Transcript

Text: The main purpose of the ENCYCLOPÉDIE, on which France's most brilliant minds worked for years, was the COMPILATION OF HUMAN KNOWLEDGE /

Text: Denis Diderot

Text: To this day, the entries are extremely valuable / Die Andere Bibliothek published a selection of the most important entries with commentaries by contemporary authors / Dr. Manfred Osten and Hans Magnus Enzensberger report - -

Text: THE WORLD OF THE ENCYCLOPÉDIE / Dr. Manfred Osten and Hans Magnus Enzensberger on the best-known platform of Enlightenment

Alexander Kluge: There is a heavy volume, which was published by Diderot and others – the Encyclopedia. What is that?  

Dr. Manfred Osten: It's basically a compilation of the entire global knowledge in one single collection, which presented this knowledge to the contemporaries.

Kluge: A collaborative work. In the 18th century.  

Osten: Yes. Ultimately, it had a pedagogical purpose. Diderot and the great encyclopedists saw something in this encyclopedia that we don't really associate with the term anymore. Diderot said it in the following words: "Indeed, man reveals himself to his contemporaries and sees himself as he is, a strange composite of sublime qualities and shameful weaknesses."

Text: Dr. Manfred Osten, author

Kluge: And as authors, they compose entries … they are first and foremost writers, after all; but they are also poets and philosophers and scientists, a mixed bunch; d'Alembert plays a role, Condorcet … what does it say under "boredom"?

Osten: The keyword boredom is used here to show that the concept is mostly tied to an absence of experience, which leads to the expansion of time. This phenomenon has always been an object of fascination for humankind, more specifically: What is time? How do we experience time? And the temporal concept of eternity, as we know from astrophysics, is connected to an idea of the end of the world in the form of not-events, a non-sequence of events. That means, when the black holes have dissolved into gamma radiation and nothing happens anymore in absolute darkness, time ceases to exist. Because time is dependent on a sequence of events, and if these events don't happen anymore for all eternity, eternity begins.

Kluge: And the disruption of engaged time, of regular time, time that passes comfortably when several people are together, that's annoying at first; it leads to fatigue, to boredom; a strange way of being uncomfortable. But underneath hides the virtue of being able to deal with long periods of time.

Osten: That was a serious issue in the classicist era. Goethe said: "What makes time pass? Activity." There is this idea that we basically have to fill time, have to fulfill time. And that relates back to the assumption that an actual fulfillment of time is impossible because of Kairos – that means, we stop measuring time, we stop the constant escape into the past and the future, and instead worship the present as the highest, most powerful goddess. Goethe said that the only goddess he worships is the present.

Text: What does Encyclopedia mean?

Osten: Encyclopedia. The word means 'Conjunction of the Sciences.' It's a combination of the Greek preposition …

Kluge: ...’en’...

Osten: … ‘en’, and the noun…

Kluge: … ‘kyklos’...

Osten: … ‘kyklos’, ‘circle’. That means 'lecture,' 'message,' 'knowledge.' An encyclopedia aims to collect the knowledge of the entire world, and to present a general system of this knowledge to the people, so that the work of past centuries can be of use for coming centuries. This is, after all, the responsibility of the humanities, to preserve the memory of mankind. And what we experience today is the problem that the humanities have basically given up this position …

Text: “... that we should not die without having rendered a service to the human race.”

Kluge: …to the archivists in the sciences.

Osten: Exactly. That means, the acceleration of insights and results in the sciences continues, and the humanities can't keep up with their monopoly on judgment rooted in memory, or the administration of memory. That means, there is currently a disproportional relationship between our knowledge of history and the insights we have gained in the humanities, and our inability to assess the new phenomena science keeps confronting us with.

Kluge: Technically, if a branch of the sciences would be based on an error, for instance, if there was only Big Science in the form of CERN, one couldn't just go back to the last intersection, because the memory is already lost. That means, this memory would be fixed like a pavestone through professional careers and research institutes. It's not actually possible to correct an error in the development of the sciences retroactively.

Osten: The problem is also that the anamnetic culture that provides the precondition for the Encyclopedia – that means, the ability to memorize things at all – has disappeared. Anamnetic culture is not practiced anymore. The ability to memorize is replaced by …

Text: Dr. Manfred Osten, author

Kluge: How do we have to imagine that anyway? I mean, quantum physics, the emergence of quantum physics, for example, or Lorentz' transformation equations – no average person can recite that by heart.

Osten: That's the real problem we are facing. One difficulty with the deficiency of the results in the sciences – by the way, Alexander von Humboldt was the last one to try and make science memorable in the language of classicism and poetry in his "Cosmos" … the "Cosmos" is the last attempt to achieve a “public understanding of the sciences and humanities.”

Kluge: “Cosmos” is an enormous work that he was working on up to his death …

Osten: It's basically the last attempt to understand these scientific insights, which we don't know how to memorize anymore; to provide a general …

Kluge: … context of discussion …

Osten: … and to make it accessible to the world in an encyclopedic way. At that time, in the anamnetic culture of the 19th century, this book had a higher print run than the Bible. That means, there was a time when the interest in this kind of content – content we don't even understand or memorize anymore – was so strong that it was the ultimate bestseller in Europe, or at least, in Germany. Nowadays, you can find a dusty "Cosmos" now and then on old middle-class bookshelves – this project that has never been continued, because even Humboldt already had major difficulties to compile all the insights in the different disciplines. He called himself – or was called – an "encyclopedic cat." That means, he was basically the one who tried one last time, by endlessly running back and forth, by questioning the disciplines, to make this knowledge palpable, as Goethe would say, for his contemporaries. That means, the actual fears towards the sciences in modernity have to do with the broken connection between explanations, which they attempted to reestablish back then for the last time.

Kluge: What's interesting is that every scientific field now has its own language.

Osten: Yes, that's true. Yes.

Kluge: It cannot be translated anymore into the general, accessible, discursive language that the Encyclopedia in France is based on.

Osten: In addition, language is not the main medium of communication anymore. The complexity of scientific research cannot be translated into language anymore, but can only be conveyed by the experiment itself. That means, those who …

Kluge: It's expressed in signs, in notes, in equations …

Osten: That means, language is reduced to the pure experiment. We are basically witnessing the final steps of science into a realm beyond the reach of language. That means, we have long left behind the medium of communication that the encyclopedists used, and we are entering an entirely new field that does not have anything to do with language anymore.

Text: Dolly, the clone sheep

Kluge: You published a wonderful edition of the Encyclopedia in the “Andere Bibliothek.” How would you define encyclopedia?

Hans Magnus Enzensberger: Well, there were these people who believed they could compile the entirety of knowledge, start at the beginning …

Kluge: … to create a reading map of the entire world, a map of the world's knowledge, a map of the organs of the world.

Text: Hans Magnus Enzensberger, author & editor

Enzensberger: Yes, and they didn't stop at books, but also went to the workshops, and they said: What's that like, when someone spins silk, a silk mill; a weaving chair, what does that look like? That means, they don’t just have their theories – which are all there, starting with theology, philosophy, it's all in here, every possible field – by they also offer concrete knowledge, and they call that “arts et métiers.” The professions also were … that's new …

Kluge: “Arts and crafts”...

Enzensberger: Yes, and that was new, because up to that point, that wasn't something scholars were interested in …

Kluge: … they didn't know anything about it … the practical …

Enzensberger: … the crafts; they had nothing to do with that.

Kluge: And now, for the first time, thought and poetry focus on the practical; using the angles of memory, reason, and imagination …

Enzensberger: … imagination, yes, it's very impressive. Of course, a lot has been lost. Nowadays, no one would risk this kind of undertaking anymore. It shows in our lexica, which keep decreasing in quality …

Kluge: But they need poetry for all three  ...

Enzensberger: Yes, exactly. They were writers, after all  …

Kluge: The art of creation, the art of representation. “Poesis” basically means: “to create.”

Enzensberger: Yes…

Kluge:  To create a map…

Enzensberger: Yes …

Kluge: To create insight. A vessel.  

Enzensberger: Well, it's a holistic world view. I mean, it's a strange construct, a fluid concept of poetry. Because there used to be the "vates," the seer; the poet as seer, as visionary. Then there was the empirical poet who wanted to stick close to reality; those all existed at some point. That's why it's difficult to come up with a general concept of poetry. I mean, if you compare Hölderlin and Brecht, you get two very different approaches to the world and to writing.

Kluge: What does Hölderlin do, for example?

Enzensberger: Well, Hölderlin was one of the seers, of course.

Kluge: That means under certain circumstances, the Rhine also flows in the opposite direction …

Enzensberger: … yes, sure, the Garonne, what's the Garonne…

Kluge: … back to the mountains, what's the Garonne…

Enzensberger: He is a creator of myths, a recycler of ancient myths of the Greeks …

Kluge: … and whether rivers are in us …

Enzensberger: … yes, those are larger-than-life characters, even if hardly anyone nowadays … there's a kind of presumptuousness to it, or maybe we've become a bit too modest.

Kluge: But it hasn't been lost. You wrote a poem about Cassandra, who was a seer as well.

Enzensberger: Yes, of course, you don't ever quite lose it. It's impossible to get rid of polytheism, for example. That's pretty interesting, I mean, after two thousand years of Christianity …

Kluge: … superstition is on the rise …

Enzensberger: … Mars and Venus are still just as present. The ancient gods don't disappear.

Kluge: That's the side of classic poetry, and then there is the modernism of Brecht. That means, I want to make experiences.

Enzensberger: I want friction. I want friction …

Kluge: … with the actual circumstances …

Enzensberger: … with the circumstances.

Kluge: I'm a special kind of detective.  

Enzensberger: You could say so.

Kluge: Edgar Allan Poe already …

Enzensberger: Yes, sure, they are looking for … and it shows in their language. There are very old categories – and this is a completely different topic – the sublime style, vulgar style, and normal style. These are different modes of language.

Kluge: I need to use the normal, anti-literary style if I want to conquer new territory of knowledge.

Enzensberger: You could say that starting perhaps with the Enlightenment, but definitely since the 20th century, it becomes possible to play with different levels of language. In prose as well: I mean a man, an author like Joyce –  the Odyssey appears in his work, the entire history of literature, but at the same time he writes about everyday life in Dublin …

Kluge: … at a bar counter … 

Enzensberger: … the bars; the sales agent, Mr. Bloom, he's a sales agent, it's all very down-to-earth, on a very …

Kluge: … chants and chatter at the same time …

Enzensberger: Yes. And that is very productive – a moment of modernity that would be a shame to let go of.

Text: “On May 8, that was a thing/When the Titanic sank - -”

Kluge: You once wrote a poem: “On May 8, that was a thing/When the Titanic sank.” Of course, the ship didn't actually sink on May 8, but the German Reich fell on May 8. The metaphor works because you employ a form of "cross-mapping," you use two maps that are overlapping, the sinking of the Titanic and the fall of a great empire …

Enzensberger: But very subtly. It's not done explicitly, you can read into it whatever you want. That's how reception works, everyone reads something different. One and the same text produces a thousand different reactions, echoes, in a thousand readers. The sounding board changes every time.

Kluge: What is a metaphor in this world, and what would be a "mene mene"? The "writing on the wall" is an important sign …

Enzensberger: … an important sign, yes …

Kluge: … sent by the gods, first and foremost to worldly rulers.

Enzensberger:  Sure, I guess you could take that into account. But I don’t think it would be a good idea to aim for something like that on purpose, to count on …

Kluge: It's probably impossible anyway …

Enzensberger: It has to emerge from behind the writer's or speaker's back. That's an interesting thought that … that's why writing is such a vice, because it can lead to completely new ideas. I think it's really sad when someone writes something, and they already know in advance what they are going to say.

Text: Hans Magnus Enzensberger, writer & editor

Kluge: It's never a planned economy …

Enzensberger: That would not be good. It might work in the sciences perhaps, to a certain degree … although even there, the unexpected often happens only during the experiment. The scientist surprises himself. And for literature that is an absolute necessity. If I only write things down according to a recipe, I cannot surprise myself and therefore also won't surprise anyone else. It's just routine. Even in an essay, it's nice if you don't know from the very beginning what's going to happen at the end.

Text: “PROFANE” / By Diderot

Enzensberger: “Profane is someone who takes in vain the name of a god that he worships deep down. One should not confuse the heathen and the profane. Christians, who know that faith is the greatest of virtues, have to be even more careful in using this insult than other men. They know that it is an accusation, and that one endangers the property, tranquility, peace, and even the life of the man they like to call 'profane.' There are many heretic books, but few that are profane."

Kluge: Written by a heathen called Diderot.

Enzensberger: Yes. “A man has his doubts and presents them to the public. I would think that his book should not be burned but rather mailed to the Sorbonne."

Kluge: Diderot himself isn't religious.

Enzensberger: No, of course not.

Kluge: But he accepted the fact that there are people who don't want to act; who have a certain kind of imagination, according to his terminology …  

Enzensberger: ... his terminology, yes ...

Kluge: ... that they consider invaluable. That's what they need to survive.

Enzensberger: And it is more than merely a strategy. Censorship obviously also plays a role in this entire operation. But it wasn't strategic for him, he really thinks that religion is not something that one can only treat with contempt. It is an anthropological fact. One that has to be treated seriously. That's his attitude.

Kluge: There are also people like Pascal, who say: Yes, I need this.

Enzensberger: Yes, and he respects that. Only when there is institutional pressure, he becomes rebellious, of course. He doesn't put up with that.

Kluge: What kind of people are the authors of the Encyclopedia? There's Diderot, a writer.

Enzensberger: There were a few big names. They all contributed something ...

Kluge: ... d’Alembert...

Enzensberger: ... Voltaire, Rousseau, d’Alembert...

Kluge: ... Condorcet...

Enzensberger: ... they all participated. But the unknown authors are interesting too. There is a certain author named Lambert, I think, who wrote more than a thousand articles. And no one knows who he is. And his articles aren't bad at all. He mobilized people, he researched people and recruited them for this huge project, people who wouldn't have played a significant role in history otherwise. He made it possible. It is also a history of facilitation.

Kluge: There are a few side branches, so to speak. Around the same time, or a little bit later, was the era of Messier, to whom they dedicated a poem. The one who counts the stars.

Enzensberger: The one who counts the stars, the "comet hunter" …

Kluge: After whom star clusters are named even today...

Enzensberger: ... the catalog ...

Kluge: ... far-away galaxies...

Enzensberger: ... M9 ...

Kluge: “M9“ means “Messier 9“... or 81, “Messier 81,“ that's a black hole.

Enzensberger: And he fits the typical image of a scientist, because he doesn’t pay any attention to the French Revolution, because he's attached to his telescope. He wasn't able to spare any attention for the people in the street, what they got up to. He had to study the sky … that's so much more important! For him, it was … people also used to call him "comet ferret."

Kluge: Because he hunted ...

Text: Charles Messier (1730-1817)

Enzensberger: A great figure ...

Kluge: ... because he devoured one after the other. And we basically owe him the documentation of far-away …

Enzensberger: ... galaxies.

Text: Messier 81 / spiral galaxy / 11 million light years away

Enzensberger: “Happy (hereux, -se) is about morals.“ That is also a beautiful passage. That is Voltaire, by the way. “It could be that an ill-mannered villain, a hardy Turk, for example, to whom we would have said that it is permitted of him to lack faith in Christians, to have his principal officers hanged by the neck from a silk cord when they are rich, to throw his strangled or massacred brothers into the channel of the black sea, and to ravage miles and miles of a country for his own glory; it would be possible, I say, with great emphasis, that this man had no more remorse than his mufti, and was very happy. The reader can reflect much more on this; all that we can say here is that it is desired that this sultan be the unhappiest of men.“

Text: Voltaire

Kluge: That's really Voltaire, not ...

Enzensberger: Voltaire...  

Kluge: …a sharp tongue. And when he dies, he gets a public funeral like France has never seen since. A five kilometer long procession, I think.

Text: Voltaire's funeral procession in Paris, 1778

Enzensberger: Not even Victor Hugo or Sartre could compete with that …

Kluge: … got something like this.

Enzensberger: Granted, it wasn't conflict-free. Because Diderot and Voltaire did not always agree on things. That's the nice thing about this Encyclopedia, it's not one single voice that speaks, but you hear different chords; the entire era in all its complexity is preserved in here. Because Rousseau, Voltaire, and Diderot did not really agree with each other at all.

Text: THE WORLD OF THE ENCYCLOPÉDIE / Dr. Manfred Osten and Hans Magnus Enzensberger on the best-known platform of Enlightenment