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2003-09, 339, Jurgen Wegner, Style

COLLECTING THE FESTSCHRIFTS.

The following notes have been inspired by Brian Taylor’s call to arms–or was it a call to fall on one’s sword–in the issue of Biblionews (vol. 28, no. 1 (Mar. 2003)) about Jeff Bidgood’s comments on style. Style is both that battered old hat we like to wear at the bottom of the garden as well as the mailed fist of linguistic propriety. Each garment has its place and, in my opinion, the less place for the latter the better. I could join the fray and fill up a few pages with foibles and idiosyncrasies from the past (not omitting the tireless work of my own prolific amanuensis, Herr Dr Druckfehlerteufel, under whose tireless tutelage my own modest efforts continue to flourish). To what purpose, I say! But if I were pressed I would like to put in a word for that poor waif, the ”.

Damn and blast! I know that there was (or is?) some sort of convention which has chained this poor lass to that brute of an unrelated textual quotation it has naught to do with, but to me this has the same effect as you scraping your fingernails down a blackboard (should that now not be “green board?.”) The world is full of errors. Call me a punctuation terrorist if you like, but to use something within quotes means that you are lifting this exactly from the text. If the passage you are quoting ends also with a terminal full stop, well some excuse could perhaps be made for such a practise. But what is the point of supplying this inside the quotes at the end of a sentence? Stops are typographical devices and function as visual delimiters for text. What conceivable reason could there be for ending a sentence, be it in the middle of a paragraph or at its end, thus:

The exact words used by Lord Beaconsfield … were:– “Lord Salisbury and I have brought you back peace, and a peace, I hope, not without honour.”

This seems to be one of those conventions, perhaps like caps in titles, which still draws on compositorial practices in early Bibles. While there may be as many styles as there are writers, and some journals even invent a style unique to their own publication, it happily seems to be a thing of the past. That useful reference, the AGPS style manual, is quite clear on such modernisms … Or is this just the lingo as she is writ by us Ozzies?

Another practice which has the same effect on me is the use of the word Festschrift. Note the capital “F”. This word is used in English as a loan word from the German, and German nouns are always capitalised. Once words are appropriated by the Anglos they are of course at liberty to ravish them at will. So if one insists on referring to a festschrift, why not also talk about the festschrifts? Or of bildungsromans? It is one of the crosses I bear as an educational trades’ labourer. To me a new word or concept makes me want to leap for the dictionary and find out, and this is why I have been known, on occasion, to sprinkle my text with Fremdwörter.

But on a more serious note, and as a footnote to Brian’s comments on the Festschrift in his last article, the Festschrift is traditionally an honorific publication, usually for an academic who has made a significant contribution to his–and they tend to be predominantly of the masculine persuasion–field of study. They are also almost without exception commercial publications. However, it also has a further meaning, that of the company jubilee or celebratory history. I am certain that there are more than a few of you out there who collect company or institutional histories, but these are not quite the same thing. A corporate Festschrift is a history which also has to be a celebratory or jubilee volume, usually produced by the body itself or commissioned by it from a known publisher, on the occasion of the commemoration of some great event in its history. This is normally the 100th, 90th, 50th, or 21st anniversary of its establishment, though in these more uncertain times it is as likely to be the 10th or even the 5th! I have seen one celebrating 400 years, which is no mean feat. Festschriften are produced by and about all manner or bodies. Banks, government departments, churches and schools, companies, local councils, hospitals, even libraries and universities, have had Festschiften produced or caused to be produced. My interest is in those of the “book industries”: printing, publishing, bookselling, paper, type, newspapers, bookbinders, and related trades, and I have been collecting and collating references on this subject for almost two decades.

Why is the area of Festschriften one worth collecting? Apart from the subject matter, content, the fact that they may be limited editions or even specimens of fine printing and design, the amount of serious research and rare archival and pictorial material included, &c, what is surprising about the corporate Festschrift is not just how many are produced, but how few are available outside a very few specialised libraries. And by many I mean tens of thousands for the book industries alone. Very few of these are held by generalist libraries including state and national libraries. Some, naturally, are mere puffery, extolling the virtues of Bankstown Gluing and Binding Pty. Ltd. and its contribution to the economic life of south Bankstown. I hasten to add that this can nonetheless be an invaluable resource for anyone studying the history of the economic development of Bankstown or of the local printing and allied trades. The vast majority of such “publications” provides a significant contribution to research if only for the unique sources upon which they have drawn.

Why, when this material is so prolific, significant, important historically, and (was) normally available free of charge, is it so under-represented in our libraries? And, at a guess, underrepresented in private collections also? I suspect it has a lot to do with the fact that our society has a very strange underlying cultural dynamic … that of money and commerce. Something you can get  for free can hardly be worth collecting, can it? This is one of the reasons why printed ephemera and grey literature, for example, are so rarely collected. Until a hundred years later when an item generally available in thousands of copies now survives in only one or two, and by a cruel twist of fate becomes the object of commercial desire in its turn. It is interesting to speculate how our culture and history have been misshapen by the need for people to collect and study largely what can also be bought and sold.

Festschriften haunt the shadow lands of the world of books. Books (= information) is collected, consulted and in turn reworked to form more commercial publications (books, pamphlets, journals, and now videos, CD-ROMs, DVDs… Incidentally, how many of you have CD-ROMs and videos as part of your serious “book” collections?). Additional and parallel to these there is also a whole “other” dimension of books and information which cannot be bought and sold. These are hard to identify and to quantify and are possibly even greater in number than the already enormous volume of published material, published material which seems, by the way, to have increased exponentially since the advent of the computer and the so-called electronic substitutes for books. This shadow land is called grey literature and includes trade literature and similar fringe material. It is neither ephemera, nor is it ephemeral, let alone printed ephemera. It comprises a significant parallel universe of printed matter–books, pamphlets, journals–which because of its nature (i.e. it cannot be readily bought), is virtually unobtainable a short time after production; both from the producer and through information service providers such as libraries, because it does not flow along the normal channels of commercial supply and demand. My advice to collectors: Burn your first editions. Rip the title pages out of your Whittington’s. Rather focus on subjects and collect such fringe material as may not be around tomorrow… Unless you collect it yourself as a contribution to Australian life and culture, and the creation of a uniquely Australian mythology.

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