Arthur Schnitzler goes digital
by Prof. Dr. Wolfgang Lukas
The works of the great Austrian writer Arthur Schnitzler (1862–1931) are, astonishingly enough, not yet available in a definitive scholarly edition.
UW’s Department of German Studies plans to issue the first critical historical edition of the complete works, including copious unpublished material from Schnitzler’s estate. The project is conceived as a tri-national cooperation involving the universities of Cambridge and Vienna and calling on the resources of the Schnitzler archives at Cambridge University Library, Marbach (Deutsches Literaturarchiv), and Freiburg (copy archive), as well as the textual competency and technological know-how of the University of Trier’s Center for Digital Humanities.
A funding application has been submitted to the North Rhine-Westphalian Academy of Arts and Sciences with the ultimate goal of publishing an innovative online edition of Schnitzler’s works.
The position a writer holds in our society is often reflected in the editions in which his or her works are handed down to us. These are instrumental in creating the collective memory that determines the place of an author in the contemporary canon, however historically and culturally variable that might prove to be. The more extensive (and therefore expensive) the scholarly and publishing investment in an edition, the bigger (as a rule) the boost to an author’s reputation.
Georg Büchner is a case in point: little known in his own day outside a small circle of fellow writers, his name now honors the most illustrious and best funded German literary prize, parallel to which his work has enjoyed one of the most detailed and differentiated editions – the so-called ‘Marburg Edition’ – in recent publishing history.
With the Austrian playwright and novelist Arthur Schnitzler (1862-1931) it is a different matter: the editorial history of his works stands in flagrant contrast to his global reputation. From his beginnings as a writer (around 1890) he soon advanced to the rank of a leading protagonist of classical modernism (the period from 1890-1930); but unlike other major figures of this epoch (Franz Kafka, Robert Musil, Thomas Mann, Alfred Döblin, Hugo von Hofmannsthal etc.) he has been accorded neither a commented students’ edition nor a critical, let alone a critical-historical one.
Moreover, many of the works published by Fischer, Schnitzler’s lifetime publisher and copyright-holder until 2001, contain erroneous readings, which grow in number from printing to printing and range from minor deviations from the original to crass distortions of its meaning. Textual criticism has borrowed the intriguing geophysical term ‘textual weathering’ or ‘erosion’ for this phenomenon, as if it were a natural process to which scholarship was helplessly exposed.
The reasons for this desolate situation are many and can scarcely even be hinted at here. One factor may have been the cliché-like response to Schnitzler’s work, which began in his own day and has continued in journalistic reviews and similar publications into our own, reducing the author’s impact to a few stereotypical motives associated with the Vienna of the Imperial Monarchy – love (Schnitzler’s ‘charming girls’), death, games and gambling, dreams (Schnitzler as ‘Freud’s doppelganger’) – and thus effectively distracting readerly vision from his genuine importance.
In diametrical opposition to such obstinate stereotyping, Schnitzler’s work not only reveals an enormous breadth of themes and motives, but also strikes a multiplicity of chords in the social, anthropological, philosophical, scientific, and gender history of the epoch. In this respect, the projected new edition of his works may well prove beneficial to researchers in a number of disciplines associated with culture and media, as well as to the narrower field of literary and textual studies.
Efforts have been under way for some years to remedy the sorry state of Schnitzler’s extant texts and manuscripts, and they have recently taken concrete form in a tri-national editorial project linking research teams at the universities of Cambridge (directed by Prof. A. Webber), Vienna (directed by Prof. K. Fliedl), and Wuppertal (directed by Profs. W. Lukas and M. Scheffel) and calling on the resources of the Schnitzler archives at Cambridge University Library, Freiburg, and Marbach (Deutsches Literaturarchiv), as well as the textual competency, technological know-how, and electronic publishing experience of the University of Trier’s Center for Digital Humanities (directed by Dr. Thomas Burch).The project aims at a hybrid publication, combining a selection of Schnitzler’s works in book form with a complete digital edition in accordance with critical-historical principles, to be made available via the online Arthur Schnitzler portal of Cambridge University Library.
The project will also edit for the first time the entire volume of unpublished material from Schnitzler’s estate, comprising preparatory work on published texts, as well as a mass of other material in various stages of completion, ranging from initial notes and concepts, through preliminary sketches, to finished dramas and narrative texts not intended by the author for publication.
These papers from Schnitzler’s estate had an interesting and adventurous history. After the annexation of Austria by Hitler’s Germany in 1938, the National Socialists searched Schnitzler’s house in Vienna several times looking for the papers left there after his death in 1931. But, in a last minute action a British doctoral student (and later professor of German), Eric A. Blackall, who was working in the city at the time, had with the help of the British consulate arranged the donation and transfer of the bulk of the estate (some 40,000 pages) to Cambridge University Library, where it is still held.
A further major collection of papers comprising correspondence, diaries and other personal documents is held at the German literary archives in Marbach, and there are smaller collections at the Austrian National Library in Vienna, the Fondation Bodmer in Geneva, and the Jewish Library in Jerusalem.
The significance of this material arises largely from the way in which Schnitzler wrote: rarely in a single sweep. He would work for several years or even decades on a piece, with long intervals in between. Thus the late work, which includes everything published after 1920, often has its roots in ideas and sketches from the 1890s – a gestation period of some 30-40 years.
A second and equally important factor is the significance the author himself accorded these preliminary drafts and revisions. Although Schnitzler’s quality standards in matters of publication were extremely high – and he accordingly drew a strict line between authorized and unauthorized texts – he recognized that unfinished and even failed pieces could have a value their own.
A diary entry of March 30, 1916 anticipates a posthumous edition that might set the creative process itself at the focus of interest, neutralizing his own distinction between published and unpublished work: “Much that is incomplete, or indeed failed, will be just as interesting, or even more so, to those who are still concerned with me in 50 or 100 years time, than the successful, completed work.”
In view of the illegibility of Schnitzler’s handwriting (see Figs. 2 & 3), editing this unpublished material is a challenging task, but it is one that offers exciting insights into his working methods. The reconstruction of the creative process sheds light not only on the immense wealth of Schnitzler’s themes and motives, but also on structural, genetic aspects of the act of writing and the workings of the poetic imagination.
An interesting feature of the author’s production is, for example, the way in which two different works can arise from a single idea: a genetic bifurcation visible in “Der einsame Weg” and “Professor Bernhardi”, or in “Hirtenflöte” and “Komödie der Verführung”. The opposite process of genetic fusion may also take place, when two preliminary sketches or drafts give rise to a single finished piece, as in “Stunde des Erkennens” or “Erinnerung”.
Schnitzler’s entire oeuvre constitutes in this respect a coherent network of dynamic transformational processes branching in every direction. And the further typically Schnitzlerian phenomena of genre-switching – from novella to drama (“Komödie der Verführung”), or from drama to novel or novella (“Der Weg ins Freie”, “Die Frau des Richters”) – and of working at the same time in two genres, as in the prose and drama versions of the ‘Adventurer’ material, make the Schnitzler archives a veritable treasure trove for students of genre and narrative theory.
The tri-national editorial project will provide the Cambridge Schnitzler portal with a dual function as both archive and scholarly edition. The entire material, including publications as well as archival holdings, will be digitally reproduced in facsimile and linked to the edited transcriptions and texts.
The digital solution has been chosen not only because of the sheer bulk of the material, but also because of its considerable advantages over the traditional book medium. Where a book must choose between alternative layouts – e.g. ordering according to date or genre, synoptic or successive presentation of the genesis of a work or works (see the bifurcation/fusion discussion above) – a digital edition can manage all these tasks at once, providing multiple perspectives that invite many different scholarly applications for each individual work. Moreover, in its hypertext function the digital medium possesses an unparalleled facility for displaying the dynamics of the creative process that is so central to Schnitzler’s writing.
To achieve the same sense of systematic textual interdependence, the essentially linear book medium would require either a forest of cross-referencing or multiple reprints of the same text in different functional contexts.
Finally, a digital edition offers optimal facilities for the scholars working on (and later with) it. Texts can be immediately related, coordinated, and placed in context, and the user will be able to switch with ease between facsimile, transcription, and genetic presentation – a reading track that is adaptable to whatever question she or he may wish to pursue.
Another positive aspect is the new form of commentary allowed by an online edition, with links to additional documentary material in the form of sources or reception history, to contemporary work of other writers – whether literary, critical, journalistic or concerned with publication – and to parallel media like film, art and the spoken word. In this respect the Schnitzler portal promises to become a uniquely attractive multimedia information and research tool. Its situation at the interface between literary studies, media communications and IT represents an innovation of generic proportions, far exceeding the mere use of digital technology as an instrument for editorial publication.
At the technical level the project will use XML (Extensible Markup Language) for processing and presenting the data, following the TEI (Text Encoding Initiative) guidelines specifically developed for humanities projects. XML is an application-neutral meta-language for describing and structuring documents. Defined as an international standard (W3C), it is increasingly used for editorial work because of its superiority with respect to sustainability (long-term data preservation), media neutrality (flexible preparation and transfer of data for digital or book publication), and operation (automation of work processes and optimal facilities for data research).
The detailed digital solutions for the Schnitzler project are being developed in cooperation with the University of Trier’s Center for Digital Humanities, which has long experience in ‘born digital’ as well as in retro-digitalization projects.
For UW’s Department of German Studies the Schnitzler edition project ties in with current research focuses on classical modernism, as well as specifically on Schnitzler himself. And it takes up the long Wuppertal tradition of textual and editorial work, which over the past 40 years has seen the publication of critical editions and allied projects concerned with Clemens Brentano, the brothers Grimm, Hugo von Hofmannsthal, Else Lasker-Schüler, Franz Kafka and others. Special synergies can be expected from the MA program in Editing and Documentology that started in winter semester 2010, offering ideal conditions for the integration of research with teaching.
Preliminary work for the project has been facilitated by a research residency of the present author at Cambridge University Library, and the project applicants have been greatly assisted by Vivien Friedrich, former custodian of the Schnitzler archive in Freiburg and currently on the staff of UW’s Central Research Promotion Fund. The project has been submitted to the North Rhine-Westphalian Academy of Arts and Sciences for long-term (15-18 years’) funding.Source