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).

Pedagogical Hermeneutics and Teaching DH in a Liberal Arts Context

Diane Jakacki and I gave the following presentation yesterday at DH2015 in Sydney, Australia. We include the slides and the abbreviated form of the talk.  The complete version will be published as an article in the near future.

Thanks to everyone for coming and for your interest!

We take our title from Alan Liu’s challenge to DH educators to develop a distinctive  pedagogical hermeneutic of “practice, discovery, and community” What does this look like?  How do we put this into practice?

This paper focuses on our teaching experience at Bucknell University in the academic year 2014-15 to show how the planning, design, and execution of a new project-based course, Humanities 100, introduced undergraduate students to the world of digital humanities through the use of selected digital tools and methods of analysis. This course, taught within the Comparative Humanities program, was designed specifically for first- and second-year students with no background in digital humanities, in order to encourage the development of digital habits of mind at the earliest phases of their liberal arts curricular experience. Developed to encourage examination and experimentation with a range of digital humanities approaches, the course asks students to work with primary archival materials as core texts to encourage digital modes of inquiry and analysis. The decision to root the course in a multi-faceted analysis of archival materials provided the rare chance for students to also engage in the research process typical for a humanities scholar: namely, the discovery of artifacts, the formulation of research questions, followed by the analysis and synthesis of findings culminating in the publication of initial findings in a digital medium. In the process, we introduced students to the basic structure of how to develop a DH research project.

The Comparative Humanities program is an ideal curricular environment to teach such classes with its explicit learning goals of comparativity (historical period, cultures, genres, modality) to which we added course specific learning goals that pertain to DH. (Slide with goals) The course therefore provided us with the opportunity to not only expose students to methodologies related to distant and close reading, network and spatial visualization, but also requiring that they learn to think critically about what each of these methods, and the tools that they used within the course, reveals in the texts with which they worked.

To date the course has been taught three times: as twin sections in Fall 2014 in which we both used the same scaffolding method with discrete subject matter and core texts. We participated fully in one another’s sections – this gave us the opportunity to teach our specializations within each other’s classes. Katie Faull taught the course again in Spring 2015, and Diane Jakacki participated. Both of us will teach a section next year.

This approach to teaching is important as we consider how to incorporate DH into the classroom. It required significant commitment on both our parts to the actual execution of the course, as well as recognition that we needed to be transparent to ourselves as well as to our students about how this represented a new model for course design at Bucknell. It is important to note that while other DH-inflected courses are being taught, this is the first Digital Humanities course at Bucknell.

At  Bucknell, the focus in digital humanities scholarship and learning to date has been primarily on spatial thinking, until recently rooted in working with ArcMap-type GIS and thinking about humanities in “place”.  It was important to both of us to emphasize and extend that objective in the development of the course and its learning outcomes, and so we focused on finding materials that would be of interest to students so that they could relate to the historical context more directly.

The first time the course was  taught we decided to run it in two sections, anticipating an opportunity to reflect different perspectives of our expertise with DH methods and tools. Diane’s focus has until now been on text encoding and analysis, while Katie’s has been on mapping and data visualization. We also worked with discrete data sets of archival materials. Katie’s course focused on the Colonial mission diaries of the Moravians from Shamokin, Pennsylvania (today Sunbury) and situated 9 miles downstream from the university. Written in English, the diary sections selected dealt with interactions between some of the first Europeans to the area and the Native peoples they met and worked among. Katie has spent the past five years working with this subject matter, and is considered an expert in the field of Moravian studies.

Diane’s course considered a subset of the diaries of James Merrill Linn, one of the first graduates of the university and a soldier in the American Civil War.  The choice of the Linn material had to do solely with its accessibility – Linn’s family left his life papers to the Bucknell Archives. Diane’s research is not in 19th century American history, and so she had to be honest that engaging with Linn’s diaries would be a discovery for her, too. In Katie’s iteration of the course this Spring, she selected materials that took the students slightly further afield, but still kept them within the Susquehanna watershed and the Chesapeake Bay using a different set of Moravian archival materials.  (Slide with archival materials)

Both of our choices reflect and extend Bucknell’s interest in digital/spatial thinking in terms of its place in the larger historical and cultural narrative. In all cases, students responded well to the investigation of places familiar to them, with several students having family connections to specific locales mentioned in the archival materials. The pedagogical hermeneutics of Humanities 100 were intentionally designed to encourage student examination and experimentation  and discovery with a range of digital humanities approaches.  To this end, the sequencing of the modules was carefully designed so that the “product” of each module then became the “data” of the next module.

In addition to praxis-oriented assignments, we wanted students to understand the broader context of their work within a DH framework. To that end we assigned theoretical readings and analysis of a range of major DH projects, which students then wove into their online reflections. Extensive use was made of online platforms that emphasize important forms of digital engagement, including collaborative online writing environments. Each module ended with a short assignment and also a reflective public-facing blog post that became a shared form of intellectual engagement.

In order to begin any kind of DH archival project the students had to produce a digital text.  In the first iteration of the course we did not have a transcription desk available and so students transcribed the assigned pages of the original into a shared Google doc.  This digital text was then color-coded in terms of “proto” tags to ease the way into close reading with TEI tags in Oxygen.  By the time the second semester started we had obtained an institutional subscription to the online platform Juxta Editions which we were then able to use as the transcription platform and also the introduction to thinking about tagging. From the transcription came the lightly marked up digital text that was then imported into Oxygen for more complex tagging.  Students then began tagging in earnest and were introduced to the discoveries of close reading involved in marking up a text.  Names, places, and dates were easy (in Juxta edition they had already been imported).  However the hermeneutical fun started with working out whether a boat was a place or an object, for example.  Or whether God was a person.  And just what is balsam, an object?  an emotion?

During these classes, the historical remoteness of the texts (in Faull’s class from the first half of the 18th century, focusing on Native Americans in the fall and in the Spring on preaching to the enslaved peoples on the Tobacco Coast) was lessened by the act of tagging and the lively discussions that surrounded it. Once a reliable text had been established we then introduced students to the concept of “distant reading” through the Voyant platform.  At the same time as students were encouraged to “play” we also pointed out the circular motion of discovery and confirmation that is inherent in any research experience. The students had just read these archival texts very carefully in order to transcribe them, so we asked them the usual kinds of questions one asks when approaching any kind of new text.  What is it about?  What are the major themes?  Who are the most important characters?  Then, having read Edward Whitley’s text on distant reading we asked the students to think about what reading a text distantly does to that hermeneutic. (Slide of distant reading prompt and visualizations)

This data, the TEI tags, crucial to the success of the students’ mark up assignment and the production of a final digital document, needed some restructuring as we moved onto the next module.  To manage this, we developed a prosopography for each core text – a database of people, places, and connections that grew organically out of the focus of each specific section and provided the data for entry into Gephi and was then built out in adding geospatial data for GIS. So for example, one group of students wanted to use Gephi to interrogate the assumption that relationships between the missionaries and the Native Americans in the area around the mission remained constant.  However, by using the TEI persName tags and exporting them into a Gephi node/edge tables the students were able to show how relations between the Native leaders and the Moravian missionaries changed over a five year period of the mission (Include slide of Jerry and Henna’s work). Students also used the sigma.js plug in so that the network visualizations were interactive.  However successful this team was in their work, it was clear from all iterations of the class that the hermeneutics of social networks was the hardest for the students to analyse and manipulate (which is quite ironic, given how most of them are well plugged in to Twitter, Instagram, etc).

Lastly, students worked in ArcGIS Online to consider the evidence they had discovered within these texts in terms of spatial analysis. The story maps they produced became a new form of critical essay, with thesis, arguments supported by direct evidence, and conclusion all presented within a story map framework. so, for example, one student used Linn’s references to ships running aground during a storm at Hatteras Inlet, found a contemporary document reporting on the damage done to Union ships during this point in the campaign, and overlaid his evidence on a nautical map drawn in 1861 to determine where Linn’s ship had foundered.

Both the composition of the class (in terms of student personalities) and also the nature of the material determined to some extent the kind of final project students chose.  For example, in my section there were some natural groupings of students and there were a variety of final projects (one involving Gephi; two TEI markup; one hybrid ArcMap and TEI; and one story map). In Diane’s class all but two students chose to work independently  In the second iteration of Katie’s course, students decided that they would produce one final group project all together –a  course website that highlighted the best of their DH work. (Slide of Payne Froehlich website)

Assessment slide–self-explanatory

Another challenge to the class design was the high number of L2 students who enrolled in it.  In Katie’s Fall 2014 section there were 2 students of 9 from mainland China; in her spring section that ratio increased to three of five.  In the fall there was one from Australia and one from Vietnam (neither L2s but international students); one student in the spring course was from South Africa – her first language was Afrikaans.  Although the students admitted to being challenged by the readings and also the public facing writing in the blog site, a means for adjusting for student errors and allowing for corrections was developed that would allow the students to post their blog reflections in a way that did not impede their openness to reflection, knowing that they would have an opportunity to correct their English.

However, for all the challenges involved in teaching the class, there were moments of glory. Disengaged students became engaged; solitary learners recognized the essential need to collaborate in order to succeed; participants recognized the transformative nature of the course to their own concepts of the humanities. Students were eager to participate in crowdsourced data collection; they were intrigued to visualize ego-networks as they learned the concepts of network theory; they were excited to see their marked up transcriptions published in an online digital edition. Through these discoveries, they realized that they were creating a community of young DHers and expressed eagerness to take part in more of these learning experiences. Thank you!

“Writing a Moravian Memoir: the Intersection of History and Autobiography”

Screenshot 2015-05-14 19.19.51 Monday, May 11, 2015, University of Goteborg, Sweden

I delivered this seminar paper via Skype to a group of European scholars interested in ways of reading and analyzing Moravian memoirs.  The two day seminar was entitled “Life-writing and Lebenslauf:  Pillars of an invisible church” and was organized by Dr. Christer Ahlberger, in the faculty of History. In this paper I discuss ways of thinking about autobiography and the Moravian memoir, both as a radical act within the history of the genre and also, when analyzing the memoirs with the methods of DH, as a radical hermeneutic to reveal new voices in the historical record.

Screenshot 2015-05-14 19.24.46The genre of autobiography is a tricky one. Although only recently even acknowledged within the scholarly community as an object worthy of critical scrunity, autobiography has for millenia served the purpose of providing a model of the exemplary life. Whether in the form of saints’ lives, the chronicles of kings and queens, the political autobiography, or Johannes Arndt’s “best seller” the Historie der Wiedergeborenen, all have served the purpose of shaping others’ lives. Through autobiography the author is able to examine memory, shape experience, interrogate the reasons for action and examine conscience. For the reader, the genre provides an opportunity to view this process within another human subject, to witness the relation of authentic (or inauthentic) experience and emotion. Continue reading ““Writing a Moravian Memoir: the Intersection of History and Autobiography””

Digital Learning in an Undergraduate Context:

… promoting long term student-faculty (and community) collaboration in the Susquehanna Valley

This is the transcript of the paper that Diane Jakacki and I presented on July 9, 2014 at DH2014 in Lausanne, Switzerland. We are currently expanding this paper into an article for publication. The PowerPoint slides that accompanied our presentation are included at the end of this post.

INTRODUCTION
At several sessions and discussions at the 2014 Digital Humanities Summer Institute we noticed a marked increase in discussions focusing on teaching Digital Humanities; namely, how do we effectively port the tools and methodologies with which we work as researchers into the undergraduate classroom. Simultaneously, the question gradually shifted from “DO we teach Digital Humanities to undergraduates?” to “HOW do we teach Digital Humanities to undergraduates?”

Continue reading “Digital Learning in an Undergraduate Context:”

(M)other tongues

Two emails in the last week reminded me of my multilingual roots; one from the editor of a volume of essays on colonial Pennsylvania, asking that my quotations from primary sources in my contribution be in the original language (in this case German), and the other from a doctoral candidate in Germany, requesting my help with manuscript materials from the 18th century, also in German.  The editor’s request was unusual for me.  After years of publishing in scholarly venues where the original non-English language was either elided or banished to the footnotes, after decades of translating materials for those who at conferences smile and say, “Oh, I don’t want to do all that work with the German, I leave it to people like you,” the request to foreground the original was refreshing and surprising.

The problem with both requests was that neither source had been published in German  Both reside on my hard drive, carefully transcribed from the German, along with editorial marks to indicate the scribe or author’s deletions and insertions, an editor’s marginalia, re-workings and rewordings.  The hundreds of pages of German (all  supported by healthy grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities) have constituted an interim stage between original manuscript and printed translation.  Occasionally, I have been urged by German researchers to not forget them, but with the pressure to publish in North American scholarly presses (who for the most part abhor the non-English) these requests were answered piecemeal. Until now.

The request for the original German of Margarethe Jungmann’s memoir that I had published in translation nearly 15 years ago in the volume Moravian Women’s Memoirs (Syracuse UP, 1997) spurred me to go back to my transcriptions and decide to make them available on this site.  After a few hasty consultations with our Digital Scholarship Coordinator, Dr. Diane Jakacki, and an equally hasty email to the Archivist of the Northern Province, Dr. Paul Peucker to ask permission to publish original materials housed at the Moravian Archives in Bethlehem, I entered into a frenzy of WordPress posting; adding a submenu for Moravian Materials, a page for the memoirs, entitled Umgang mit dem Heiland with a linked table of contents, and then making a page for each memoir.  Over the space of 24 hours, I read through each memoir, line by line, checking the formatting and occasionally modifying the old html from the MS Word files.  And posted them.

As I read, the beauty of the authors’ German once again came alive.  For most of these women, their mother tongue was German, but a non-standardized German. Many wrote as they spoke, with dialect spellings, so that when read aloud you can almost hear their accented voice, recognize their origin from the Pfalz (Palatinate) or Sachsen (Saxony).  And some are more filtered through a “Moravian vernacular,” carefully deploying the tropes and styles of the pietistic community in response to the request to write an account of their lives.  How does a woman from LIttle Papaa on the Guinea coast write her life in German?  How does a woman born in York, Pennsylvania or Paris, France, or London, England write about her life in what is not her mother tongue?  Does the language become flattened into what Gayatri Spivak has termed “translatese” (see her classic essay, “The Politics of Translation”)? Does the imposition of an other tongue violate the subjectivity and identity of the author?

My mother was German.  A refugee from the Russian front in 1945, she ended up in Bristol, England as the bride of a British soldier.  Britain in the 1950s and 60s was not a very friendly place to Germans or the German language, and so the sound of her mother(‘s) tongue was mostly silenced, spoken only at home, and emerging in brief moments of linguistic naivety when I, unaware that I was not speaking the common vernacular in Herefordshire, England, would utter a word that marked me as “other.”  And this linguistic otherness intrigued me.  Having multiple words and worlds in which to express myself became a fantastic prism through which to distort and enrich the world around me.  Having only one language world was something I could not imagine, and so I acquired more of them.  The polyphony of the polyglot is sometimes deafening, a Babel of voices, but it is multidimensional, complex, and exhilarating.

Precisely this polyglot place was here in Pennsylvania in the colonial period.  There was English, German, French, Dutch, Swedish, all imported from Europe.  But there was also the polyphony of the Native American languages; Iroquoian and Algonquin language groups, fundamentally different and defining the nations of the “New” world.  These linguistic worlds intermixed in Pennsylvania along the branches of the Susquehanna, up and down the Delaware and the Schuylkill.  As Patrick Erben has examined in his wonderful work, “A Harmony of the Spirits:  Translation and the Language of Community in Early Pennsylvania” (UNC Press, 2012) this multiplicity of languages was not a threat to the harmony of Penn’s “Holy Experiment” but rather its constitutive moment.  And new work emerging from conferences like “Envisioning the Old World: Heinrich Melchior Mühlenberg and Imperial Projects in Pennsylvania” organized by Dr. Bethany Wiggin of the German Department of the University of Pennsylvania, in 2012 show how the field of German studies in North America is changing.  More and more, it encompasses the comparative and the interdisciplinary in its examination of the history and languages of the German Atlantic world.  What was once termed “German-American Studies” and looked on with the slight suspicion that it resided only in the “Wurst and Bier” of a Philadelphia or Texas “Deutsches Brauhaus” has developed into an intellectually sophisticated and legitimated mode of inquiry.  No longer eliding the (m)other tongue, but rather celebrating Babel, I want to thank the visionary scholars and presses that are making this happen!  Prosit!

First steps on a familiar path…

Mack 1
First page of Martin Mack’s Shamokin Journal

Today I set out on a week-long trip that will take me to familiar places to meet lots of people doing new things with old stuff.  In many ways, I have been doing new things with old stuff for a while.  Working with manuscript materials all my academic career,  I have always wanted to find ways to make what had been stored away in acid free boxes on shelves in archives more accessible to the public.  And print publishing has not always been the answer.  For example, no-one was interested in publishing a parallel dual language text of the memoirs back in the 90s, and so I tried on-line publishing (see the Moravian Women’s Memoirs experiment that I started back in the days of HTML in the late 1990s).  More recently, I have been able to discuss and publish  the 18th century maps of the Susquehanna River I have found in archives in both print media (the Journal of Moravian History and the Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography) and also through some of the online work I have been doing with students on the river.  To accomplish the latter, we are in the process of building an “atlas” of the river that will include its historical and critical cartography (the subject of Steffany Meredyk’s Honors thesis, for example).

Continue reading “First steps on a familiar path…”

The Limits of Cartesian Space

Steffany Meredyk ’14/Profs. Katherine Faull (German/Comparative Humanities) and Duane Griffin (Geography) (Bucknell), ‘Not Merely Overrun, But Destroyed: The Sullivan Expedition Against the Iroquois Indians, 1779‘
Steffany Meredyk ’14/Profs. Katherine Faull (German/Comparative Humanities) and Duane Griffin (Geography) (Bucknell)

Over the last three and half years, I have been working with Steffany Meredyk, Class of 2014, on the Cultures at the Confluence project.  What started out as a mainly textually based project to transcribe and translate the Moravian mission diaries from Shamokin, Pa has turned into a far more complex and rewarding investigation into the limits and challenges associated with spatial representation in historical narratives.  In our collaboration, Steffany and I have grappled with the question of how to represent cartographically the lived experience of those who traversed the Susquehanna Country in the mid-18th century. While I was working on creating the textual edition of the diaries, Steffany started taking courses on GIS.  One of the first maps she produced, in a class with Prof. Duane Griffin, shows her early engagement with critical GIS, following the models presented by Margaret Pearce in her work on indigenous mapping.[1]  Steffany drew on archival materials to embed the observations of Sullivan’s troops into the map she drew to depict the advance of the campaign to eradicate the Iroquois along the North Branch of the Susquehanna River in 1779.  As she writes: “During the American Revolutionary conflict, the Iroquois Indians gave divided military support to American colonists and the British loyalists. As a result General George Washington ordered General John Sullivan in May 1779 to invade Iroquois Country, destroy Indian villages, and burn all food crops or potential resources for Indian war parties or communities. Sullivan’s troops destroyed nearly 60 Indian villages from June through October 1779. Behind him, he left not only a path of physical destruction but also a decimation of Native American communities and cultural systems that can be argued to be systematic genocide… “This map represents where Sullivan’s main army marched and the villages and places that it decimated in the summer of 1779. The troops began their march in Easton, Pennsylvania and follow the North Branch of the Susquehanna River up to the Finger Lakes area in present-day New York. Journal entries of military officers in Sullivan’s army embedded along the war path tell narratives of the journey and shed light on the perspectives of the men during the American Revolutionary Era. Through the journal entries, of Sullivan’s warpath, and the inclusion of quotations, this map provides insight into the great devastation of Iroquois country and the minds of the men who ravaged it.”

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

In the summer of 2012, supported by funds from the Chesapeake Conservancy, Steffany and another student, Bethany Dunn ’14 worked on a mapping project on the main stem of the Susquehanna River between Harrisburg and Sunbury.  This project was far more ambitious: to map the river not as a continuous geographical feature but rather as a segmented and complex corridor of fear.  The mid-eighteenth century saw the multiple murders of both Indians and settlers along the river, the most notorious of these being the Paxton Boys massacre of the Susquehannock Indians at Conestoga and the Frederick Stump murders on Middle Creek.  Steffany set out to represent the increasingly racialized politics of the Pennsylvania Backcountry, again drawing on manuscript maps, archival materials, journals, letters, and broadsheets to map the complexity of human experience.  This draft is currently the subject of Steffany’s Honors thesis in Geography at Bucknell University.  

          [1] M. Pearce and R. Louis. Mapping Indigenous depth of place. American Indian Culture & Research Journal, Special Issue, “Mainstreaming Indigenous Geographies,” 32 no. 3 (2008), 107-26.