05 May 2023
Wim de Bie (1939 – 2023)
Wim de Bie (1939 -2023) Source: Wikimedia Commons
‘Godverdegodver, van Es!’, one person on Twitter exclaimed, following the news of Wim de Bie’s death, at the end of March 2023.
Van Es was one half of the duo Jacobse en Van Es – Jacobse being played by Kees van Kooten De Bie’s partner in comedy since the early 60s. They ruled supreme on Dutch television when it came to satire; no one has ever surpassed them.
‘Free Guys’ who made a living out of petty crime, black market trading and moonlighting in their home city of The Hague. Wim de Bie was the first to appear on television in 1978 as Tedje Van Es. Van Kooten/F. Jacobse had his debut shortly after. In 1979, Jacobse and Van Es began performing as a duo, a partnership that lasted until 1988. They were most popular as leaders of their right wing populist party, the Tegenpartij (Anti-Party, or Counterparty). Van Kooten and De Bie’s aim was to warn against populist parties, but reality threatened to overtake the satire. Had the Tegenpartij been a real party in Dutch politics it might have gained a few seats in parliament during the 1982 General elections. Instead the newly formed Centrumpartij, or Centre Party, which held similar views to the Tegenpartij won one seat, occupied by its leader Hans Janmaat (1934 – 2002). In response Jacobse and Van Es were killed off in a ‘failed coup attempt’, but they remained so popular that they were resurrected for a few more appearances in other programmes.
Jacobse en Van Es with a poster of their political party The Anti-Party, from Ons Kent Ons, 7th ed., (Amsterdam, 2013) LF.31.a.6523.
Jacobse en Van Es were only two of the more than 400 comedy characters and caricatures portrayed by Kees van Kooten and Wim de Bie in their various television shows from 1980 to 1998, when Van Kooten bowed out of television. Wim de Bie continued solo with programmes such as ‘Wim de Bie’, ‘Nachtcrème’ (Night Crème) and, ‘Beetje Laat’ (Bit Late).
Clips from their programmes are available in television archives such as Beeld en Geluid (‘Sound and Vision’) and their YouTube channel. A selection of their characters appears in the book Ons Kent Ons (‘Like Knows Like’). It is partly an homage to their makeup artist Arjen van der Grijn. Most of the images in this blog post are taken from the book, because they are simply the best.
De Bie wrote a number of books in which he explored some of his characters further, most notably Mr Foppe, his alter–ego.
Portrait of Mr Foppe. Roel van Bazen, from Ons Kent Ons.
Meneer Foppe over de rooie (‘Mr Foppe Loses It’) is the first story De Bie wrote about this shy bachelor who feels most at home in his apartment, where he leads a solitary, strictly regimented life. However, a cold snap and subsequent breakdown of the central heating force him out of his comfort zone to look for help. That leads to all sorts of tragi-comic events.
Front cover of Wim de Bie, Meneer Foppe over de rooie (Amsterdam, 1995). YA.1996.a.3688
De Bie had various successful female characters. In De liefste van de buis (‘The darling of the gogglebox’) the main protagonist is Mémien Holboog, a psychologist and ethics specialist. She regularly appears in Van Kooten and De Bie’s television show Keek op de Week (‘View on the Week’). The book starts with De Bie (the ‘I’ figure) receiving letters from viewer Mémien Holboog; something totally impossible and frankly disturbing. Mémien complains that she is no longer invited to his show. The correspondence leads to a passionate relationship. How? That is the crux of the book!
Mémien Holboog, from Ons Kent Ons.
Front cover of De liefste van de buis (Amsterdam, 1992) YA.1993.a.23886
A character that vents De Bie’s anger with Dutch society more directly appears in Schoftentuig (‘Bastard Scum’), a collection of short stories interspersed with interviews with the ‘recluse and former mining engineer’ Walter de Rochebrune. Through this embittered man De Bie can let rip and he does so with great relish. De Bie won the Henriette Roland Holst Prize in 1990, an award for a literary work that expresses great social engagement.
It is not only De Bie’s books that will provide lasting entertainment to grieving fans. He also lives on in the dozens of neologisms he and Van Kooten invented. ‘Geen Gezeik, Iedereen Rijk’ (‘No whining, everyone rich’), or ‘Samen voor ons eigen’ (‘Together for Ourselves’) are Jacobse en Van Es staples.
‘Houd je d’r buiten, Cock!’ (Keep out of it, Cock!) is used by many Dutch people to gently shut up a loved one. It refers to the couple Cock van der Laak and her husband Cor van der Laak, who is strongly opposed to the Anti-Party, and therefore one of De Bie’s longest standing characters, and one of the most popular.
Wim De Bie will be sorely missed. I can hear the former teacher German O. den Besten cry: Warum?! Warum?!
O. den Besten, former teacher German, from Ons Kent Ons
Marja Kingma, Curator Germanic collections
31 March 2023
Ingvar Ambjørnsen’s rare debut work Pepsikyss
Best known for his young adult series Pelle og Proffen and the ‘Elling’ series of novels, Ingvar Ambjørnsen’s first work hardly had the same impact in its own time but is now thought of as Norway’s rarest post-war work. Pepsikyss is a weird and wonderful collection of poems and drawings, which Ambjørnsen produced, published and distributed on the streets of Bergen for three Norwegian Krone each in 1976. Now, if you can even find a copy, they fetch thousands of times that price.
Front cover, Ingvar Ambjørnsen’s Pepsikyss ([Bergen, 1976]), RF.2023.a.77
The library has recently acquired a pristine copy of this rarity. Copies of Pepsikyss are hard to come by, with about 200 or so in existence, after Ambjørnsen threw away half of his 500-copy print run once he had recouped his printing expenses and was finished with his experiment. Reviewed in the countercultural magazine Gateavisa, it is not quite true that it made no impact. Its DIY, anti-establishment ethos with accompanying psychedelic drawings struck a chord with a cult audience. Although it was not until 1981 when Ambjørnsen officially debuted with his novel 23-salen.
Contents page with the message in the corner, ‘To hell with the publishing capital!’
While Ambjørnsen always saw himself as a writer (despite an early-career foray into horticulture), it might have taken a while to get used to the idea of a publisher, judging by the note on Pepsikyss’s inside cover: ‘TIL HELVETE MED FORLAGS KAPITALEN’ – to hell with the publishing capital!
Poem, En plass I solen, with accompanying drawing
The young poet picks off the symbols of capitalist society and government in his direct, unflinching language. En plass i solen, the opening poem, features an image of a top-hatted rat sucking the dismembered head of poor society, as he basks in the sunshine of wealth. The poem ends with society waiting ‘in the shadows of commercial buildings and banks’ for a new day. Perhaps a little too in your face but the tone is certainly set for the rest of the collection.
The title poem, Pepsikyss, is, as you might expect about a kiss at a party from a woman who’d just had a sip of what Ambjørnsen at the end calls ‘Nixon piss’. The rest of the poem is a description of a visceral party feeling and he is here and in other poems like Rolle, keen to capture something of the immediacy and buzz of love, friendship and partying.
The collection includes a comic strip Underlige Jensen and a piece of prose, more a playlet featuring the ‘prodigal son’ and the ‘prodigal father’, Fortapte familie, which closes the book.
Pepsikyss joins a wide range of publications by Ingvar Ambjørnsen in the library’s collections, and is a precursor to the author’s continued preoccupation with outsider characters and the margins of society. It is a cross between free, unfiltered, doodled naivety and studied social criticism. Yet its content is only part of a story that took this copy from the streets of Bergen to the stacks of the BL.
Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic collections
13 March 2023
The revolutionary career of a student drinking song
The outbreak of revolution in Vienna in March 1848 was inevitably accompanied by a wave of revolutionary poems and songs. The lifting of press censorship made the publishing and circulation of such material easy, and some pieces enjoyed great success.
One of the first to appear in print was Ludwig August Frankl’s ‘Die Universität’, which was composed while the author was on sentry duty on the night of 14-15 March and caught the popular mood when read aloud to an audience of students the following day. Its subsequent great success was no doubt helped by the fact that many of the 8,000 copies from the first print run were handed out free. The poem was quickly reprinted in various formats both in Vienna and further afield. There was even a French translation and there were at least 19 musical settings.
Ludwig August Frankl, ‘Die Universität’ (Vienna, 1848). 1899.m.19.(205).
Frankl’s chosen topic of the role of students in the March revolution was, like press freedom itself, a popular theme for poets, but there was one older student song that also enjoyed huge popularity and was described by the Viennese music critic Eduard Hanslick as “a kind of harmless student Marseillaise”.
The song in question, the ‘Fuchslied’ (‘Song of the Fox’), was originally intended to be sung at student fraternity initiation ceremonies, ‘Fuchs’ being a nickname for a student in his first semester. (A typical ceremony, complete with singing of the ‘Fuchslied’, was described by Hugo Hagendorff in an article for the magazine Der erzählende Hausfreund in 1838.) Various versions exist, but all involve the student initiate being plied with tobacco and/or alcohol until he vomits, after which he is accepted as a ‘Bursch’, a full fraternity member.
‘Das Fuchslied, oder das allgemein beliebte Studenten-Lied “Was macht der Herr Papa”’ ([Vienna, 1848.]). C.175.cc.6.(20.)
The song has no obvious political content. At a stretch, a section found in some versions about a father reading Cicero while his wife and daughter carry out various tasks for him could perhaps be read as a mild satire of bourgeois life, but since the song predates the revolution it is unlikely that there was any intended political slant to it. Some Viennese writers during the revolution added new verses and variations with a definite edge of political satire, but it was the continuing success and ubiquity of the apolitical original that gave rise to these additions.
Another odd twist is that the song’s popularity in Vienna had nothing to do with its use in the city’s own student traditions but arose from its appearance in a play by the German writer Roderich Benedix, Das bemooste Haupt (literally ‘The Mossy Head’, but the term can also refer to a ‘Perpetual Student’). The play was written in 1840 but only received its Viennese premiere in April 1848, when it swiftly achieved huge success among revolutionary students. The same work also popularised the practice of the charivari or ‘Katzenmusik’, where singing of the ‘Fuchslied’ became a regular feature.
A Viennese revolutionary charivari, from Maximilian Bach, Geschichte der Wiener Revolution im Jahre 1848 (Vienna, 1898) 9315.d.40.
Perhaps the secret of the song’s revolutionary success was that it was easy to learn, remember and adapt, and that its background lent it an aura of mischief – ideal for young men keen to cock a snook at traditional authority. Hanslick recalled hearing an escalating musical battle between students singing the ‘Fuchslied’ and a civil servant who tried to drown them out with the imperial anthem, ‘Gott erhalte unsern Kaiser’ (‘God Preserve our Emperor’). Joseph Helfert, in a survey of the literature of the Viennese revolution, describes how the ‘Fuchslied’ came to be perceived as the antithesis to the anthem, the latter supposedly representing “regression, slavery and narrow-mindedness” and the former “progress, freedom and high-mindedness”.
The song’s simple and catchy tune (similar to the English ‘A-hunting we will go’) also took on a life of its own. It was incorporated by Johann Strauss the Elder into a ‘March of the Student Legion’, first performed in April 1848, and Franz von Suppé composed a series of ‘Humorous Variations’ on it in the same year. Today it is probably best known for its appearance in Brahms’s ‘Academic Festival Overture’, written over three decades after the song’s brief but intense revolutionary career.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections
Eduard Hanslick, Aus meinem Leben (Berlin, 1894) 12249.ccc.7.
Roderich Benedix, Das bemooste Haupt, oder, Der Lange Israel (Wesel, 1840)
Joseph Alexander Helfert, Der Wiener Parnass im Jahre 1848 (Vienna, 1882) 11528.k.10.
Wolfgang Häusler, ‘Marseillaise, Katzenmusik und Fuchslied als Mittel sozialen und politischen Protests in der Wiener Revolution 1848’ in Barbara Boisits (ed.) Musik und Revolution: die Produktion von Identität und Raum durch Musik in Zentraleuropa 1848-49 ( Vienna, 2013) YF.2014.a.20622
A collection of digitised poems, songs, broadsides and periodicals from the 1848 Revolution can be found on the website of the Austrian National Library
30 December 2022
An A to Z of the European Studies Blog 2022
A is for Alexander the Great, subject of the Library’s current exhibition.
B is for Birds and Bull fighting.
C is for Czechoslovak Independence Day, which marks the foundation of the independent Czechoslovak State in 1918.
D is for Digitisation, including the 3D digitisation of Marinetti’s Tin Book.
E is for Annie Ernaux, who was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in October.
Examples of Fraktur letter-forms from Wolfgang Fugger, Ein nützlich und wolgegründt Formular manncherley schöner Schriefften ... (Nuremberg, 1533) C.142.cc.12.
F is for Festive Traditions, from songs to fortune telling.
G is for Guest bloggers, whose contributions we love to receive!
H is for Hryhorii Skovoroda, the Ukrainian philosopher and poet whose anniversary we marked in December.
I is for our series on Iceland and the Library’s Icelandic collections.
J is for Jubilees.
Abetka (Kyïv, 2005). YF.2010.a.18369.
K is for Knowledge systems and the work of Snowchange Cooperative, a Finnish environmental organisation devoted to protecting and restoring the boreal forests and ecosystems through ‘the advancement of indigenous traditions and culture’.
L is for Limburgish, spoken in the South of the Netherlands.
M is for Mystery – some bibliographical sleuthing.
N is for Nordic acquisitions, from Finnish avant-garde poetry to Swedish art books.
O is for Online resources from East View, which are now available remotely.
Giovanni Bodoni and Giovanni Mardersteig, Manuale tipografico, 1788. Facsimile a cura di Giovanni Mardersteig. (Verona, 1968) L.R.413.h.17.
P is for our wonderful PhD researchers, current and future.
Q is for Quebec with a guest appearance by the Americas blog featuring the work of retired French collections curator Des McTernan.
R is for Rare editions of Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko’s Kobzar.
S is for Samizdat and the Library’s Polish Solidarity collection.
T is for Translation and our regular posts to mark Women in Translation Month.
Alphabet Anglois, contenant la prononciation des lettres avec les declinaisons et conjugaisons (Rouen, 1639). Digital Store 1568/3641.(1.)
U is for Ukrainian collections and our work with Ukrainian partners.
V is for Victory – a contemporary Italian newspaper report of the Battle of Trafalgar.
W is for Richard Wagner who wrote about a fictional meeting with Beethoven.
X is for... (no, we couldn’t think of anything either!)
Y is for You, our readers. Thank you for following us!
Z is for our former colleague Zuzanna, whom we remembered in February.
Azbuka ōt knigi osmochastnye̡, sirěchʹ grammatikii (Lviv, 1574). Digital Store 1568/3641.(1.)
08 December 2022
Propaganda or Protest? Hans Baumann’s ‘Alexander’
A few months ago one of the curators of our current exhibition ‘Alexander the Great: the Making of a Myth’ asked me for some information about a book they were thinking of including (but eventually did not). This was a German play of 1941, Alexander, by Hans Baumann, a writer whose career had flourished in the Third Reich, especially through the many songs he wrote for the Nazi youth movements.
Cover of Hans Baumann, Alexander (Jena, 1941) X.950/2122.
Baumann’s play is set after Alexander’s conquests in India and depicts the conflict between Alexander’s desire to advance further and that of his army to return home. Generals Cleitus and Craterus, sons of Admiral Nearchus, plot with relatives of the former Persian king Darius to encourage mutiny in the army, hoping that this will force Alexander to return to Macedon and place Persia back in the hands of Darius’s family. They initially succeed in rousing the army, but Alexander kills Cleitus to avenge an insult, and Craterus is executed for killing Alexander’s friend Hephaestion. Although the mutiny is crushed, the last scenes hint at Alexander’s own death, and it is left to Nearchus, still loyal to Alexander despite his sons’ deaths, to lead the Macedonian fleet onwards, inspired by Alexander’s example.
The plot plays fast and loose with history: Cleitus and Craterus were neither brothers nor Nearchus’s sons, Hephaestion died some time later and was not murdered by Craterus, who outlived Alexander. Baumann was clearly more concerned with symbolism than history. The play is reminiscent of a ‘Thingspiel’, a form of stylised drama designed for outdoor performance, often using historical events as allegories of the present. Baumann himself had written a Thingspiel, Rüdiger von Bechelaren, in 1939 and elements of the genre, particularly a rather static presentation and the use of choruses, remain in Alexander.
The play was widely praised on publication and won two literary prizes. It caught the attention of the actor Gustaf Gründgens, then Artistic Director of the Berlin State Theatre, who asked Baumann for permission to stage Alexander. The premiere on 19 June 1941, with Gründgens in the title role, was well received, but the play, according to different accounts, ran for only two, six or seven performances.
Gustaf Gründgens in the role of Alexander in Baumann’s play
These different accounts have much to do with Baumann’s later claim that Alexander was an expression of his growing unease at Germany’s aggression, and a plea for Hitler to treat his conquered peoples with clemency and respect as Alexander is shown to treat the Persians. In 1985 Baumann told the scholar Jay W. Baird that Goebbels had been offended by this message and ordered the play’s closure after its second performance (Baird, p. 168). Peter Jammerthal, however, in his dissertation on the Berlin State Theatre in the Third Reich, states that the play ran for seven nights, the last being a private performance for Hitler Youth members. He does agree that the play’s message was uncomfortable for the regime, but more because the depiction of mutinous generals and discord in the army sat ill with the planned attack on the Soviet Union which began on 22 June 1941 (Jammerthal, p. 211).
Most other writers agree that the invasion of the USSR was the primary reason for the play’s short run, with Gründgens worried that unwanted parallels might be drawn. (Alfred Mühr also suggests that Gründgens was increasingly disenchanted with the play and unhappy in the role (Mühr, p. 195)). However, there is disagreement as to how much Baumann’s alleged dramatization of his growing doubts about the regime affected the decision to close Alexander, and indeed how much the play truly does reflect such doubts. For all the praise of clemency there is plenty of talk of great men, great deeds, and the need to strive onwards which would not be out of place in standard Nazi propaganda rhetoric.
After the war Baumann forged a new and highly successful career primarily as a children’s writer, although his former role as the ‘bard of the Hitler Youth’ and the promotion and awards given to his work by the Nazi regime returned to haunt him in various literary scandals. His claims about Alexander and its cancellation were important in his attempts to distance himself from the past. But although he described himself as having increasingly withdrawn from glorifying the Nazis, his record suggests somewhat otherwise. In 1942 he edited and contributed to a volume of laudatory essays, Der Retter Europas (‘The Saviour of Europe’), marking Hitler’s birthday, and as late as April 1944 he addressed Hitler Youth members in Passau, using typical Nazi rhetoric about ‘Bolshevik hordes’ and treacherous neighbours, and warning against accepting ‘a dishonourable and deadly “peace”’ from their enemies (Rosmus, p. 280).
Baird suggests that Baumann had continued to toe the propaganda line out of reluctant necessity, and that his post-war children’s books reflected an ‘intellectual transformation’ (Baird, p. 171). Others, however, such as the literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki and the children’s writer Gudrun Pausewang took a more critical view, arguing that the post-war Baumann had never truly admitted the extent of his complicity with the Nazis and of his role in turning a generation of young people into willing fighters for Hitler and his regime through the propaganda in his songs.
Cover of Hans Baumann, Der große Alexanderzug (Munich, 1967) X21/6285
Baumann returned to the theme of Alexander the Great in one of his historical novels for children, Der große Alexanderzug, published in English by Stella Humphries as Alexander’s Great March (London, 1968; X.709/6502). The story is narrated by one of Alexander’s couriers, who concludes that ‘Alexander did not inspire my love’ but that he did have admirable qualities, especially in the way ‘he removed the distinctions between the conquerors and the conquered, [and] reconciled the nations in spite of the opposition of his own people’. This was what the older Baumann described as the key message of his Alexander play, and it is significant that he ended his children’s novel on the same note. Was it perhaps a message to his critics, and a reinforcement of his argument that Alexander was a veiled critique of aggressive Nazi expansionism? We will probably never know, but the history of this play and its author tell a fascinating if inconclusive story.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections
Jay W. Baird, To Die for Germany: Heroes in the Nazi Pantheon (Bloomington, 1990) YA.1991.b.6310
Peter Jammerthal, Ein zuchtvolles Theater: Bühnenästhetik des Dritten Reiches. Das Berliner Staatstheater von der Machtergreifung bis zur Ära Gründgens. Dissertation, Freie Universität Berlin, 2007 https://refubium.fu-berlin.de/handle/fub188/4017
Alfred Mühr, Mephisto ohne Maske: Gustaf Gründgens, Legende und Wahrheit (Munich, 1981) X.950/15850
Anna Rosmus, Hitlers Nibelungen: Niederbayern im Aufbruch zu Krieg und Untergang (Grafenau, 2015) YF.2016.b.1305
Marcel Reich-Ranicki, ‘Hans Baumann’ Die Zeit, 9 March 1962 https://web.archive.org/web/20140202135736/https://www.zeit.de/1962/10/hans-baumann/komplettansicht
Karl H. Ruppel, Berliner Schauspiel: dramaturgische Betrachtungen 1936 bis 1942 (Berlin, 1943) 11868.aaa.19.
‘Hans Baumann’ Regensburg europäisch: Jahresgabe 2016.
Wilhelm Haefs, ‘Hans Baumann. Die Karriere eines Schriftstellers im Nationalsozialismus’, Das Bücherschloss: Mitteilungen aus der Internationalen Jugendbibliothek, 2016-2017 (‘Themenheft Hans-Baumann-Tagung’), pp. 20-39. ZF.9.a.7322
‘Hans Baumann’, Literaturportal Bayern
10 November 2022
The Curious Woodcuts in Hartlieb’s Late-Medieval Adventures of Alexander the Great
There are countless adaptations of the Alexander Romance, a collection of fantastical stories about Alexander the Great originally brought together in Greek, probably in the third century AD. Among the earliest adaptations to appear in print was Hartlieb’s Alexanderbuch. Nine editions of this German translation are known to have appeared from 1473 to 1514 at Augsburg and then Strasbourg. Each is enriched with woodcuts that depict, for example, Alexander’s first encounter with his man-eating horse Bucephalus, his meetings with naked philosophers, and his discussions with talking trees. By comparing the editions, it’s easy to see how the illustrations fall into three distinct categories and to begin to understand something of their development over time.
Johann Hartlieb (c.1410-1468) was a physician who wrote the Alexanderbuch around 1444 for his patron, Duke Albrecht III of Bavaria. His principal source appears to have been the popular Historia de preliis, which in turn was a Latin-language translation of a long lost Greek text made in the 10th century by Leo of Naples. That said, Hartlieb’s text begins with the phrase ‘Hereafter followeth the story of the Great Alexander, which was written by Eusebius’, and Hartlieb’s German adaptation is as a result often indexed under Eusebius of Caesarea in many reference works and catalogues.
Hartlieb’s text circulated in manuscript for three decades until Johann Bämler issued the first printed edition at Augsburg in 1473. His publication is illustrated with nearly 30 woodcuts, many seemingly inspired by the miniatures in a manuscript now at the Pierpont Library in New York (MS M.782). With the exception of the frontispiece portrait (see below), the same woodcuts then appear in three subsequent Augsburg editions (1478, 1480 and 1483) printed by Anton Sorg. Among them is the image of Alexander in a diving bell.
Alexander’s diving bell in the Sorg edition of 1483, IB.5949
The Greek Alexander Romance (Stoneman, Book II, Chapter 38) talks of a descent of 464 feet to the bottom the sea, but here the impression is of a rather cramped-looking Alexander being lowered into a fish pond.
The next group of early editions are all published in Strasbourg. (Unfortunately no copies can be traced of a further Augsburg edition of 1478 reported in the Incunabula Short Title Catalogue). These Strasbourg editions (1488, 1493 and 1503), whether issued by Martin Schott or Bartholomäus Kistler, are curious because they contain broadly the same woodcuts as seen in the Augsburg volumes, but they have been redrawn and printed in reverse.
Alexander’s diving bell in the Schott edition of 1488, IB.1178
The most obvious explanation is that they were created by copying or tracing the illustrations in one of the earlier Augsburg editions.
The last of these early Hartlieb editions also appeared in Strasbourg, but this time from the press of Matthias Hupfuff. Visually, this work is very different, with the text printed in two columns for the first time. The woodcut illustrations are also different, although the subjects are much the same. In the new woodcut of the diving bell, Alexander is still in an impossibly cramped vessel, but there is only one person on the shoreline instead of the usual three.
Alexander’s diving bell in the Hupfuff edition of 1514, C.39.h.14
In common with other illustrations in this 1514 edition, the woodcut appears to have been extended, unsatisfactorily, by the addition of a piece from a different illustration. This opens up the possibility that the woodcuts were not made specifically for this edition, and were in fact being re-used.
Returning to Bämler’s first edition of 1473, several surviving copies contain a curious frontispiece portrait of Alexander with boars’ tusks rising from his lower jaw.
Alexander with boars’ tusks in the Bämler edition of 1473. © National Library of Scotland
The source for this strange feature may ultimately lie in the Greek Alexander Romance, which tells us that ‘his teeth were as sharp as nails’ (Stoneman, Book I, Chapter 13). In Hartlieb’s German, this has become ‘Sein zen waren garscharpff als eines ebers schwein’ (‘his teeth were as sharp as those of a wild boar’). The portrait has the same features as one seen in a Hartlieb manuscript now at the Universitäts- und Landesbibliothek Darmstadt (Hs. 4256), and the two may have had a common model. It is replaced in other editions up to 1503 by a full-length portrait of a seated Alexander without tusks.
The British Library exhibition Alexander the Great: The Making of a Myth covers 2,300 years of storytelling about Alexander, and runs until 19 February 2023. Four editions of Hartlieb’s Alexanderbuch are on display, including a copy generously lent by the National Library of Scotland that shows Alexander with the mysterious boars’ tusks.
Adrian S. Edwards, Head of Printed Heritage Collections
Hellmut Lehmann-Haupt, ‘Book Illustration in Augsburg in the Fifteenth Century’. Metropolitan Museums Studies, 4.1 (1932), 3-17. Ac.4713.b.
Richard Stoneman (editor), Alexander the Great: The Making of a Myth [exhibition catalogue] (London, 2022). Awaiting shelfmark
Richard Stoneman (translator), The Greek Alexander Romance (London, 1991). H.91/1160
23 September 2022
‘As if some long-since inhabited country had been fished up out of the bottom of the sea’: Travel Literature on Iceland
As the National and University Library of Iceland commemorate the 250th anniversary of Joseph Banks’s expedition to Iceland with an exhibition, we are publishing a series of blogs on all things Icelandic in the British Library collections.
For those who want to know more about Joseph Banks’s expedition to Iceland, check out our guest blog from 2017 by the foremost expert, Professor Emeritus of History at the University of Iceland, Anna Agnarsdóttir, who also curated the current exhibition.
In the second blog of this series, we look at writing from the past 250 years of British travel to Iceland.
Ever since Joseph Banks paved the way and established friendly relations between Britain and Iceland in 1772, a steady stream of travellers have been inspired to venture to Europe’s far North-West. Natural scientists, geologists, saga enthusiasts, explorers and anyone with enough money and ‘spirit of adventure’ saw the appeal of the always seemingly mysterious country, producing along the way a raft of accounts, published journals, translations, maps and drawings.
John Cleveley Jr., Cathedral at Skálholt, Add MS 15511, f. 29r
For those interested in getting to grips with the full range of writings over the last two-and-a-half centuries, look no further than Haraldur Sigurðsson’s bibliography Writings of Foreigners Relating to the Nature and People of Iceland. If something a little less bibliographic is required, you could do worse than consult the list of references at the end of ‘Sheaves of Sagaland’, chapter 6 of W. H. Auden and Louis MacNeice’s Letters from Iceland, an alternative take on the travel account formed of irreverent poems, anecdotal advice, letters and other short pieces. The chapter in question compiles quotations from those that went before them, which might give more of an insight into the attitudes of the average Victorian traveller, than of Icelandic life itself. Deliberately out of context, and compiled supposedly for the benefit of John Betjeman, they speak to every aspect of Icelandic life:
‘Concerning their food
“It cannot afford any great pleasure to examine the manner in which the Icelanders prepare their food.” (Von Troil)
Concerning their habits
“If I attempted to describe their nauseous habits, I might fill volumes.” (Pfeiffer)
Concerning their dress
“The dress of a woman is not calculated to show the person to advantage” (Mackenzie)’
George Stuart Mackenzie, Great Jet of Steam, on the Sulphur Mountains, from Travels in the Island of Iceland, during the summer of the year 1810 (Edinburgh: 1811) 983.e.23
More recently, H. Arnold Barton’s Northern Arcadia gives a fantastic overview of the first wave of travel from Banks to the missionary Ebenezer Henderson’s trip in 1814-15. And, for a more visual introduction to the topic, the University of Nottingham’s online exhibition, ‘Ice, Fire and Northern Myths’, takes us through the richly illustrated material contained in their comprehensive Icelandic special collections. And, with the current exhibition in Iceland, it’s safe to say interest in the history of travel writing on the region has not waned.
Ebenezer Henderson, The Geysers, as seen on July 30th 1814, from Iceland; or the journal of a residence in that Island during the years 1814 and 1815 (Edinburgh, 1818) 979.i.3
The British Library is uniquely placed to navigate the copious literature that emerged from such journeys. Not only can we find the vast majority of accounts published before 1882 digitised courtesy of Google Books, but the Library also holds the four volumes of original drawings from the Banks expedition to the Hebrides, Orkney and Iceland by the artists John Cleveley Jr., James Miller and his brother John Frederick Miller (all drawings available online: vol.1, vol. 2, vol. 3, vol. 4), as well as William Morris’s travel diaries from his two trips in 1871 and 1873 (digitised here).
John Barrow Jr., Basaltic cave at Stappen, from A Visit to Iceland, by way of Tronyem, in the “Flower of Yarrow” Yacht, in the Summer of 1834 (London, 1835) 791.e.3
Why Iceland loomed ever larger in the imagination of travellers has to do with a blend of scientific interest in the Age of Exploration in the ‘land of ice and fire’ and the search for cultural and racial self-understanding, which saw Englishness increasingly linked to an Anglo-Saxon heritage, its purest vestige supposedly residing in Iceland (Kassis). That association with ‘Viking’ culture grew through the Victorian era with the interest in sagas, which could be flexibly interpreted for any cause, from the imperial to the social democratic. That Icelanders were in some way exemplary did not preclude visitors from understanding that singularity as ‘primitive simplicity’, as Uno von Troil’s reflections have it. Given that some 19th-century journeys went via the Sápmi as well, like John Barrow Jr’s A Visit to Iceland by Way of Tronyem, accounts often give the unpleasant impression that travelling North equalled a trip back in time and ‘backwards’ in the ‘civilisation’ process.
W. G. Collingwood, Descent of Arnardals-Skarth, from W. G. Collingwood and Jón Stefánsson, A Pilgrimage to the Saga-Steads of Iceland (Ulverston, 1899) 10281.i.11
In Banks’s wake and lifetime, several journeys were made, often with Banks facilitating, all with a published output, which is more than can be said for the Banks expedition itself. The Swede von Troil’s Letters on Iceland was the only text that came from that, which did however set the standard for future writing, itself including a bibliography of 120 texts on Iceland to date. John Thomas Stanley’s expedition is captured in the diaries kept by the wealthy Englishman and his companions, James Wright, Isaac Benners and John Baine, eventually published only 50 years ago. Following Stanley, came William Jackson Hooker, the first director of Kew Gardens, whose Journal of a tour in Iceland in the Summer of 1809 contains some of the illustrations from the Banks voyage engraved for the first time.
W. G. Collingwood, Gill at Gilsbakki
Encouraged by Banks to go and collect specimens, Hooker’s specimens and notes were destroyed on his way back, leaving him to rely on memory and samples collected by the Stanley party for his 600-page journal. The mineralogist George Mackenzie followed in the company of Richard Bright and Henry Holland, whose diaries have also been published. The last of this first wave of travellers was Ebenezer Henderson, who spent by far the longest on the island, there as a representative of the British and Foreign Bible Service. Barton calls his account ‘the fullest and most sympathetic’ of the early texts, no doubt in part due to his great knowledge of Scandinavia and his proficiency in multiple languages.
Ethel Brilliana, First view of Iceland, from A Girl’s Ride in Iceland (London, 1894) 10281.c.6.
John Barrow Jr, later known for his heroic efforts in coordinating the search expeditions in vain for John Franklin’s 1845 expedition to the Northwest Passage, was the next traveller to Iceland, noting that ‘twenty years have expired since a fresh word has been uttered respecting Iceland’. And while several journeys were made by others through the 1840s and early 1850s, including notably by Ida Laura Pfeiffer, it was not until 1856 and the introduction of scheduled steamship sailings to and from Iceland that travel became regular and affordable, and with that came a flurry of travel journals. Frederick Dufferin’s Letters from High Latitudes was hugely popular, inaugurating a new register for travel writing, less forensic and more comic, perhaps the ease of travel reducing the pressure to note every encounter in meticulous detail.
Samuel Edmund Waller, Hlidarende, from Six Weeks in the Saddle: A Painter’s Journal in Iceland (London, 1874) 10281.bb.42
So, for Dufferin, the Faxaflói bay, where Reykjavík lies, is magnificent while also ‘mouldy green, as if some long-since inhabited country had been fished up out of the bottom of the sea.’ For Frederick Metcalfe four years later, ‘the prospect was […] by no means cheering’: ‘as if to mock the foreigner for his infatuation, his way is beset, not only by dangerous rivers, appalling lava streams, hidden pits of fire, and chasms of ice, but his imagination is tortured by chimeras dire, phantom gorillas, or by whatever name he may please to call the shapes in stone and slag, that grin and frown on his solitary journey.’ Anthony Trollope’s also very popular account is perhaps so light on meaningful engagement with local culture that it becomes ‘mainly a reproduction of Englishness in the peripheral world rather than a study of Icelandic physiognomy’ (Kassis).
Sabine Baring-Gould, Öxnadals-Heithi, from Iceland: Its Scenes and Sagas (London, 1863) W48/4817
Iceland’s epic beauty was ripe for drawing and painting, and most travellers in this period seem to be accomplished artists, so these books were also a platform for their pictures. The Banks expedition’s artistic output is important for its documentary and almost genre quality but later visitors perhaps allowed themselves to heighten the drama of landscapes, often inflected by a knowledge of the sagas that unfolded there. Sabine Baring-Gould’s Iceland: its Scenes and Sagas is notable for its fine watercolours. Henderson’s geysers and jets shoot out like shafts of light to the heavens.
Ethel Brillliana, Cod-Fish drying
W. G. Collingwood and Jón Stefánsson published an epic picture book with coloured plates depicting the scenes of the sagas, while Ethel Brilliana Tweedie’s emotive sketches, often ‘from pony’s back’, give over something of the ephemerality of the traveller’s experience. What the use of illustration has in common, beyond their obvious appeal to the reader, is its necessity in helping to describe the indescribable, encapsulated in Simon Armitage’s final poem, ‘Listen Here’, in his and Glyn Maxwell’s homage to Auden and MacNeice, Moon Country:
It will not be had,
or fixed. Made of finer stuff,
to find it is to let it come to mind, then bluff,
or lie, or think, or wish.
Now hear this.
George Stuart Mackenzie, New geysers
Another way of thinking about the inability to put Iceland into words, or, in Baring-Gould’s phrase, the ‘fail[ure] in rendering the wild beauty of colouring’, is that Iceland exceeds expectations and exceeds the journal format. This is common to many accounts all the way up to Damon Albarn’s latest solo album, The Nearer the Fountain, More Pure the Stream Flows, which began life as an ‘orchestral interpretation of the view outside of his [Reykjavik] living room window’ before ending up abstracted, ‘a stream-of-consciousness meditation on earth’s natural forces’. And, similarly, even while William Morris’s journals are precise, anecdotal day-to-day accounts, for Lavinia Greenlaw, ‘it is a document of a journey that becomes a description of all journeys’. Greenlaw is able to use passages from the celebrated journal as jumping off points for her own poetic reflections on travel, strangeness, the nature of experience.
W. G. Collingwood, Melstad and Reykir
William Morris’s Iceland journals have a strong claim to be the best of the genre and ‘amongst the best prose Morris ever wrote’ (McCarthy). Written for his confidante, Georgiana Burne-Jones, he worked up his manuscript into a fair copy but the journals weren’t published in his lifetime at his request. Amongst Morris’s travel companions was Eiríkr Magnússon, a theologian and linguist who got to know Morris in London, before becoming a close friend and collaborator on saga translations and on the edited volume of the journals. Morris was without doubt the most important Icelandophile of his day, translating numerous sagas, further introducing audiences to their themes through his own poetry, and creating epic works, such as Sigurd the Volsung, so steeped in saga influence, they would go onto inspire the next century’s fantasy genre.
John Cleveley Jr., Eruption of a geyser at Geysir, Add MS 15511, f. 43r
Arriving at the already much-visited Geysir, Morris, the purist and knowledgeable Iceland scholar, ‘bewailed it for the possible Englishman whom I thought we should find there’. Clearly not in the best mood, he continues:
the evening is wretched and rainy now; a south wind is drifting the stinking steam of the southward-lying hot springs full in our faces: the turf is the only bit of camping-ground we have had yet, all bestrewn with feathers and wings of birds, polished mutton-bones, and above all pieces of paper: […] understand I was quite ready to break my neck in my quality of pilgrim to the holy places of Iceland: to be drowned in Markfleet, or squelched in climbing up Drangey seemed to come quite in the day’s work; but to wake up boiled while one was acting the part of accomplice to Mangnall’s Questions was too disgusting.
Allergies to tourists aside, Morris was enamoured by the place and the people, who never fail to be depicted as exceptionally hospitable, which is also the case in the accounts across the centuries. As the last entry in his 1871 journal says, Iceland ‘is a marvellous, beautiful and solemn place, and where I had been in fact very happy’.
The references below include the most notable (mainly) English-language travel books and manuscripts on Iceland in the Library’s collections with a link to a digital copy where available.
Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections
‘Drawings illustrative of Sir Joseph Banks's voyage to the Hebrides, Orkneys, and Iceland in 1772’, Add MS 15509-12
Uno von Troil, Letters on Iceland (London, 1780) 152.c.44
William Jackson Hooker, Journal of a tour in Iceland in the summer of 1809 (Yarmouth, 1811) 791.e.2, digital copy
William Morris, ‘Diaries (in the form of octavo ruled note-books and all written in pencil) kept by Morris on his two visits to Iceland in the summers of 1871 and 1873’, Add MS 45319 A-C, digital copy
George Stuart Mackenzie, Travels in the Island of Iceland, during the summer of the year 1810 (Edinburgh: 1811) 983.e.23, digital copy
Ebenezer Henderson, Iceland; or the journal of a residence in that Island during the years 1814 and 1815 (Edinburgh, 1818) 979.i.3, digital copy
John Barrow Junior, A Visit to Iceland, by way of Tronyem, in the “Flower of Yarrow” Yacht, in the Summer of 1834 (London, 1835) 791.e.3, digital copy
Ida Laura Pfeiffer, Journey to Iceland: and travels to Sweden and Norway … From the German by C. F. Cooper (London, 1852) 10280.d.32, digital copy
Frederick Dufferin, Letters from High Latitudes; being some account of a voyage in the schooner yacht “Foam” ... to Iceland, Jan Mayen, & Spitzbergen, in 1856 (London, 1857) 10281.c.28, digital copy
Frederick Metcalfe, The Oxonian in Iceland: or, notes of travel in that island in the summer of 1860, with glances at Icelandic Folk-lore and Sagas (London, 1861) 10281.b.22, digital copy
Sabine Baring-Gould, Iceland: Its Scenes and Sagas (London, 1863) W48/4817, digital copy
Samuel Edmund Waller, Six Weeks in the Saddle: A Painter’s Journal in Iceland (London, 1874) 10281.bb.42
William Lord Watts, Snioland: or, Iceland, its jökulls and fjälls (London, 1875) 10281.aaa.22
Richard Francis Burton, Ultima Thule; or, a Summer in Iceland (London, 1875) 2364.f.1.
Anthony Trollope, How the “Mastiffs” went to Iceland (London, 1878) C.124.g.1
Elizabeth Oswald, By Fell and Fjord; or, scenes and studies in Iceland (Edinburgh, 1882) 10281.bbb.4, digital copy
John Coles, Summer Travelling in Iceland; being the narrative of two journeys across the island (London, 1882) 10280.g.4., digital copy
William George Lock, Guide to Iceland, a handbook for travellers and sportsmen (Charlton, 1882) 10280.bb.22., digital copy
Ethel Brilliana, A Girl’s Ride in Iceland (London, 1894) 10281.c.6., digital copy
W. G. Collingwood and Jón Stefánsson, A Pilgrimage to the Saga-Steads of Iceland (Ulverston, 1899) 10281.i.11
Mrs Disney Leith, Iceland (Peeps at Many Lands) (London, 1908) W10/1133
W. H. Auden and Louis MacNeice, Letters from Iceland (London, 1937) W4/2845
William Morris, Icelandic Journals (Fontwell, 1969) 72/5914
The journals of the Stanley Expedition to the Faroe Islands and Iceland in 1789 (Tórshavn, 1970) 84/02018 – 84/02019
Henry Holland, The Iceland Journal of Henry Holland, 1810 (Works issued by the Hakluyt Society. Second series; no.168) (London, 1987) Ac. 6172/188
Haraldur Sigurðsson, Ísland í skrifum erlendra manna um þjóðlíf og náttúru landsins : ritaskrá = Writings of foreigners relating to the nature and people of Iceland: a bibliography (Reykjavik, 1991) YA.1995.b.8642
Fiona McCarthy, William Morris: A Life for our Time (London, 1994) YC.1995.b.276
Simon Armitage and Glyn Maxwell, Moon country: further reports from Iceland (London, 1996) YK.1996.a.22671
H. Arnold Barton, Northern Arcadia: Foreign Travelers in Scandinavia, 1765-1815 (Carbondale, 1998) 99/20599
Andrew Wawn, The Vikings and the Victorians: inventing the old north in nineteenth-century Britain (Cambridge: 2000) YC.2000.a.6087
Dimitros Kassis, Icelandic Utopia in Victorian Travel Literature (Newcastle upon Tyne, 2016) ELD.DS.93013
Lavinia Greenlaw, Questions of travel: William Morris in Iceland (London, 2016) ELD.DS.203595
Martin Stott, Iceland Journals Introduction (2020), on William Morris Archive website
11 August 2022
Graham Nattrass Lecture 2022 - ‘Wittenberg 1522’
Under the auspices of the German Studies Library Group in association with the British Library, the fourth Graham Nattrass lecture, Wittenberg 1522: Print Culture and Soundscape of the German Reformation, will be delivered on Tuesday 20 September 2022 at the British Library by Professor Henrike Lähnemann.
Her lecture will take us back five centuries to September 1522, when the Wittenberg printers had a bestseller on their hands: the German New Testament translated by Martin Luther over the summer. It sold so quickly that in December they produced a second edition.
Title-pages from the editions of Luther’s New Testament translation published in Wittenberg in September (above, C.36.g.7.) and Deccember (below, 1562/285) 1522
The lecture will contextualise this publication in the print culture and soundscape of its time. A particular focus will be on Reformation pamphlets from 1522 in the British Library and contemporary hymn production to spread the biblical message. The British Library and British Museum Singers will provide practical examples.
Title-page of Martin Luther, Das Huptstuck des ewigen und newen testaments, [(Wittenberg, 1522?]) 3905.c.68., one of the pamphlets that will be discussed in the lecture.
Before the lecture there will be a performance of music in the Library’s main entrance hall by the British Library and British Museum singers, conducted by Peter Hellyer, including pieces by Bach, Brahms, and Mendelssohn.
The timetable for the event is as follows:
17.00: Music in the main entrance hall
17.30: Refreshments served in the Foyle Suite
18.00: Lecture in the Foyle Suite
Graham Nattrass (1940–2012) enjoyed a long and distinguished career at the British Library and its antecedents, starting at the National Central Library at Boston Spa in 1971. He became Head of the British Library’s Germanic Collections in 1996 and retired from the Library in 2005, as Head of West European Collections. He was Chair of the German Studies Library Group from 2003 to 2007, and a founding member of the group, which in 2016 instituted an annual lecture in his memory.
Henrike Lähnemann is Professor of Medieval German Literature and Linguistics at the University of Oxford and Professorial Fellow of St Edmund Hall, Oxford. Her research interests include medieval manuscripts, the relationship of text and images, and how vernacular and Latin literature are connected, currently mainly in late medieval Northern German convents.
Both concert and lecture are free to attend and open to all, but places for the lecture are limited, so if you wish to attend please contact the Chair of the German Studies Library Group, Dorothea Miehe ([email protected]).
05 August 2022
A Bibliographical Mystery Solved
A while ago I was alerted by a colleague to a German item in our collections that appeared to have no catalogue record. It was bound with a list of books censored by the Austrian Empire in the late 18th century, so when I ordered the volume up, I assumed that the uncatalogued item would be something similar, perhaps even a continuation of the previous list.
However, when it arrived, it was obvious that, although only a fragment of a larger work, it was not at all similar, let alone related, to the other work in the volume. It began with a half-title page bearing the title ‘Zusätze, Verbesserungen und Druckfehler’ (‘Additions, improvements and printing errors’), so it was obviously an appendix to a larger work, and from the first two pages of text it was clear that the larger work was a guide to a spa town.
Opening of the mysterious fragment (818.d.9.(2))
Since the town was not named anywhere in the few pages of text, it might have been impossible to identify the place and therefore the book. However, a long-ago cataloguer had obviously had a better knowledge of spa culture than I did as there was a pencil note reading ‘K Carlsbad’. The letter K was used in the British Museum Library to indicate that an item had been catalogued, and the word after it denoted the heading used for it in the catalogue. So this was presumably a guide to the famous spa at what was then known as Karlsbad (anglicised as Carlsbad), and is today Karlovy Vary in the Czech Republic. From the look of the typeface and the style of writing – and based on the date of the other item in the volume – it seemed likely that it dated from the late 18th or early 19th century.
I knew from the pencil note that there had been a catalogue record made for the fragment, so went to the version of the printed catalogue published between 1979 and 1987 (known as BLC) to check it out. Perhaps it had been one of those odd records that had somehow fallen off the radar when the printed records were converted to an online format. But there was no heading in the catalogue for ‘Carlsbad’. There was one for the German spelling ‘Karlsbad’, which was a cross-reference to ‘Karlovy Vary’, but there was nothing there that could conceivably match the item in question.
So I had to go further back in time, to the first general catalogue of the British Museum Library, published in the 1890s and known as GK1. Here there was a heading ‘Carlsbad’ with a number of mainly anonymous works listed, including the item in hand. However, the record didn’t get me much further in identifying the book the fragment came from, describing it simply as ‘a fragment of some work on the mineral waters of Carlsbad’ with a speculative date of 1803.
At this point I had two options. I could either create something similar to the GK1 record on our current catalogue, giving approximate details and date, or I could see whether I could find an item that would match our fragment by searching online and create a fuller record. I thought I would try the latter and turned to one of my all-time favourite websites, the Karlsruhe Virtual Catalogue, which can be used to search a wide range of German and other library catalogues. By typing in ‘Carlsbad’ along with other keywords that might conceivably appear in the title of a German travel guide I found various possibilities, and the increasing availability of digitised editions enabled me to check for matches in most cases.
I was on almost my last attempt when I finally found what looked like a match in the collections of the Austrian National Library. Ironically, this copy didn’t have the ‘Zusätze, Verbesserungen und Druckfehler’ to make a direct comparison, but by cross-checking the corrections and additions with the page references from the original given in our fragment I was able to confirm that I had indeed found the right book, and to create a full catalogue record for it with a note explaining that we only hold a small part of the whole.
Engraved title-page of the complete work, from a copy in the Austrian National Library
Although I’m rather proud of myself for having solved this little bibliographical mystery, I doubt anyone will ever know why two such different items ended up bound together. But at least the fragment that we have is now identifiable.
Susan Reed, Lead Curator Germanic Collections
14 July 2022
Christian Boltanski’s ‘Les Habitants de Malmö’ (1994)
One of the most influential artists of the last century, Christian Boltanksi, died one year ago today. Although, he would have had you believe he actually died many times before: ‘When you are asked to make a retrospective, it basically means you’re dead’ (from an interview with Alexis Dahan for the Brooklyn Rail). The son of Holocaust survivors, Boltanski was born in 1944 in Paris, where he continued to be active throughout his life. His work was often preoccupied with memory, memorialisation and the archive, using everyday objects, personal or administrative material, and the concepts of listing and cataloguing to evoke the profundity of what is lost by displaying the infinity of what we know, have and record.
For an exhibition at Malmö Konsthall in 1994, Boltanski made the artist’s book Les Habitants de Malmö, a copy of which has recently entered the British Library’s collections. It comprises the city’s real telephone directory from 1993 only with a new cover displaying its new title and a four-page insert of errata that Boltanski introduces with the line: ‘You can’t reach these inhabitants of Malmö on the phone anymore. They died in 1993.’
Cover of Christian Boltanski, Les Habitants de Malmö (Malmö, 1994) YF.2022.b.994
Looking at it now, this directory (if not all phone directories) has lost its functionality in the internet age, as its function is more aesthetic and metaphorical. However, Boltanski’s point was that its pragmatic function was already in question in 1994 when he issued a bunch of them with his front cover. As Ernst van Alphen has suggested, ‘the finiteness of pragmatic listing is illusionary’, the directory is merely ‘the temporary fixation of an ongoing process’, which soon ‘over time […] becomes a memorial of all the former inhabitants of Malmö’. Besides, when removed from its original context, the 90s Malmö phone box say, the hundreds of pages of names and numbers lose any referentiality. We simply take stock of a long list of people who may now have joined the ranks of the errata list of deceased. This is what van Alphen terms the ‘Holocaust effect’, an experience of a certain aspect of the Holocaust, here evoked somewhere between the sheer mass of names (like public memorials that list the names of the deceased in full) and the memorialisation of these former inhabitants.
Title Page of an 18th-century Danish auction catalogue for the possessions of …, 821.b.11.(4.)
As Boltanski’s work stages the archival, making once functional lists into memorials, we might ask ourselves at the library about the endless lists and catalogues housed in our collections. For example, some 17th- and 18th-century catalogues for auctions of the estates of deceased persons have recently come to light via our collection audit colleagues. Cataloguing these lists of personal effects, whose title pages list every single category of item for sale, you can’t help imagining them in a Boltanski exhibition. With their referential function lost in time and space, we might see these lists more symbolically as the things that represented someone’s life as opposed to items for sale. At the very least, Boltanski’s lists allow us to dwell on the natural imperfection of our own archives, lists and catalogues, reminding us of the ongoing process of describing our items for new times and new readers.
Pardaad Chamsaz, Curator Germanic Collections
Ernst van Alphen, Staging the Archive: Art and Photography in the Age of New Media (Chicago: 2014) YC.2016.a.1489
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