 Laborers and the 2 others with each 10 Sisters. I can make use of my little English here very well.” But, she assures her listeners, “Don’t you know, my Dr. Br. that the Bethlehem Brethren and Sisters are remarkable above all others?”

All this success had its results. After returning from America, Zinzendorf made Anna into the “Gemein-Mutter” of all women in the Moravian church and by so doing finally ousted his wife, Erdmuthe, from this position.

Anna Nitschmann’s legacy to the history of Pietism lies in her significant contribution to several branches of the Moravian Church; primarily mission work, hymnody, and religious leadership. Anna’s efficacy in the mission field was enormous. Although severely under-researched, archival evidence reveals that Anna Nitschmann was a superb missionary and leader. Her interactions with American Indians in Pennsylvania were effective and long-lasting, and her work establishing the Girls School in Philadelphia with Anna Margaretha Bechtel (m.n. Büttner, Jungmann) was foundational. Furthermore, Anna Nitschmann was also an accomplished hymn writer, especially productive between the years of 1735 and 1748, composing while in Germany, England, and North America. For example, the 1741 Herrnhuter Gesangbuch contains 56 hymns of her composition, the most famous of which is Nr. 1027 “Verlobter König”. Despite later efforts to de-emphasize her importance, during her lifetime Anna Nitschmann was an object of widespread reverence. Archival records reveal lavish celebrations of her birthday throughout the Moravian world, from North America to Germany. Her death was as much of a shock to the Moravian church as was Zinzendorf’s.

The recent discovery of a set of Anna Nitschmann’s addresses to the Single Sisters Choirs can give today’s reader some insight into her efficacy as a preacher (ZIMMERLING 2014, 253 and VOGT 1999). As mentioned above, both textual and visual evidence shows that Anna Nitschmann preached in America to men and women, both Quakers, Moravians, and other sects (VOGT 1999). Although VOGT 1999 argues that Anna preached only to other women in the Single Sisters choir and did not preach to men, FRIES 1924 argues the opposite.

To return to the point with which I began this talk: namely, Anna Nitschmann’s activities in America make this period a watershed moment in both her life and also in the history of the church; years that make her in 1746 officially into the “Mother of the Church”.

  • What importance does the office of Mother of the Church have for Moravians today?
  • How does this inflect the way in which we think of the role of women in the Church?
  • Was Zinzendorf’s notion of female piety emancipatory?

 

On the necessity of the untranslatable

In the summer of 2014, I visited my mother’s birthplace, Forst/Lausitz, an unassuming town located on both sides of the Neiße river, intentionally developed as a production center for textiles and cloth in the 18th century by the Saxon statesman, Carl von Brühl.

Like his nearby palace, Pförten, Forst was devastated by a repeated change of hands; from the Seven Years War to the end of the Second World War the geopolitics of Central Europe determined its fate.  In 1945, as the Ukrainian divisions approached the Neiße, the German army gave the order to blow up all the bridges that connected the eastern side of the town with the west.  And so the bridges have remained; like snapped off rods, jutting out across the river and its low banks.

As a child, the mysteriously overgrown and unattainable other side of the river haunted/taunted me.  Innocent of the consequences, one afternoon, while our parents were visiting old friends who lived on the cobblestoned street that ran along the river, my sister and I went down to the bank and she asked me to take her photograph.  I dutifully obeyed, only to be accosted by an East German border guard who demanded to have the film from the camera.  Taking photographs of the state border was forbidden.  My mother, who must have been watching from the window, flew downstairs and explained to the incensed border guard that we were just children, how did we know that those prettily striped poles on either side of the bombed bridge signified a geopolitical flashpoint?  He looked at her with sheer amazement and then took our film.

Since that moment, borders have evoked fear in me.  Maybe from an early  encounter with the invisible lines drawn through cities and landscapes that have the power to trigger “the shoot to kill” policy of the inner-German state division, or traumatic experiences at US immigration checkpoints, I await the moment where my right to travel across that bridge, or through that port of entry, is revoked.  Maybe that is why I have been drawn to translation theory and its subsequent field of study in a romantic mission to rebuild those exploded bridges.  Maybe I too have been guilty of the attempt of translation studies to use “border crossing” as a prime metaphor of general equivalence, a location of meaning exchange and interdisciplinarity.  Maybe I too see the new German/Polish border crossing just up the river from Forst, where the checkpoints were built but never used, as a “space of flow” in a new European world order.  This  travel  without checkpoints, however, does not take us to a translation zone of positive interchangeability.  It produces a narrow zone where the Euro and German are the accepted currency, where Germans go to buy cheap petrol and cigarettes (and maybe a bunch of flowers, too) and then hastily return home, away from the gazes of the linguistic and cultural other.  Drive too far out of this zone, and you pay with sloty and  communicate in Polish.

So, what is Emily Apter’s project on untranslatability about, with her  provocatively named volume that positions itself immediately as an “against,” invoking the dialectic that she claims to so vehemently oppose in her chapter on chronology?  Is it to expose translations as “instruments of global consumption”?  Is to to argue for the de-provincialization of the canon?  Is it to introduce “indigestibles” to this mass consumption and then to make of the indigestible untranslatables the “fulcrum of comparative literature”?  Is it to foreground a kind of “glossolalia” that defies translation, a speaking in (non-referential) tongues that no-one understands? How does she deal with the semiotics of the Untranslatable that evoke God, logos, truth, Derridean transcendental signifieds?

What Apter claims to be promoting is a translational activity of “verkehrte Wahlverwandtschaften”, disruptive elective affinities that replace the organic ones, the false friends of translation that lead us down the slippery path of assumed equivalence (think for example of the horrors of the “Handy” or “Public Viewing” in German).  Or a World Literature that is “an experiment in national sublation that signs itself as collective, terrestrial property.” (p. 15)  More “War and Peace”?  The example she provides of such a successful translation and production of World Literature is Alain Badiou’s hypertranslation of Plato’s Republic, a work that demands both the closest of readings, “channeling Plato” (maybe understanding Plato “on his own terms” pace Lefevere), absolute comprehension, and what I would call an adaption where the cave becomes a movie theater.  The untranslatable, as the Stein des Anstoßes, produces new knowledge, it becomes an “epistemological fulcrum for rethinking philosophical concepts and discourses of the humanities.” (p. 31)  And hopefully not a fetish object of the new world order.

This then would seem to be the reason for her fascination with the Dictionary of Untranslatables.  Celebrating mistranslations, sophistry, and logology, Apter invites us to to survey this cartography of philosophical differences.  Writing about the entry on “pravda” Apter sees the untranslatable as “militant semiotic intransigence,” the remainder of translation that has the potential to undercut national language ontologies but still resorts to nationalistic essentialist thought (you know, my Weltschmerz is not accessible to you because only the Germans feel it in their Waldeinsamkeit).  Can the zone of untranslatability become a new Habermasian  public sphere, a negotiation zone between languages and cultures that undercuts nations?  And how can we fit World Literature into such a zone?  Does it then consist of an “enlightened common culture,” an ecologically aware “planetarity,” a literary world system that foregrounds a poetics of difference and a cartography of scale that is the very stuff of Comparative Literature?

This zone of untranslatability might be so large, so filled with the HUGE DATA of world literature, that only the philological tools of the telescope/microscope in Moretti’s Literature Lab can navigate it.  How do we read so much and not reduce it to the easily digestible pap of globalized fast food?  Reaching for the utensils of systems theory, Moretti developed the mathematical modelling of the dynamics of the economy, the spread of disease, the neural networks to examine the evolution of literature (the novel as a genus-gene-genre).  Only in exile, she claims, he claims, do these genres bear great fruit.  “Are new genres made by virtue of translation failure? Does differentiation come at the expense of hybridity? (see Apter 2014, p. 50).  Forgiving his Eurocentric focus, Apter recognizes the potential of Moretti’s notion of a global web/system.  She sees his quantitative formalism as a way in which to map/grid the small/micro politics of a literary work to the global/macro political context.  Such excitement in the hyperbole of Stanford’s Literary Lab, who describe  themselves as space men exploring the great unmapped territories of the great unread oeuvre of the novel, might be a way forward for the field.  But I don’t think Apter is quite sure, yet.

If we might be able to create a translation zone with the DH tools of Stanford’s Literary Lab, we must still beware the traps of periodization.  In the discussion of three core courses in Comparative Humanities we have these discussions all the time.  How do we deal with the given that critical traditions are embedded within European typologies? How do we navigate the totalizing nomenclature of World Literature (Chinese art, Japanese modernism, Russian music)? How do we develop a translational literary history that is not determined by “fetish dates” of Eurochronology?

Our colleague at Penn State Eric Hayot proposes breaking down periodicity by focusing on one year and then building out from that (we started HUMN 250 like that); our ex-colleague Kathleen Davies points out the link between periodization and cultural political categories (exemplified in the names around the Carnegie Building on campus-a prime example of “tycoon medievalism”).

Like Nietzsche, we should instead reject the Hegelian dialectic, disable linear history, and subvert periodization, producing a “verkehrte Geschichte,” thoughts that are not of the season in sequences that perhaps reflect more of a Benjaminian sense of the “Jetztzeit.”  The action of politics on time, an Untranslatable now.

In her interrogation of world literature and translation studies, Apter may frustrate the reader with a style that deliberately trips us up with incessant bibliographical references, complex sentences, and obtuse neologisms and revived archaisms.  But this also wakes the reader up to the potentially sloppy thinking that has accompanied the spread and study of world literature and the practice that makes it possible, translation.  Border zones, interlingual and intercultural spaces should not be seen as places of equivalence but rather thresholds of untranslatability and blockades.  But, in order to be able to argue this, Apter has chosen her borders carefully.  How would she parse the discrete “Mauerweg” that surrounds what was West Berlin?  Where once the “Todesstreifen” signaled the impassable divide between eastern and western bloc, there is now a bike path, flanked by blind lampposts, curved like shepherd’s crooks, that has melded into the landscape.  Unlike the bombed bridges of my mother’s hometown, here is an untranslatable border.

Recent(ish) Translation Reviews

As part of the first blog for my seminar on translation, I ask students to look at the London Review of Books and The New York Times Book Reviews for reviews of translations.  What kinds of terms are used to review the works, and how much of the review is actually dedicated to evaluating the translation?

Here are my findings:


LRB
vol. 22 No. 17 · 7 September 2000 pages 27-28 | 2549 words
Vendetta
Gerald Hammond

  • The David Story: A Translation with Commentary of 1 and 2 Samuel by Robert Alter
    Norton, 410 pp, £19.95, October 1999, ISBN 0 393 04803 9

Robert Alter established a whole school of literary appreciation of the Bible some twenty years ago with a pioneering book on Biblical narrative. Now he gives us his own translation and commentary on the most literary of all the Bible’s narratives, the story of David. The translation is conservative, fully in line with the Authorised Version (and all the better for that). The commentary is up to date, absorbing not only the latest scholarship but concentrating on the extraordinary narrative power of the story of family vendetta and power politics which spans the two books of Samuel. A large part of its first half recounts the battle of wills between Saul and David. Saul is the original charismatic leader whose grip on power weakens as David, the true hero of the Old Testament, its poet and its once and future king, moves to the centre of the story. If Saul is the model for Macbeth, David is the model for Henry V.

 


What We Know

Peter Green

  • Buy Sappho: A New Translation of the Complete Works by Diane Rayor
    Cambridge, 173 pp, £40.00, July 2014, ISBN 978 1 107 02359 8

How, then, do Diane Rayor, André Lardinois and the editorial staff of Cambridge University Press deal with this daunting situation? Not, at first sight, in the most encouraging manner. The subtitle attached to Rayor’s new translation of Sappho declares it to be ‘of the complete works’. If only! Lardinois’s useful introduction begins by noting that very little survives of Sappho’s poetry, which moreover ‘is often hard to read, because of its fragmentary state, and very difficult to interpret’. A new translation can offer no more than one scholar’s reading (to a great extent arbitrary) of other scholars’ editions. Sappho’s Aeolic Greek is extraordinarily difficult, and establishing the texts of her poems – especially those reconstructed from lacuna-ridden and often near illegible scraps of papyrus – is largely a matter of guesswork and speculative emendation. It’s a case crying out for a double-page presentation of English and Greek, the latter consisting, at the minimum, of the editor’s text from which the translator worked, and, for preference (given the exceptionally high degree of uncertainty), a basic apparatus criticus of variant readings and other suggested supplements. The opportunity was not taken here, perhaps in response to the usual mistaken notions of what the hypothetical general reader will put up with.

In her note on translation, she identifies her double goal as ‘accuracy guided by the best textual editions and recent scholarship, and poetry’. As far as the accuracy goes, ambiguities and all, she has, despite the occasional quibble (tolmaton, for instance, means ‘endurable’ rather than what ‘must be endured’), gone to great lengths to establish throughout the likeliest interpretation of Sappho’s often baffling Aeolic Greek. This is no small achievement. As far as plain meaning goes, hers is probably the most reliable, as it is the most up-to-date and exhaustive translation available. Where there are two possible readings (e.g. is Aphrodite poikilothron’ or poikilophron’, richly enthroned or subtle-minded?) she explains each in a note, so that even if the reader disagrees with her choice (as in this case I do, preferring the second) the alternative is ready to hand. As far as up-to-dateness goes, she’s managed to include, in a last-minute appendix, the so-called ‘Brothers Song’, about Charaxos and Larichos, the larger part of which was only discovered, edited from papyrus and published by Dirk Obbink as recently as 2014.


Heaney translates the Virgilian hexameter into a loose five-beat line. As the Cumaean Sibyl remarks to Aeneas, the problem with the underworld lies not in the outbound journey but in the return:

It is easy to descend into Avernus.
Death’s dark door stands open day and night.
But to retrace your steps and get back to upper air,
That is the task, that is the undertaking.


http://www.nytimes.com/2014/12/28/books/review/new-translations-of-tolstoys-anna-karenina.html?_r=0

On the history of translating Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina


 

Here are also some “Untranslatables” from my reading and experience:  “mantra”; “Weltanschauung”; “orenda”; Waldeinsamkeit; gemütlich; Zeitgeist; dharma; Gemeine;

 

 

“Teaching, Learning, Doing DH in a Comparative Context: Promoting Critical Thinking in the Liberal Arts”

Delivered at the 2016 ACLA Harvard University March 18, 2016

What does it mean to do Digital Humanities in an undergraduate context?  How do we promote critical and comparative thinking at the same time as cultivating “digital habits of mind?”

In  Bucknell University’s interdisciplinary Comparative Humanities Program, Digital Humanities has become the fulcrum of a new critical hermeneutic that invites students in Computer Science to think as Humanists and students in the humanities to learn the processive discipline of Computer Science. Starting with seminars on the concept of DH itself, and the challenges that it might pose to critical theory and the canon, this program has developed a set of undergraduate courses that takes students from the discovery and representation of an archival artifact to the creation of sophisticated data visualizations of multi-variant datasets.

Intrinsic to these pedagogical inquiries are the “multiple lenses” of DH, as Tanya Clement has described them. Moving between the positivism of data curation and the critique of interpretation, students learn that representation is also a knowledge generator; that epistemological systems beget representational systems in the digital world as well as the analog (Drucker 2014). As such, student DH-ers become critical learners, questioners and creators.

Within the field of Digital Humanities (and for this paper I am going to posit that there is a field–itself a significant question) there still rages the vibrant debate whether one must code to be a true DH practitioner. Within the undergraduate environment, this is especially complex, as curricula within colleges (such as across Engineering and Arts Sciences) are not normally constructed to allow for coding humanists or humanistic coders.  However, I would argue, following Alan Liu, that a Liberal Arts environment provides exactly the location where we can investigate “The Meaning of DH” (Liu 2014).  In thinking about DH as a hermeneutic act, teachers and students alike become both “builders and interpreters” where the goal of undergraduate DH is guided by a pedagogic hermeneutic of “practice, discovery, community.”  Indeed, within the Liberal Arts context we are encouraged to practice what I and others call “research-based learning” in which we faculty scholars invite student-scholars to collaborate in a classroom setting on our own research.

Founded in 2001, the Comparative Humanities Program at Bucknell seeks to engage the undergraduate student in a sophisticated and complex examination of the breadth of the humanistic disciplines.  Not limiting itself to the study of literature, the program incorporates the study of philosophy, history, religion, political science, echoing Giles Gunn’s 20-year old critique of the limits of comparative literature. As he says,

“Literature and  . . . ” does not capture the emergence of new subjects and topics such as history of the book, materialism of the body, psychoanalysis of the reader, sociology of conventions, ideologies of gender, race, and class as well as intertextuality, power, and the status of “others.” (Gunn 1992, 248-9)

With its own dedicated core courses that follow what might seem to be a “Great Books” trajectory, the program also incorporates theoretical and methodological seminars in concepts of comparativity across media, genres, and national literatures.   It also regularly cross lists courses from departments across the humanities at the 200 and 300-level. Upper level seminars in, for example, The History of Sexuality, are cross listed three or even four ways, causing the Registrar many headaches.

Criteria for cross-listing are based in the adoption of 2 or more of our learning goals that foreground concepts of comparativity, linguistic competency, and written and oral communication.  In order to distinguish ourselves from courses in English literary studies, for example, or Philosophy, comparativity is crucial.  Assessing student outcomes is also key to the evaluation of educational achievement and can prove a difficult task.

In her long engagement with the theory and practice of interdisciplinarity, Julie Thompson Klein has provided the academy with a useful vocabulary with which such assessment can work.  Distinguishing between multidisciplinarity, interdisciplinarity, and transdisciplinarity, in her recent volume Interdisciplining DH: Boundary Work in an Emerging Field (2015) Klein firmly situates DH (and I would argue CH) within what she terms the baseline vocabulary of interdisciplinarity.  Privileging integration over juxtaposition or (a kind of Hegelian) synthesis (although the latter are not excluded) the ground of interdisciplinary comparison becomes for Klein method, data, tools, and concepts.

Within this curricular environment, the Program in Comparative Humanities in collaboration with colleagues in other humanities departments has designed a minor in Digital Humanities that includes the following curricular components:

  • course offerings that explicitly involve Digital Humanities (and/or Digital Media) modes and methods as applied to critical humanistic inquiry
  • interdisciplinary/cross-disciplinary courses that bring the “digital” to and from other disciplines
  • Independent study and/or faculty-student research project electives that involve digital literacies and the development of applicable skill sets
  • a portfolio that demonstrates mastery of digital approaches to humanities subjects through a set of artifacts

This minor is interdisciplinary in nature, spanning humanities departments and programs and including faculty from non-humanities programs and departments and Engineering as appropriate.  As my colleague and co-author Diane Jakacki and I have written elsewhere, one of the distinguishing features of a Digital Humanities course is the foregrounding of critique.  Unlike other more CS-based classes, students in DH classes are required to reflect on the process they have undertaken in developing their projects to be able to place their praxis within the broader scholarly discourse of DH.  Therefore, we argue, carefully selected readings are directly linked to development of each of the student’s competencies and embedded within the class schedule. Teaching students to use these digital platforms requires the conscious placement of the course within a curricular context; in our case, within the context  of the program in Comparative Humanities.

The learning goals of the minor (a requirement to be included in the minor is the adoption of at least two of these) foreground the concepts of interdisciplinarity and critique.  Requiring students to learn, practice and critically evaluate the methodologies, conventions, and social contexts of DH, the minor attracts students from STEM and other humanities fields.  And, in order to integrate and not merely juxtapose, in these courses, DH cannot be viewed as “just a tool, just a repository, just a pedagogy (Klein, 2015).  But rather, as Willard McCarty (2005) has argued in his work, we seek to avoid the relegation of DH and its practitioners (especially colleagues in so-called alt/ac positions) to the rank of “mere assistants or delivery boys to scholarship”.  Rather, as learning goal #3 clearly states, the collaborative nature of work in DH must be understood as a part of the heuristic.  DH is a “habit of mind”, a hermeneutic, in which new knowledge, both instrumental and foundational, is created.

A useful way to think about and do DH with undergraduate students is as a new language.  As Jason Rhody, of the National Endowment for Humanities Office of Digital Humanities, has stated, for him DH is a kind of “Boolean operator,” creating a lexicon and syntax for work in multiple disciplines.

This is a helpful concept in the execution and evaluation of student and faculty work in Comparative and Digital Humanities, not least because we also offer a minor in Translation Studies, that has as its basis a firm grasp of linguistics and also translation theory, history and praxis as well as high competency in a second language.  Dynamic intersectionality between Translation Studies, Digital Humanities and Comparative Humanities produces an innovative and exciting curricular and intellectual environment for faculty and students.

Students in the Translation Studies minor engage in an examination of translation from multiple perspectives that provide them with an educational pathway toward the acquisition of general and specific knowledge about the field of Translation Studies, its history, evolution and theories. Further, they are be trained in the practice of critical thinking about language use and translation; and broaden and deepen their understanding of translation as it relates to power relations, politics, ethics, cultural issues, gender, post-colonialism, etc. Additionally, the minor in Translation Studies provides students with an opportunity to acquire important skills in their respective target language(s); skills such as conducting research in preparation for translation, sound writing skills in one’s source language, learning proper analytical processes and appropriate use of current technological resources in the field. As such, the intellectual glue of Comparative Humanities, DH and Translation Studies could well be understood as Roman Jakobson’s notion of intermedial/intersemiotic translation.

Screenshot 2016-03-19 19.08.11Bringing together DH and Translation Studies has produced some groundbreaking work, such as this on-going project in the history of translation.  Tong Tong ‘17 has created a database of all the translations in the Chinese language journal “World Literature” for the 1980s.  From this meticulously scraped data, Tong is able to pursue her research into the transmission of non-Chinese literature into Chinese in the 1980s.

So, how do these programs provide a curricular environment in which the process of practice and discovery is the norm (to quote Alan Liu)?  How do we produce meaning in DH? As Liu has argued

“In both their promise and their threat, the digital humanities serve as a shadow play for a future form of the humanities that wishes to include what contemporary society values about the digital without losing its soul to other domains of knowledge work that have gone digital to stake their claim to that society.” (Liu 2013)

But how is this possible? How do we get from numbers to meaning? The objects being tracked, the evidence collected, the ways they’re analyzed—all of these are quantitative. And, as Willard McCarty has argued, models give meaning (Willard McCarty and Lima).

In an attempt to answer this question, in my course in Data Visualization, I integrate the principles of design into the practice of data visualization. Using Edward Tufte’s work as a basis, and Manuel Lima’s recent research in the field, students are required to produce visualizations that exemplify the insight that they can be either representations or knowledge generators in which the spatialization or arrangement of elements is meaningful.

In her recent work, Graphesis, Drucker encourages us when reading a visualization to use language carefully, employing terms such as “juxtapose”, “hierarchy”, “proximity”. From their work in the core courses in CH, students can verify Drucker’s claim that visualization exploded onto the intellectual scene at the edge of the late Renaissance and beginning of the early Enlightenment, when engraving technologies were able to produce epistemologically stunning diagrams that both described and also produced knowledge. The advent of digital modes to manipulate and produce data means that we can, for example, all produce timelines without giving a thought to the revolution in the conceptualization of time and history that Joseph Priestley occasioned. So, as students work with Timeline JS, Drucker cautions us to become aware of the visual force of such digital generations. “The challenge is to break the literalism of representational strategies and engage with innovations in interpretive and inferential modes that augment human cognition.” (p. 71)

How do we do this? Drucker argues for us to recognize three basic principles of visualization, both as producers and as interpreters: a) the rationalization of a surface; b) the distinction of figure and ground; c) the delimitation of the domain of visual elements so that they function as a relational system. A graphical scheme through which we relate to the phenomenal world structures our experience of it (p. 74).

Screenshot 2016-03-19 19.06.07

In visualizations of the Bucknell curriculum, Comparative Humanities major, Erin Frey and a Computer Science Engineering major, Nadeem Nasimi take as their starting point a student’s experience of the Bucknell curriculum. The student designers drew data from our Banner system, that connected courses in departments and programs with the General Curriculum requirements.  This database was then visualised as a complex network (on the right using a force directed graph).  In an effort to represent the data on a macro, meso, and micro scale, Erin not satisfied with computer generated GUI’s drew the model on the left inspired by Boris Muller’s visualization “Poetry on the Road.” In so doing Erin followed closely Tufte’s principles of display architecture and describes how this visualization  “(1) documents the sources and characteristics of the data,” through its shape; how it “(2) insistently enforces appropriate comparisons,” made possible through the variable node sizing; “(3) demonstrates mechanisms of cause and effect,” by the simple organization of data into the democratic, circular structure; “(4) expresses those mechanisms quantitatively,”  by sizing and connecting each node based on quantitative data from the course catalog; “(5) recognizes the inherently multivariate nature of analytic problems,” shown through the combination of variables such as node color, size, and location, and different CCC requirements; “and (6) celebrates ambiguity (Tufte 53).” http://datavizfordh.blogs.bucknell.edu/author/emf012/

While the Bucknell Registrar might not make the resulting interactive visualization part of his website, for Erin and Nadeem it created a complex and accurate representation of paths taken and not taken through the Bucknell curriculum.

Meredyk Paxton Map
Steffany Meredyk ’14, Bethany Dunn ’14/Prof. Katherine Faull

Drucker argues that the shape of temporality is a reflection of beliefs and not standard metrics, and asks how we find a graphical means to inscribe the subjective experience of temporality or the spatial.

The mapping of the earth, sky, sea or the measurement of time, that are in themselves complex reifications of schematic knowledge, actually become the way in which we experience that thing. The week is seven days long and the month is 28-31 days long (because of lunar cycles) and thus astronomical tables become the way we structure time. But time isn’t like that; it isn’t linear, especially in the humanities! It contains flashbacks, memories, foreshadowings, relativities (it speeds up when we are nervous, and slows down when we are scared). We impose structures from social and natural sciences onto human experience.

This summer research project by, Steffany Meredyk (History and Geography) and Bethany Dunn intentionally draws on the critical cartography of Margaret Pearce (and Ann Knowles) Steffany and Bethany produced a series of museum quality interpretative panels on the history of the Susquehanna River in the mid-18th century.  Drawing primary evidence from historical accounts, some in archives, some published, the two students wove together a representation of the experience of fear and landscape that invites the viewer in.

Having worked in GIS for almost ten years now, I know that as a software, GIS gives us enormous power to produce knowledge as a generator; through the combinatory power of layers, and base maps, and points, and embedded data tables, GIS is seductive with its “deceptive naturalism of maps and bar charts” generated from spreadsheets that I and my students have spent months creating. It strengthens the fiction of observer-independence; the objectivity of the “bird’s eye view”, and, as Drucker so aptly states, “we rush to suspend critical judgment in visualization.” For me, however, and for the students I have worked with, the question of how to represent ambiguity has consumed us; as has also how to make ambiguity the ground of representation.

Screenshot 2016-03-19 19.12.42
Metadata from “Moravian Women’s Memoirs” Faull 1997

In the extraction of data from humanities sources, we are perhaps seduced into thinking this is a isomorphic representation of experience.  For example, digital mapping may give us the ability to georectify a manuscript map onto a coordinate system, but what does this show us? Maybe how accurate a mapmaker was, or not; it might help us to locate a birthplace with accuracy, but it is ignoring the fact that the manuscript map, drawn perhaps on buckskin, or stone, or vellum is a representation (and a thin one at that) of a traveler’s or observer’s experience that we are translating into a system of coordinates.

Screenshot 2016-03-19 19.16.46

Platforms such as Omeka and Neatline can help to make that quantification more complex, more experiential for the viewer, more of a narrative.  Students learn that way-finding depends upon narratives, travel accounts, diaries; and digital maps produce the illusion of isomorphism, but this illusion is based on an elaborate system of abstract schema and concrete reality.

Screenshot 2016-03-19 19.25.34

This work can take place both inside and outside the classroom.  Principles learned in the classroom can be applied outside.  For example, students are working with me on an international DH project that involves some (pretty) big data and they can contribute to the discussions about data storage, retrieval, and visualization.

Importantly they also understand the necessarily iterative process of the work.  This is the first version of the memoir visualization project with the University of Gothenburg and students  are helping to clean data.

Screenshot 2016-03-19 19.28.40

In conclusion, although students in the humanities and computer science might initially view each other with disciplinary suspicion, through collaborative and integrative work that is modeled through the professor’s research, undergraduates in the liberal arts learn that the subversion of the core logic of digital tools can open up new forms of knowledge.

 

Genius in Translation

 

Genius in Translation:

Julia Kristeva’ s Desire in Language and her Love of the Foreign

 

Katherine Faull

Humanities Institute

Sept. 13 2005

Introduction

My starting point in this discussion of feminine and genius is one of the most provocative studies on genius and the Western tradition by Christine Battersby, whose diachronic and gendered reading of the notion of genius points, in my opinion, a way forward to the possibility of a feminist aesthetic that is no longer trapped by masculinist linkages of a phallic aesthetics with male virility. In her volume, entitled “Gender and Genius” which indeed adheres to Kristeva’s own notion of the third wave of feminism, Battersby traces the implementation of the notion of the male genius from the Greeks and Romans to the present in an attempt to delineate the contours of an aesthetic of an “écriture feminine.” Genius, I would argue with Battersby, is both etymologically and ideologically rooted in the masculine and not the feminine. So, then, what could Kristeva’s feminine genius be?

The Genius in Stone

Those critics and philosophers who work on genius, for example, Christine Battersby, Jochen Schmidt and Penelope Murray, trace the etymology of the word to two possible roots. One, Latin “genius“ denotes the divine forces associated with and protecting male fertility. genii are thus the spirits that are attached to the land, places, and natural objects that protect and ensure the longevity of the gens, or male clan. The other root is “ingenium,” a term associated with good judgment and knowledge, also talent, dexterity, the skills needed by an artist working in mimetic traditions. Battersby argues that “genius” as the logos spermatikos represents a Greek and Roman Stoic central concept that later enters into the Christian concept of God’s word and is far more influential in the semantic field of the word genius than “ingenium”. That is, the engendering aspect of the virile male is privileged over the idea of talent. If one looks at the usages of the word genius in 17th century, for example in Shakespeare, we find Macbeth complaining that his “genius is rebuk’d” (Macbeth III; 1) because he has been given a barren scepter and others will father a line of kings.
In Romantic and Modernist aesthetics, the notion of genius is central to models of both knowledge and representation. For example, Battersby identifies Kant’s epistemological foundation as built on this aesthetic of genius in which some male (but never female) intellectual beings possess “intellectual intuition” that allows them to bring not only the world as it appears to be into existence but also things in themselves. For Goethe, Fr. Schlegel, Novalis, Fichte, the artistic genius’ imagination is a (sometimes) lesser version of God’s creation of the universe. But for a woman to create artistically, she must, as Anais Nin in the 20th century bemoans, become masculine, that is she must unsex herself as a woman and become a man: to create culturally woman must sever her connections to the womb. (Battersby, p. 45)

The Semiotic

There is much more to be said about this, but at this point I would like to turn to Kristeva and her essay “Desire in Language” (1975) to begin my investigation of her notion of the revolution in poetry and the relevance of this notion of revolution for the potential of a feminine genius. In this essay Kristeva begins to concentrate on the possibility of a psychological liberatory moment through the recognition of primary narcissism’s access to the semiotic and the “choric” (chora) moment in poetic expression. In “Desire in Language” Kristeva sets up her philosophical paradigm against the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl and the necessary positing of a transcendental ego in the thetic consciousness of the subject in process. This “thetic” consciousness is necessary in that “any linguistic act, insofar as it sets up a signified that can be communicated in a sentence (and there is no sign or signified that is not already part of a sentence), is sustained by the transcendental ego.” (DiL p. 99) Kristeva argues that the Husserlian phenomenological argument can be understood (translated) into the processes of the subject “as operating consciousness” by drawing on the insights of generative grammar and linguistic understanding thereby countering her contemporaries’ deconstructive attacks on the possibility of such a transcendental ego and its communicative object. In other words, the Husserlian move for Kristeva (at this point) allows her to posit the “thetic” nature of an utterance and then move to the problem of the remainder of poetic language which would seem to exceed its communicative purpose and the recognition of the constraining forces of socializing elements.
For Kristeva, poetic language differs from “rhetorical” language because it goes beyond the function of meaning and signification. Its thetic function is only part of its constraint: what makes it poetic is its ability to transcend the Husserlian phenomenology and access what Kristeva at this point calls the “heterogeneity” of language, or the “semiotic.”
This signifying disposition is not that of meaning or signification: no sign, no predication, no signified object and therefore no operating consciousness of a transcendental ego. We shall call this disposition semiotic (le sémiotique), meaning according to the etymology of the Greek sémeion a distinctive mark, trace, index, the premonitory sign, the proof, engraved mark, imprint—in short, a distinctiveness admitting of an uncertain and indeterminate articulation because it does not yet refer (for young children) or no longer refers (in psychotic discourse) to a signified object for a thetic conciousness. (DiL, p. 101-2)
The Platonic “chora,” a maternally connoted place of language prior to naming, prior to entry into the symbolic and the Law of the Father, is the place that gives the infant, the madman, and the poet, the rhythms and syntactic elisions, the intonations and the timbre of poetry. “It is poetic language that awakens our attention to this undecideable character of any so-called natural language, a feature that univocal, rational, scientific discourse tends to hide” (p. 103)
This realization is of course nothing new: poetic language is by its very definition a “poesis”–a creation, something new and original (see, for example, the poetic language of Hölderlin, Nietzsche, Karoline von Günderrode) that moves beyond the boundaries of rational discourse. However, what is revolutionary is Kristeva’s link between psychological process of maturation that would see the access to the semiotic in terms of the subject-in-process, the figuring of the feminine maternal chora as at once a privileged motif and as a disruptive and productive force of revolt and resistance. In contrast to the semiotic, rhetorical writing has been seduced away from the maternal. In Desire in Language Kristeva identifies the problem with philosophical discourse today (and one might suspect the trace of Derrida here) in France as being its narcissistic fascination with itself.
The rhetorician does not invent a language; fascinated by the symbolic function of paternal discourse, he seduces it in the Latin sense of the verb—he “leads it astray,” inflicts it with a few anomalies generally taken from writers of the past, thus miming a father who remembers having been a son and even a daughter of his father, but not to the point of leaving cover. This is indeed what is happening to the discourse of contemporary philosophers, in France particularly, when, hemmed in by the breakthroughs in social sciences on the one hand, and social upheavals on the other, the philosopher begins performing literary tricks, thus arrogating to himself a power over imaginations: a power which, though minor in appearance, is more fetching than that of the transcendental consciousness.” (p. 106)
Counter to the seductions of philosophy, the stylist (Kristeva echoes Nietzsche in describing the writer who accesses the semiotic chora) no longer needs to seduce the father, may even take another name than the father’s but assumes the role of the “permanent go-between from one to the other, a pulsation of sign and rhythm, of consciousness and instinctual drive.” (p. 107) The semiotic for Kristeva constitutes the means to override the constraints of a civilization dominated by transcendental rationality. By avoiding the traps of symbolic language, the semiotic emerges as “musicated” language, poetic language that laughs back (echoes of Nietzsche again) at the symbolic’s drive to the mastery of meaning.
According to Kristeva, the problem with interpretations of poetic language, and the realm it accesses, consists in reading it as rhetoric, as rational discourse, or else, failing that, mimicking it in a kind of academic echolalia. Original interpretation, like original thought (and as we have heard all translation is interpretation) must access a non-symbolic realm of signification. How can this be done, Kristeva asks. She answers, “It is probably necessary to be a woman… not to renounce theoretical reason but to compel it to increase its power by giving it an object beyond its limits.” (p. 113) Therefore, being a speaking woman, beyond the law of the language of the father, allows access to “an instinctual body… which ciphers the language with rhythmic, intonational, and other arrangements, nonreducible to the position of the transcendental ego even though always within sight of its thesis.” (p. 113)
Does this then mean that the speaking/writing woman has privileged access this place of originality, this non-echolalic prelinguistic realm of sense and sound? Could we then understand Kristeva as making the move that Nietzsche most definitely does not? Namely, in that she identifies the creative voice of genius with writing “as” a woman and not merely “like” a woman? To return to Battersby’s work on genius, we are shown the difference between Nietzsche the stylist and Kristeva:

“Nietzsche asks us to listen to him with a ‘third ear’: one that is tuned into the pauses between the music of reality. But he does not write as a woman. Nor will he even allow women to write as women. We should ask whether it is at all revolutionary to locate feminine strength (and Otherness) in the (pregnant) pauses between the words and sentences of the logos spermatikos?
(Battersby, Gender and Genius, p. 125)

Genius in Translation

I would now like to move on to the third part of my talk, namely that on translation. If we understand translation as an act that attempts to move meaning either intralingually or interlingually, then how do you move the remainder of poetic language, that which is beyond signification?   In her important work on translating feminist philosophy and ecriture feminine, both styles of writing that intentionally access the semiotics of the “chora”, Luise von Flotow investigates the complexities involved in translating “sense” language, the semeion, as opposed to symbolic or rhetorical language. In her essay “From Sense to Sound” von Flotow describes how following the tradition of translating nonsense nursery rhymes from French into English, translators have been faced with the task of searching for an equivalence if not in the semantic realm then in the semiotic for the “emotives” that signal pre-oedipal communication. Drawing on the techniques of translating children’s nonsense verse, von Flotow analyses the rendering into another tongue of feminist philosophical texts that challenge the symbolic order of the Father. In order to achieve this, she argues, the translator must face the question of “translating the sensory” to use Kristeva’s phrase, by employing mimetic and enunciative translation, sacrificing sense to sound in the attempt to echo the semiotics of the original.
Kristeva also addresses the possible nature of the sensory in her essay, originally published under the title “L’autre langue ou traduire le sensible” in French Studies (1998) and which appeared in English as Chapter 14 in Intimate Revolt under the rubric “The Love of Another Language”. Here Kristeva approaches this question from the perspective of her own autobiographical situation, that of the foreign writer in France. The writer is always a translator of the sensory universe in its singularity, the writer, like the analyst, lays bare the foreignness of her inner life, and, like the analyst, she translates that which is before language into language. At the turn of the 20th century Freud argues that Übertragung (transference /translation) is the mechanism or process by which the analysand translates hysterical symptoms and dreams into ordinary language and transfers desires that were unacceptable onto an object that is acceptable. Freud regards himself and the analysand as the decoders/interpreters of deliberately difficult, preconscious material in to the conscious realm, Indeed, Übertragung is the transference or translation that Freud refers to as the vehicle for the success of psychoanalysis. For Kristeva, echoing Freud, the function of the writer/analyst is also one of translation. In the essay, “Love of another Language” she writes in the section entitled “France my suffering,”
“They teach me that, even when native, the writer does not cease to be a translator of his unveiled passions, that the fundamental language that he takes pleasure in translating is the language of the sensory. And that this unnamable foundation, this rumor of our fibers and our dreams, never allows itself to be absorbed or reduced in the codes of schools, clans, institutions, or media.” (Intimate Revolt, p. 246)[1]  For Kristeva, then, this translation of desire subverts the rhetorical, as she has termed it. It represents a revolt in language, beyond the realm of the institution.
How then, does the translator reach the “text behind the text” in poetic language? As Susan Bassnett asks in her work Translation Studies, how does the translator communicate what Mallarmé was to call “the text of silence and spaces?” (p. 69) How does one translate this remainder, the connotative and denotative function of language? Does the translator merely translate the linguistic signs literally and trust that the connotations in one language somehow are replicated in another, or does the translator maintain the strangeness, the inherent otherness of the source text in the target language through the use of an artificial, or non natural language somewhere in between the source language and target language text, where the special feeling of the original may be conveyed through strangeness. (p. 70)
The first option might be possible if, as according to the sub-field of semiotics in Translation Studies, we consider languages to be systems of signs, of semiotika. In this case a system of relations between signs might be moved as meanings to a target language. But, as Umberto Eco has pointed out, such a system presupposes a perfect language that both source language and target language mysteriously point to. That is, in order to express in language A a concept that appears in language B one has to refer to a language X in which concepts from both A and B can be expressed perfectly. Walter Benjamin was to refer to this language in his essay “The Task of the Translator” as the pure language, “die reine Sprache,” that lies mystically behind every attempt at translation. It is this pure language that semioticians refer to when they speak of the translatability of the semiotic, the possibility of the entrance into the symbolic of that which lies in the chora.
But Benjamin’s pure language lies beyond the temporal. And our access to language does not. It is also possible that meanings within the source language may become translatable into the target language, given certain changing linguistic and historical conditions. We must move beyond the rationalist tradition where meanings are universal and hence generally translatable into their language specific representations; and we must also move beyond the relativist position, where thinking and speaking are so tightly bound together (and the subjective element in the constitution of meaning is much stronger) to arrive at a third way. This position, mediating between thinking and speaking, and for Kristeva between the semiotic and the symbolic, is represented perhaps most famously by German philosopher and theologian, Friedrich Schleiermacher. In arguing that meaning is accessible through a mode of understanding, Schleiermacher terms “sense” or “intuition”, an operation he considers to be a recognition of the incommensurability of languages, as the translator of the sensory (as Kristeva might term it) (See Routledge Encyclopedia of Translation Studies, p. 274)
In her essay “Translating the Sensory” (Intimate Revolt, p. 240 ) Kristeva calls upon this trace of the foreign, the other, the semiotic, to be “jarring to the natives.” Here Kristeva speaks of her relationship to her adopted language, French. It is, she claims, “an act of politeness among people who share the same rhetoric, the same accumulation of images and sentences, the same arrangement of reading and conversations, in a stable society. (p. 243) However, her insertion of the strange, her use of this polished stone of language frustrates native speakers as it reveals the “monster”, it exposes her “who takes pleasure in never being content”. Kristeva regards herself as the metisse, the hybrid monster, the “Blendling” as Schleiermacher termed it in his essay on translation, who straddles two chairs of national reference. And rather than reject this metissage, she embraces it; it signals the death of the maternal tongue, Bulgarian, “this warm and still speaking cadaver” (p. 245), it marks the death of “ the vague plural meanings of the Bulgarian idiom, insufficiently severed from Cartesianism, in resonance with the prayer of the heart and the darkness of the sensory” (p. 246). Kristeva’s relationship to French is a love for the “sensory language, a language not of signs but of marks, quotations, pulsations impressions sorrows, and ecstasies– the marks, as she claims, of true foreignness.
If we are to accept Hjelmslev’s proposition, as set forth in his Prolegomena to a Theory of Language, that ‘a language is a semiotic into which all other semiotics may be translated’ since in a language and only in a language, can we work over the inexpressible until it is expressed” (p. 109), then the question of the translatability of the semiotic, the translation of genius might be best addressed by how the target language, or in Kristeva’s terms, the symbolic will change, how in the future it will be able to express that which is sense. It is in this way that Kristeva offers us a translation of genius, of the particular, the individual in her embrace of her own position of otherness and her act of translation, not of the logos spermatikos, but rather of the chora. The quality of genius then lies not only as Kristeva argues in the transcendence of the sociopolitical context in which the feminine finds itself, but also in the transcendence of the givenness, the thetic quality of the target language and the act of revolt to change, to explore, its linguistic malleability. Such a notion of the futurity of linguistic change might then challenge the walls of ungenius, of the bedint, the quotidian, and as Kristeva urges us, give us the means to express our feminine genius.

[1] Ils m’apprennent que, même autochtone, l’écrivain ne cesse d’être un tradacteur de ses passions dérobées, que la langue fondamentale qu’il se plait à traduire est la langue du sensible. Et que cet innommable fondement, cette rumeur de nos fibres et de nos rêves, ne se laisse jamais entièrement résorber, jamais réduire dans les codes des écoles, des clans, des institutions, des medias…” (Julia Kristeva, French Studies LII October 1998:4, 389).