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Roundtable 4: Writing the Self

Nikolaus Wegmann
Selbstdokumentation/Documenting the Self

How is it, I asked myself, that […] nobody has the courage to keep for us an exact register of all the thoughts running through his mind, all the movements of his heart, all his sorrows, all his pleasures. Diderot´s question from 1762 is still valid: What would it be like if you could write yourself down entirely on paper? If you could record your actions, thoughts, perceptions…   with notebook, camera and tape recorder. At first glance, that’s a fully impossible project. But not without fascination. Why? Because the more data you collect the higher the chances are of reaching a fuller self‑understanding as a basis for self‑improvement.
The focus will be on examples from around 1800 and the present.

Birgit Tautz
Archiving the Self in a Nineteenth-Century Edition

I have recently become interested in authors’ various strategies of self-archiving, especially their assertion of authority across genres – often creating or investing in new genres (e.g., the footnote) – exploiting various media (editions, incl. Ausgabe letzter Hand, versus periodicals/newspapers) and “styles.” This overarching interest provides my point of departure.

For this workshop, I will be working with Correspondence between Goethe and Carlyle, edited by C.E. Norton (London: Macmillan, 1887). By looking at the correspondence through the Carlyle collection, rather than Goethe’s Werke (Weimarer Ausgabe), I highlight the ways in which Goethe asserted his influence over shaping perception of himself, including as the expert on adjudicating views of Schiller (in preface to Carlyle’s Schiller biography), as well as emerging (and competing) views of German literary historiography. The bi-lingual nature of the edition speaks to the politics of translation and its (global) reach. Of particular interest, though, are the appendices, prefaces, and introduction – all of which glimpse into media history (intersecting the material and the elusive making of a reputation). The appendices also open a window into interrelations among media objects by telling the story of a mysterious box that Goethe sent to Carlyle and its inventory list, long lost, “discovered” approximately 50 years after the shipment and published (and commented on) in this edition. Finally, I could comment on, briefly, on the status of the Correspondence within this particular local collection and the impact of locality on subsequent biography as well as its changing “value” in times of the digital archive.