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  • Das Diktat. Phono-graphische Verfahren der Aufschreibung ed. by Natalie Binczek and Cornelia Epping-Jäger
  • Tyler Whitney
Das Diktat. Phono-graphische Verfahren der Aufschreibung. Herausgegeben von Natalie Binczek und Cornelia Epping-Jäger. Paderborn: Wilhelm Fink, 2015. 315 Seiten + 23 s/w Abbildungen + 8 farbige Tafeln. €39,90.

This collection of sixteen essays examines the history of dictation as both a representational figure and mode of literary-aesthetic production from the thirteenth century to German reunification. Drawing on Rüdiger Campe’s influential notion of the [End Page 637] “Schreibszene,” deconstructionist conceptualizations of writing and voice, and more recent media-theoretical work by Markus Krajewski, Cornelia Vismann, and Wolf-gang Ernst, the book situates dictation within a broader genealogy of writing and inscription. In doing so, it complicates conventional definitions of dictation as a method of straight poietic transfer to reveal equally constitutive moments of textual mutation. In a nod to one of the central tenets of the “materialities of communication” program from which it borrows, the collection argues that the act of ‘writing things up’ is not so much a rote reiteration of a preconceived text but rather a generative moment of aesthetic creation. In the context of dictation, this is to say that the interaction between author and scribe is always reciprocal, not unilateral, and that the spaces between mouth, ear, hand, and paper are most accurately understood as sites of potentiality open to contingency and unexpected intervention. Or, as Epping-Jäger and her coeditor Natalie Binczek summarize it in their introduction, “[d]as Diktieren […] hat selbst Anteil am Prozess der Textgenese” (8).

While contributors’ backgrounds and disciplinary perspectives are highly heterogeneous, ranging from media and cultural studies to the history of science, philology, philosophy, and art history, the book’s emphasis is without question on literature and literary writing. The editors acknowledge as much, noting in their introduction that the book’s focus lies in “literaturtheoretische Modellierungen, die die ästhetischen Verhältnisse von der Produktion bis zur Niederschrift von literarischen Texten reflektieren” (7), and conclude later that “der Reflexion der Diktat-Szene kommt eine wesentliche Bedeutung für die Ausfaltung einer Poetologie des literarischen Schreibens zu” (16).

An overview of some of the individual contributions both confirms this common focus on the literary and attests to the striking diversity of historical periods, interpretative paradigms, and multimedia and interdisciplinary couplings that can be accommodated within this seemingly restrictive field of research. Christina Lechtermann’s essay looks at stagings of dictation and textual genesis in epics of the Middle High German period; Sabine Gross analyzes issues of power and alterity surrounding typewritten dictation in the novels of Henry James and Kathryn Stockett’s The Help; Monika Schmitz-Emans explores the tape recorder as “ein neuer Protagonistentypus” (98) in the literature, theater, and radio plays of the postwar era; Nicolas Pethes brings to light the complex interplay of orality and writing in E.T.A. Hoffmann’s literary representations of the law and the legal court; Gregor Schwering discusses the dictation of inanimate objects and the nonhuman in German Naturalism; Peter Risthaus considers the poetological function of drug dictations in the surrealist literature of Richard Anders; and Michael Niehaus examines the tensions between human and technologically mediated forms of dictation in Monika Maron’s East German novel Stille Zeile Sechs.

If the collection’s underlying thesis is that processes of dictation, either between human beings or between a human being and a recording device, always generate an aesthetic and cognitive surplus that cannot be reduced to terms of transfer or transmission, but is instead folded into the finished work as a meta-reflexive commentary on its own medial conditions of possibility and address, then the book succeeds in what it set out to do. There are many things the collection does well, not least of which is bringing the seemingly marginal practice of dictation to bear on the German literary canon and into dialogue with a wide range of literary and media-theoretical paradigms and interpretative frameworks. The topic is original, rigorously theorized, [End Page 638] and clearly positioned in relation to preexisting scholarship on similar topics such as ancient rhetoric, poetic inspiration and the muses...


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