What is a canonical text

When the literary critic Marcel Reich-Ranicki compiled his canon of German literature between 1999 and 2003 and published it in four heavy-weight paper book packages in Insel-Verlag, the reactions in the cultural public and the academic world were divided.
But despite critical questions about the selection criteria and results of the prominent expert (and honorary doctor of our university), the necessity of permanent self-assurance about lasting texts and permanently received works is undisputed: societies and generations have to appropriate the richness of the cultural tradition as well as critical ways of dealing with the Problems and solutions preserved in them. However, since the abundance of aesthetic productions - in literature and the visual arts, in music and film - tends to be unmanageable, selection processes are inevitable. At the same time, it not only requires constant reflections on the fundamentals of evaluations (which, with the integration of certain works, always ignore or exclude other works), but also comprehensive knowledge of the requirements and consequences of those texts that are called 'canonical' and yet by no means represent singular and unconditional 'summits' of a literary development.
In other words: in order to be able to continue to take on literary-cultural educational functions in the far-reaching transformation processes of our present, the philological knowledge cultures - also at the Humboldt University - are obliged to take part in discussions about lasting works in their aesthetic and historical preconditions such as to participate in its literary and social consequences: and thus to actively participate in the shaping of the canon.
A variant of the reflection on the enduring works of German literature in their (European) preconditions and consequences will be given in the lecture That Remains. Canonical works of German literature of the 20th century are tested in their requirements and consequences (winter semester 2019/20).
The lecture will not only undertake a critical reconstruction of canonical processes, but will also use selected (and therefore debatable) works to reconstruct how connections to traditions are combined with innovative uses. Another focal point are the impact histories of canonized texts that affected social conditions and the ensemble of their arts in a variety of ways and were at the same time appropriated (or rejected) by subsequent generations. And it will use a new format of digital documentation to provide students with the abundance of materials, media contexts and constellations in the form of a digital collection of materials and tools.


The canon box. Texts - media - constellations gathered:
  • a comprehensive collection of representative canon proposals from the 19th and 20th centuries that were submitted by school men (or women) and philologists and, in conjunction with context documents that were also presented, make the intrinsic and extrinsic conditions of canonical processes visible: and thus the historicity display of canons immediately before one's eyes;
  • the works dealt with in the lecture of a canon offer - of course discussable and designed to supplement - in electronic form (in PDF and XML format): so that both reading and full-text research on digital devices as well as complex operations with digital tools Humanities become possible;
  • Comprehensive contextual materials for these works (text documents and images, animations and moving image sequences, etc.), which document both the aesthetic and socio-historical requirements as well as the cultural and social consequences of the works: and at the same time indicate which texts were created simultaneously and / or temporally under similar conditions to demonstrate negotiation processes and processes of inclusion and exclusion;
  • Tools of the digital humanities, including the program CATMA (Computer Assisted Text Markup and Analysis), which, in addition to complex search queries on texts, allows manual marking, annotation and categorization of small text passages (also in collaborative processes) and thus detailed reading and analysis / n in repeatable and communicable routines, as well as programs for concordance functions and collocation analyzes (MonoConc etc.).