Friday, April 24, 2015

A very short review: Sandra Rühr and Axel Kuhn, eds. Sinn und Unsinn des Lesens (2013)

Sandra Rühr and Axel Kuhn, eds. Sinn und Unsinn des Lesens: Gegenstände, Darstellungen und Argumente aus Geschichte und Gegenwart. Göttingen: V & R Unipress, 2013. 246 pp. 978-3847-101284.

Ceci n'est pas une Festschrift

This book is not a Festschrift. It is instead a volume of well-executed, thematically coherent essays with real scholarly merit published in honor of Ursula Rautenberg's sixtieth birthday. As the editors and authors have taken pains to avoid the defects often found in Feschschriften, the collected volume is a fitting tribute to the honoree.

The essays are arranged in order of their chronological focus, which spans the range from medieval manuscript practice to contemporary book marketing and the future of reading. These include the following:
  • Siegfried Grosse, "Versmaß, Reim  und Syntax: Überlegungen zur oralen Poesie" examines the significance of early twentieth-century recordings of story-telling during women's down-plucking circles for our understanding of medieval literature as oral performance.
  • Anro Mentzel-Reuters, "'Wer hat mich guoter uf getan?' Studien zur volkssprachlichen höfischen Lesekultur des Hochmittelalters" presents empirical evidence (based on page size, book weight, letter height, and internal lighting conditions) for the practical use of medieval manuscripts for individual or group reading. I'm already beginning to cite this chapter.
  • Nikolaus Weichselbaumer, "'Sie solllen lesen bei Tag und bei Nacht': Akzeptanz und Funktion scholastische Leseformen" treats the transition from monastic to scholastic modes of reading with exceptional concreteness and clarity.
  • Edoardo Barbierei, "A Peculiarity of the 'Glossae' by Salomon III. of Constance" suggests that a 1474 edition of the Glossae went to press before the actual extent of another included text was known.
  • Oliver Duntze, "'The sound of silence': Eine unbekannte 'Ars punctandi' als Quelle zur Geschichte des Lesens in der Frühen Neuzeit" provides a wide-ranging overview of punctuation manuals as sources for the history of reading practices.
  • Mechhild Habermann, "Lesenlernen in der Frühen Neuzeit: Zum Erkenntniswert der ersten volkssprachlichen Lehrbücher" finds in sixteenth-century didactic works on reading evidence for a new approach to reading based on meaning rather than letters, and for an increased regard for the value of reading.
  • Hans-Jörg Künast, "Lesen macht krank und kann tödlich sein: Lesesuch und Selbstmord um 1800" investigates medical treatises as a new source for the reading revolution of the late eighteenth century and official concerns about it.
  • Ute Schneider, "Anomie der Moderne: Soziale Norm und Kulturelle Praxis des Lesens" considers the formation of a literary canon and the codification of reading practices in the context of the formation of a German national identity during the nineteenth century. 
  • Heinz Bonfadelli, "Zur Konstruktion des (Buch-)Lesers: Universitäre Kommunikationswissenschaft und angewandte Medienforschung" treats a seemingly simple yet consequential question: how does academic study of media and communication differ from the study of media markets and usage within the industry, and how does the treatment of books and reading compare to approaches to other media in each sphere? A serious course about the German media should include this chapter on its reading list.
  • Lilian Streblow and Anke Schöning, "Lesemotivation: Dimensionen, Befunde, Förderung" reviews studies of reading education in Germany in the aftermath of the PISA-test debates.
  • Sven Grampp, "Kindle's Abstinence Porn: Über Sinn und Sinnlichkeit digitaler Lesegeräte in der Werbung" performs a close reading of a televised Kindle advertisement and dissects its use of gender roles.
  • Axel Kuhn, "Das Ende des Lesens? Zur Einordnung medialer Diskurse über die schwindende Bedeutung des Lesens in einer sich ausdifferenzierenden Medienlandschaft" surveys twentieth- and twenty-first century discourses in which predictions of doom for literacy, books, printed books as opposed to e-books, and reading as a primary cultural technique have been made; at the end, Kuhn remains optimistic for the future of reading and skeptical of the prophets of doom.
These are well-written, thought-provoking essays which together add up to more than the sum of their parts. Es lebe die nicht-Feschschrift!