Richard Utz (Cedar Falls)
When Dinosaurs Ruled the Earth:
|When I first began, I had some hopes of myself being able to found an independent school of English philology in this country. But as time went on it became too evident that the historical study of English was being rapidly annexed by the Germans, and that English editors would have to abandon all hopes of working up their materials themselves, and resign themselves to the more humble rôle of purveyors to the swarms of young program-mongers turned out every year by the German universities, so thoroughly trained in all the mechanical details of what may be called 'parasite philology' that no English dilettante can hope to compete with them except by Germanizing himself and losing all hope of his nationality. All this is of course inevitable the result of our own neglect, and of the unhealthy over-production of the German universities but it is not encouraging for those who, like myself, have had the mortification of seeing their favourite investigations forestalled one after another, while they are laboriously collecting their materials. (Sweet 1885: v-vi)|
Sweet's complaints show the frustration of some Anglophone scholars about their German colleagues' appropriation of the 'father of English poetry' and other medieval and early modern textual terrains. Others, like Frederick Furnivall, regarded the German interest in Chaucer as a welcome support against the resistance against the admission of English as a subject taught at British universities. Sweet's remarks also impart that he finds fault with the "mechanical" and "parasitic" aspects of philological study, no doubt representing views that institutionalization and philologization jeopardized scholarly individualism and openness to observations beyond the dominant paradigm. That about two thirds of all studies in Chaucerphilologie between 1871 and 1925 concerned themselves with questions of grammar, linguistics, and meter and another 10 to 15 per cent of the remaining studies with textual criticism demonstrates the narrowly positivistic orientation of its practioners.9 Literary scholars in and outside Germany reacted against this methodological reductionism which would finalize the gradual shift in philology's reputation from that of a broadly conceived and innovative scholarly practice to an overly rigid and unambitious enterprise which had unduly widened the critical distance between scholars and their texts. German-speaking scholars were reminded to present "less of merely external facts" and more "about the psychological and literary elements," spend less of their "astounding diligence" and "great gravity" with "mere trifles" (de Backer 1931: 240). In the United States, German philological methods were quickly embraced as an exciting, new hermeneutic tool. However, they were made to coexist alongside practices stressing the teaching of literature as artistic, social, and cultural phenomena. In Britain and the United States, World War I bolstered anti-hegemonic sentiments and led to critical attitudes toward philological study. Thus, the success of German philologists to construct and promote philological practices as something particularly German would in the end contribute to their final international demise.10
Other challenges to philology's dominant position among academic methodologies originated from the intensifying demands by German educators to allow more room for the teaching of contemporary English (Reformbewegung) and the inclusion of courses in history, politics, sociology, and national psychology (Kulturkunde), the latter especially after the First World War had revealed glaring lacunae in the knowledge Germans had about Britain. This gradual shift in university curricula diminished the role of Early English literature courses and offered more space for the study of post-eighteenth-century topics and U.S. literature.11 After 1918, German Chaucerphilologie found itself isolated from the developments in Anglophone countries, received less attention within the academic study of English at German universities, and fell into the hands of a backward-looking generation of schoolteachers who were fighting distasteful duels about philological aporias (e.g., the priority of the G and F versions of the Prologue to the Legend of Good Women).12 Finally, the same differentiation among academic disciplines that had helped bring about English philology in the 1870s resulted in a secession of linguistic study from literary studies in the 1920s and 1930s.
As this concise survey indicates, nineteenth- and early twentieth-century Chaucerphilologie should better be termed "hegemonist," "agonistic," or "nationalistic" than "paternalistic" as practically all its claims about methodological superiority are intimately connected with nation-founding and the formation of national identity via cultural annexation of what was considered Germanic textual territory to begin with. Moreover, defining philology as "paternalistic" and "hygienist" unduly limits its field of agency to a small area of its actual praxis. However, the sometimes violent seriousness, the painstaking exactitude, the obsessive desire for national and racial origins, and the deplorably formalized and mechanized practices of German Chaucerians deserve to be linked with the specific cultural, political, and social conditions that brought them about. They are part of a continuist mentalité which was driven by the conviction that science-like approaches to historical texts would yield secure results, continued progress, produce authentication, authorship, chronology, quantifiable proof on all matters linguistic and literary. This mentalité developed into a veritable national form of life as when all German schoolteachers taught philological methods in their classes, when the schoolteachers and their university professors were members of the various philological societies, when it was considered as honorific to be Privatdozent in Philologie as a reserve officer in the Imperial army, and when the general term for review academic or not came to be "Rezension," derived from the "recensio," the philological comparison of manuscripts.13 On the whole, German Chaucerians, knowing, e.g., that any attempt at a stemma codicum for the dozens of manuscripts of the Pardoner's Prologue and Tale would result in a nonsensically complicated arborescence, are very moderate Lachmannians, make use of genealogical trees for pedagogical purposes and for pictorializing the evolution of literary motifs and characters as often as for manuscript filiations.14 Interestingly, these nineteenth-century philologists' scientistic tools (rhyme tests; phoneme or morpheme counts; etc.) eerily resemble the continuist dreams of late twentieth-century 'new philologists' who hold that the computer screen via the postmodern simulation of the mouvance of medieval writing will resolve the problems brought about by their modernist predecessors.15
Finally, I would like to say a word about the question whether the Chaucerians in my case study deserve to be called "dinosaurs": When Bernard Cerquiglini used the term, he counted on the negative connotations attached to it and wanted to indicate that philologists were bound to disappear because of their antiquated practices. However, much unlike the "terrible lizards" (this is what the Victorian taxonomist Sir Richard Owen wanted to express when creating the neologism "dinosaur" in the 1840s) of the Mesozoic era, philological methods and their practitioners have survived New Critical, structuralist, and post-structuralist curtain calls due to the foundational importance many societies attach to the preserving, memorializing, and interpreting, in short: the archaeologizing of their historical texts. Ever since Plato and the librarian-philologists of Alexandria, Western culture has created occupational niches for specialists to fulfil these tasks.16 In the area of Chaucer study, the specific cultural conditions in Germany and Austria between 1860 and 1925 brought about an increasingly narrow subspecies of philology. This Wortphilologie, accelerated by the political and economic downfall of both countries, caused its own decline and fall, and the link between philology and Germanity provided British and American scholars an opportunity after two World Wars -- to abandon 'philology' expressly because it was 'Made in Germany'. Then, together with the translatio imperii to the United States, the translatio studii (as described by Baugh 1951) to U.S. Chaucerians transformed Chaucer philology into Chaucer studies, an area in which philological work has been relegated to a handful of specialists in manuscript and word study and to the skeletal remains of the old philological cultural capital, e.g., the titles of several journals: Modern Philology; Studies in Philology; Philological Quarterly. And then there still exists what Jonathan Culler has irately called "the kingdom of the 'P's," the Library of Congress catalogue system, a veritable 'Jurassic park' in which the principles of Mesozoic/modernist dinosaurs still rule and where even studies in critical theory are unabashedly indexed under the area of 'philology' (Culler 1990: 49).
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Busch, Alexander (1977): Die Geschichte des Privatdozenten. Eine soziologische Studie zur großbetrieblichen Entwicklung der deutschen Universitäten. New York: Arno Press.
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Christmann, Helmut (1983): "Romance Philology versus English Studies in the Nineteenth Century Selected Aspects of a Vast Subject", in: Thomas Finkenstaedt and Gertrud Scholtes (Ed.) Toward a History of English Studies in Europe. Augsburg: University of Augsburg, 283302.
Culler, Jonathan (1990): "Anti-Foundational Philology", in: Jan Ziolkowski (Ed.) On Philology. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press, 49-52.
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1 This essay is based on a conference paper presented at a section entitled 'Philology: Whence? Whither?' organized by Jonathan Evans (University of Georgia), for the 37th International Congress on Medieval Studies, Western Michigan University, in May 2002. I am indebted to Jonathan Evans, Murray McGillivray (University of Calgary), Tom Shippey (St. Louis University), and Jan Ziolkowski (Harvard University) for their presentations, comments, and responses during that conference section.
2 On this first phase of critical Chaucer reception in Germany, see Utz (2002a: 23-39) and Haas (2002; 1990; and 1989). Unless indicated, all translations from German source texts in this essay are mine.
3 On this second phase of critical Chaucer reception in Germany, see Utz (2002a: 41-60).
4 The historical process of institutionalization at German and Austrian universities has been delineated by Finkenstaedt (1983: 54-125); the separation of English from Romance philology is investigated by Christmann (1983).
5 Ten Brink leaves out no opportunity to stress Chaucer's Germanity: For example, he claims that in Chaucer's juvenilia, his "heroes" are still "too sentimental" for the "Germanic taste" and Boece unfortunately contains "not few Latinisms and Romanisms" (ten Brink 1893: 68; 82). Troilus, however, despite his courtly effeminacy, already displays some traits the "German mind" would expect in a young warrior, and it is Chaucer's consistent use of his "native language" and his growing "ethnic-patriotic" mentality which play important roles in his progression toward his becoming the poet of the Canterbury Tales (ten Brink 1893: 94;106;145). Here, finally, the "Germanic reader" can fully appreciate the poet's Englishing of his Romance source materials. What a pity that the "great poet, whose entire development tended toward an ever increasing understanding of his people," did not find time to weave the genre of the English folk-song among his tales, and was unable to write a story for the Yeoman, whose fourteenth-century counterparts still felt their connection with the "Germanic past" and still had dim recollections of the "Storm God Wodan" (ten Brink 1893: 191-92).
6 For examples of German school teachers' use of their (philological) Germanity as empowering cultural capital toward British and especially U.S. scholars, see Koch (1917: 155; 1929: 104). On John Koch's long and distinguished career as a Chaucerian, see Utz (2001a).
7 German views of the relationship between German and British scholars can be found in the autobiographical accounts by Brandl (1911; 1936), Flügel (1916), and Schröer (1925). On these and other German Anglicists's attitude towards their English-speaking colleagues, see Utz (2002a: 75-162).
8 This happens, for example, to Frederick Furnivall, from whom the title "philologist" is withheld by even his best friends among German Anglicists because he neither has formal training in Old and Middle English nor in Textkritik. On the German habit of distinguishing between German scholars and British dilettantes, see Utz (2001b).
11 On these changed ramifications for the study of early English texts, see Finkenstaedt (1983: 126-61).
12 Here I am specifically referring to the duel between two school teachers and Chaucerians, Hugo Lange and Viktor Langhans, whose altercation on the priority of the two versions of the Prologue to the Legend was carried on for more than twenty years in the journals Anglia, Anglia Beiblatt, Archiv für das Studium der Neueren Sprachen und Literaturen, Deutsche Literaturzeitung, Englische Studien, and several others. Like the much more famous Nibelungenstreit, fought between German philologists from Berlin and Leipzig universities about the appropriate philological principles for editing the Nibelungenlied, the Langhans-Lange duel demonstrated to British and U.S. Chaucerians the systemic weaknesses of (German) philological approaches to Chaucer (Baugh 1951: 667). For a discussions of the Langhans-Lange duel, see Utz (2002a: 195-208; 2002b)
15 About this hope, see Cerquiglini (1999: 72-82). About the so-called "New Philology", a group of North American scholars in Romance literatures and languages whose members have used Cerquiglini and Zumthor (1986) to extricate Medieval studies from its links with modernist philological practices, see Bloch/Nichols (1996). For a critique of such attempts, see Stackmann (1994) and Utz (1998).