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


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).

“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””

The Importance of Understanding Visual Rhetoric: thoughts on Johanna Drucker’s Graphesis

I am re-posting on my personal site my blog entry for my class site for The Humanities Now!  These are questions that I have been thinking about a lot, and my reading of Johanna Drucker’s Graphesis has really helped to crystallize my ideas.  I am so happy that she will be coming to Bucknell in April of 2015 as part of our Humanities Institute on the Digital Humanities.

Over the last week or so, we have revisited visualization as a technique for interpretation. In our production of networks using Gephi, the process of creating data, preparing it for input into the software, manipulating it once in the software and then interpreting it once entered has been foremost. As we move on to mapping, we will find parallel processes at work: preparing data, entering it, manipulating it, interpreting it. And as we do so, it behooves us to think critically about what we are doing, and what we are not doing.

Johanna Drucker’s intelligent, broad view of visualization as a form of knowledge production offers us many pointers for taking each step on our path to visualization and interpretation with deliberation. The long chapter “Interpreting Visualization–Visualization Interpretation” from her book, Graphesis: Visual Forms of Knowledge Production (Harvard, 2014) presents us with an overview of forms of visualization primarily since the Renaissance, and it also issues a plea for the development of a greater understanding of the force of visual rhetoric; a plea that is directed especially at humanists, as they enter into a realm of spatialized representation that might appear to belong to the realm of the quantitative over the qualitative.

Visualizations can be either representations or knowledge generators in which the spatialization or arrangement of elements is meaningful. When reading a visualization, Drucker encourages us to use language carefully, employing terms such as “juxtapose”, “hierarchy”, “proximity”. Drucker claims 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. Now with the advent of digital means to manipulate and produce data we can all produce timelines (!) without giving a thought to the revolution in the conceptualization of time and history that (our near neighbor) Joseph Priestley occasioned. So, as we play with Timemapper or Timeglider, 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.

In her sections on the most prevalent forms of visualization, I find most pertinent to the coming module on mapping her insight that a graphical scheme through which we relate to the phenomenal world structures our experience of it (p. 74). In other words, 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). So we are imposing structures from social and natural sciences onto human experience. Drucker argues that the shape of temporality is a reflection of beliefs and not standard metrics, and therefore asks how do we find a graphical means to inscribe the subjective experience of temporality or the spatial?

For example, digital mapping may give us the ability to georectify a manuscript map onto a coordinate system, but what does this give us? It might show us how accurate a mapmaker was, or was not; it might help us to locate an archaeological site with more probability, 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 then translating into a system of coordinates. What is absent is the story; way-finding depends upon narratives, travel accounts, diaries. We must be aware that maps produce the illusion of isomorphism, but this illusion is based on an elaborate system of abstract schema and concrete reality.

I am most captivated by the section of her chapter that focuses on visualizing uncertainty and interpretive cartography, as this is an area I have thought a lot about in the last five years during which I have been working with GIS. 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 has often seduced me 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. I think here of the brilliant visualizations of Steffany Meredyk, ’14 as she created her interpretive map of the main stem of the Susquehanna River.

Steffany Meredyk's map of the Susquehanna River
Steffany Meredyk’s map of the Susquehanna River

Using the work of Margaret Pearce, Steffany and I talked for long hours about the importance of reinserting the positionality of the observer into the visualizations of the river. Taking her “data” from accounts of massacres in the 1760-80s that occurred on the Susquehanna River, and using graphical means of Adobe Illustrator to represent ambiguity, uncertainty and emotion, I consider Steffany’s work to act as a model for the way in which we can use digital media and methods as humanists. We can, as Drucker observes, “model phenomenological experience; model discourse fields; model narratives and model interpretation.”

Re-indigenizing the River: Hickory Edward’s Epic Quest down the Susquehanna River

Katherine Faull, Bucknell University

View of the North Branch of the Susquehanna River

Kayaking is not just a sport to Hickory Edwards of the Onondaga Nation. It is his way of reviving his nation’s knowledge about its own history and the environment, and also raising public awareness about the ties of the Haudenosaunee to the land. This summer, the coordinator of the Onondaga Kayak and Canoe club decided to retrace the steps and paddle strokes of his forebears by kayaking first from Buffalo, New York along the Tioughioga to the Chenango river to Onondaga on a trip that became known as “The Journey to the Central Fire” to recognize Onondaga’s central position in the “Long House” of the Six Nations. While attending the annual four-day reading of the Haudenosaunee’s “Great Law of Peace” Edwards listened to the words that had been recited so many times about the planting of the Tree of Peace that had brought unity and concord to the then five warring nations of the Iroquois. Seeing that tree in his mind’s eye, Edwards realized that its spreading white roots were actually routes of peace, traditional waterways that spread out from the center of the Haudenosaunee world, waterways that would take him to the sea in whatever direction of the compass he chose to go.

He decided to go south, down the Susquehanna River to the Chesapeake Bay and from there on to Washington DC. “We wanted to take our message from the capitol of the Haudenosaunee to the capitol of the US,” he said in a recent interview from his home near Syracuse, NY. And what is that message? “We are still here. The Native people and their trade routes and waterways are not forgotten. We need to remember our language and our lands. We need to re-indigenize the river.” The goal of this epic human-powered journey was the National Museum of the American Indian on the capitol’s Mall where an exhibition opened on September 21, 2014, “Nation to Nation,” that celebrates the historic treaties drawn up between the Native nations and the colonial governments. “The treaties are still valid,” said Edwards “so we decided to go see them.”

capitol and hickory
Edwards carrying the Haudenosaunee flag to the National Museum of the American Indian

Although prepared to paddle over 500 miles alone, Hickory Edwards could not help but attract support from wherever he went. Joined five days into the journey by fellow kayaker, Noah Onheda and supported the whole way down by his parents acting as ground crew, Edwards described the highlights of the trip down the Susquehanna. For example, standing at Indian Rocks just north of Wyalusing, where Handsome Lake, religious leader of the Six Nations in the late 1700s contemplated the spiritual future of his people. Or the petroglyphs at Safe Harbor that represent powerful, ancient things, carved into what looks like a little Turtle Island in the river. “This is what we must do,” said Edwards “relearn the waterways of our peoples to know where these places are.” Following what he called the “white route of peace” south, Edwards claimed they never had one bad night. “The water was good to us all the way down.” Well, except the very last day, when the winds on the Chesapeake Bay picked up and the waves rose so high around the kayaks that Edwards lost sight of his paddling companion Noah for the height of the water. “Maybe the waves didn’t want us on the water that last day,” Edwards mused. Despite the wind and tide and waves, they made it to Sandy Point State Park, just outside Annapolis, Maryland where they were greeted by representatives of the National Park Service, Deanna Beacham and Suzanne Copping, and treated to a meal, big enough to sate any epic paddler’s appetite!

Having not really used their legs for nearly three weeks, walking over 30 miles from Annapolis to Washington DC was no easy feat. But, they did it. Arriving at the nation’s Mall and the NMAI was a historic moment, with the Haudenosaunee flag flying high. “We did it,” he said, “we came from our capital to yours to see the historic treaties.” And they had even brought water from the spring on the Onondaga Nation land to water the tobacco plants in front of the museum.

Edwards and his father and co-paddler, Noah Onheda examine the treaties made from Nation to Nation at the NMAI exhibit that opened September 21, 2014

Now back home for almost the first time this summer, Hickory Edwards is already planning his next big trip. From kayak races on the Onondaga creek, to a Peacemakers’ journey, to joining the Two Row on the Grand River in Canada next summer, Edwards paddles to revitalize our awareness that clean water is important. “The circle of life starts out with the next generation looking up at us from the earth,” he explained. “They grow and live and return to the earth. But there is one constant throughout, and that is water. Waterways are the veins of our Mother Earth.”

And it is along those life-giving waterways that Hickory Edwards will continue his personal quest.

hickory sunset

Discussing the Digital at DHSI 2014

At the first “Birds of a Feather” session at DHSI on Tuesday afternoon, chaired by our very own Diane Jakacki, the question posed was “Who are we and where are we going?” A pertinent question indeed, as the auditorium designed for the opening session could not hold the over 600 people who had come this year to University of Victoria for a week-long intensive foray into classes, flash talks, discussions, and meetings on the Digital Humanities.

I am at DHSI to attend a seminar designated for Deans and Chairs (in a room in which there might be the only people with grey hair) to try to learn about the problems of creating, sustaining, evaluating and growing DH at an institute of higher learning. My classmates are from large public and private R1s, and smaller Liberal Arts colleges, from the US, Canada, Australia, and South Africa, and we are all tasked with the question of reading about and discussing the problems of defining DH, evaluating it, developing it, and facing the challenges and rewards of collaborative DH work with faculty and students (and of course graduate students) in our various educational environments. Then, we are sent off to audit as many classes as possible, ranging from the Fundamentals of TEI (text markup language) to Drupal for DH, to GIS (know where I’ll be heading…), basic programming, database development, and physical computing (getting the internet to talk to physical objects) inter alia. On Friday, the group reconvenes to discuss how such digital knowledge might be embedded within the teaching and scholarship of our various institutions.

Continue reading “Discussing the Digital at DHSI 2014”

On using ArcMap Collector as a mobile app for SSV

Since its inception, Stories of the Susquehanna has been a collaborative, interdisciplinary Screenshot 2014-05-08 21.41.18digital project that has at its core a geospatial interface. What started out as historical/cultural mapping of the Native American landscapes of the Susquehanna in ArcMap Desktop with maps published in static image format (as discussed in the interviews of me and Emily Bitely) has evolved through the iterations of ESRI’s software development.

About a week ago, one of our Digital Scholarship Coordinators and SSV  project manager, Diane Jakacki pointed to to the fact that ESRI was now publishing apps. photoAt first skeptical, I proceeded to delve further into the Collector app and battled my way through tutorials designed for insurance adjusters gathering data in the field (no, I don’t need fields labeled “Habitable” or “Partially Destroyed”) to create a feature layer that could be added to any map in ArcMap online. This feature layer was supposed to be able to both locate you in the field and allow you to input field data in real time at the same time as giving you access to the rich data associated with points and lines in pop-ups. The new feature layer could also permit the attachment of photos and video.

My co-PI, Alf Siewers and I had been discussing over the last few months how we could best create this kind of mobile interface and had been in long discussions with both Diane and Andy Famiglietti as to how this might happen. This app seemed to me to offer us a ready made way to send our students out into the field to collect data, upload it, and also see it within the context of the historical information that had already been collected.

Add Feature window showing the fields and photo upload option

After some tussling with an outdated version of ArcMap (10.0 vs. 10.2) and successfully navigating our excellent ArcMap Online resources, I was able to author and upload a prototype of a multi-layered interactive map of the Susquehanna watershed that had the mobile features I wanted (well, almost). However, one field caused the app to crash repeatedly and I knew I had to re-author it in Desktop.

Enter my Presidential Fellow, Steffany Meredyk. Today, as almost a final collaborative act after four years of working together, Steffany and I worked out the problem;  now we can test out an interactive crowdsourcing feature layer for online maps of the Susquehanna this weekend on the North Branch Kayaking Sojourn. Whoops of joy were detectable…. but not uploaded…

photo-1The Collector app has a rich potential for data gathering in the field. Whether to record information on bird populations, the state of repair of the rail-trail, tracking  plant coverage, or encouraging crowdsourcing of local history, this is an exciting and versatile digital step forward in our work of bringing the Stories of the Susquehanna alive.

(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!