Solipsism and Me

Idle reports from an idle fellow

Paris in the in the spring

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The WardoniaA “Special Interest Group” of the TEI dealing with l’édition génétique has convened a meeting at ITEM which is not to be missed. And it’s over a month since I was last in Paris. The meeting starts at 2 pm, which implies an early start from St Pancras (0920 to be exact), to make which less of a pain I spend the night before at a carefully selected very cheap hotel (the Wardonia, Argyle Street, right next to a black hole on Google Maps, you can’t miss it). My room was a double cell in the cellar, with its own bathroom, but absolutely no chairs, tables or other furbelows. Bright and early, and appreciating the contrast, I then waltzed into the Eurostar executive lounge for my free wifi, breakfast, etc. and thence, in due course, to Paris. Somewhat harassed staff took too long to bring a proper breakfast for the couple opposite me, so the lady concerned – a plausible impersonation of Maudie Littlehampton – proceeded to complain her way to some sort of discount and a personal apology from the chef du train. I gather that they can’t get the staff these days, not since they laid them all off after that unfortunate Incident in the tunnel last year anyway

No matter. It’s drizzling in Paris, and Yannick isn’t answering his phone. Dump bags at my hotel du jour (les 3 colleges, rue Cujas), check email, grab a chinese steamed bun for lunch, and then proceed to rue d’Ulm, and the Ecole Normale Superieure itself, which is just as Superieure as usual, even in the rain, and even though the assembled stone philosophes and former normaliens are in mourning, presumably for the the current parlous state of the French university system. Anciens normaliens en deuil I track down the meeting eventually, where someone is in full spate on the intricacies of recognizing authorial actions and traces in the manuscripts of Flaubert. I insert myself at the back of the room, next to, good heavens yes, it is Claus Huitfeldt, and there is Dino Buzzetti, and, over there is Hans Walter Gabler, and there are Daniel Ferrer and Aurelie Cresson, and yes, that is definitely Dirk van Hulle, and there are Wolfgang Lukas, Anne Bohnekamp, Fotis Iannidis, Hilde Boe, and hm that must be Jean-Louis Lebrave chairing the session… I apologise for the name dropping, but if a bomb went off in this room, there probably wouldn’t be much critical editing done in Europe for a while. A couple of Americans (John Bryant and Brett Barney) are also in evidence: Elena and Malte and Fotis and Paolo d’Iorio (who is regrettably not here) have evidently done their homework. Lots of interesting stuff gets presented very quickly but raising many tricky theoretical issues; there is well-behaved but energetic discussion. I sit at the back and concentrate. You have texts, possibly, you have documents definitely. You can’t really look at the former and ignore the latter; you can’t look at the latter without seeing the former. And yes, there is a lot in the TEI recommendations for textual editing which needs a fresh look and a good dusting down. In the evening, we dine at le Mauzac – a distinctive joint just off rue Gay-Lussac, offering excellent wine and good fish, where I chat to Susan Schreibman mostly, and learn amongst other slightly surprising facts that she had wanted to become a rabbi in her youth.

Next morning, there is more of the same, this time inside an antique cinema mysteriously located in the basement of a different ENS building. I am down to chair, in place of Laurent, which I dutifully do. As is his wont, Jean-Daniel Fekete demonstrates a rather cool piece of software he’s developed (I have a copy: it’s called Transcripteur and it does what it says on the tin). Emmanuelle Morlock, from the Flaubert project is busily taking notes on everything everyone says; I gather that the point is to assemble aspects of current practice not yet assimilated by the draft proposals of the workgroup. The original plan was to divide into breakout groups to discuss three distinct areas of the proposals, but since most people want to be in all three, and any way we are all getting on so well together, this is abandoned. At lunchtime, I rush off for a very quick business meeting with Yannick, and then return for the final rather crowded (but still amicable) plenary discussion, firmly chaired by Laurent. After protracted farewells, and promises of reports and redactions, I sit around a bit longer to winge about specific details of the draft ODD which Elena’s assistant Moritz has put together and then dash off to meet Yannick again.

Who is deep in discussion with a lady wearing an implausible hat, who has the task of explaining in a report to the publishers of Ile de France just what this XML malarkey is all about and how it might affect them. I obligingly blether a bit, and we then depart for a quick drink, before walking at high speed (discussing all the while whether or not there is such as thing as digital humanities) through the rush hour to the rue de four, for my next gig at something called the IHPST. This is an institute devoted to the study of the history of philosophy, where an energetic lady called Wioletta has organized a little drinkie-do to kick off tomorrow’s seminar, organized as part of a project to digitise the surviving manuscript archive of a Polish philosopher called Kazimierz Twardowski and seductively titled TEI – l’outil d’avenir du chercheur SHS ? (note the question mark). Jean-Daniel and Nicole arrive shortly after Yannick and me; as do Marie-Luce Demonet and Celine Poudat. We are the stars of the occasion, which is as they say nice, and even nicer is the subsequent dinner in an exclusive restaurant overlooking the marché St Germain. I explain why TEI might be interesting to an elderly linguist colleague of Wioletta’s and also to a gentleman I believe to be a Polish cultural attaché, and they both listen politely. Then I stagger back to my hotel somewhat unsteadily, reflecting on (a) what a long day this has been and (b) how different the sixieme arrondissement is from the cinqieme.

Next morning, I give my standard “TEI encoding pour les nuls” talk, emphasizing the “what is text anyway” aspects, and also including for the first time the Petit Comtois example, all of which seems to go down well. The lady with the implausible hat shows up, as do a small number of students, but it’s an intimate little gathering, unsurprisingly on a Saturday morning. Marie-Luce gives a good introduction to the Bibliotheque Virtuelle des Humanistes, including some up to date statistics: I download some sample texts from Epistemon, and explain again to Nicole why the way she’s doing end of line hyphenation is all wrong. Jean-Daniel demonstrates some (different) cool visualisation software and elaborates a little on the theory behind it, which is all new to me. We go to lunch round the corner, in a resto which we seem to be sharing with someone’s wedding party, but none the worse for that. Mmm, fish. Mmm, prunes in liqueur. And so to the closing session, which I had to chair, despite feeling that perhaps a little nap would not be inappropriate. David Chavalarias presented some high powered statistical work on terminology in scientific literature; Celine talked about her corpus of academic writing; Nicole talked about her work with historical archives. And in a final session I learned about Twardowsky, and the vagaries of his manuscripts – he died in Lviv in 1938,  so the archive in which they were deposited has changed its ownership rather more frequently than is strictly necessary. I also learned that Wioletta and three of her students are signed up for my next appearance in Paris, at l’Ecole des Chartes on 3 June, which means I probably have to prepare a different “TEI encoding pour les nuls” talk, drat.

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Written by Lou

May 17, 2009 at 15:24

Posted in Biographical

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