From « archives » to « figures »

You may have noticed that we have recently changed the name of one of our series from “archives of structuralism” to “figures of structuralism”. Along with the name, the whole concept behind the series has also been modified, a change that is very revealing of the possibilities offered by combining a large online database of texts with print series (and of the need for us at sdvig press to understand these possibilities as soon as possible)

Initially, our plan was to publish “everything” that was remotely relevant to structuralism in that series, hence its title of “archives”. Yes, this sounded slightly ambitious, would take time and we probably would have to wait for quite a few of the authors to go out of copyright. But we could start with Saussure, Trubeckoj, Brøndal, Tynjanov, and add all sorts of peripheral but important thinkers such as Pos, Paul, Marty, Koffka, Ehrenfels, Sievers, etc. This would be enough work to start with and provide a solid basis for the archives. Logistically it seemed, and still seems, absolutely feasible.

The problems however started almost immediately. After editing a collection of articles by Hendrik Pos (to be the first book in the series), I decided it would be good to re-issue his 1922 dissertation On the Logic of Linguistics. On the one hand, this text fitted perfectly in the concept of the archives, as it is a sort of echo of Saussure’s famous Cours de linguistique générale. On the other hand, however, it never quotes Saussure, its theme is more philosophy of language than linguistics and its gist is more neo-kantian than really structuralist. Later texts by Pos, I then reflected, are even less connected to structuralism and it would be in fact quite a stretch, indeed completely misleading, to include his whole work under the banner of structuralism. So should I include only part of Pos’s work in the structuralist series? Would I have to do the same with other authors? How to decide what to include and what to leave out? Wasn’t the concept of our broad, exhaustive archives defeated by this editorial cherry-picking?

Similar problems of editorial selection were raised moreover by the fact that we wish to publish the complete works of some authors (Marty for example). Should we publish some texts twice, once in the complete works, and once in the “archives of structuralism”? In the case of Marty, where only one or two texts would require this treatment, that might be possible. But what about with Tynjanov, or god forbid, Jakobson? Would it really be justified to have a double edition of 80% of their texts? Would that be fair and transparent with regard to the buyers of the books?

All of this, in a way, is nothing else than the typical problems of selection and redundancy any publisher or editor of a series will encounter. In the context of the sdvig project, the possible solutions to these problems however appear to be quite different. Indeed, regardless of the way in which we decide to publish the texts (as complete works, as thematic series, even as stand-alone books), we would still end up with an “archives” such as we had planned initially. The fact that all our books are available in an online database means that they exist there as a full archive. Moreover, the database can be structured so as to offer a selective access to the specific corpus of texts we deem relevant to structuralism. Additional search function can even allow the user some freedom to tweak the criteria and adjust the corpus to his own needs and conceptions.

As such, we discovered, we didn’t need a print series called “archives of structuralism” at all, in fact having such a series would be a hindrance, because it would allow less freedom online with the structure of the database. Instead, what was called for was a series that could serve as a curation tool, a sort of introduction or overview of a specific theme. Instead of stuffing every possible structuralist text into a mammoth and therefore somewhat pointless series, we could decide on a way to select some of these texts and highlight them, so as to create an immediately visible “map” of the field of structuralism.

That is when we changed the concept: instead of having everything in the series, we would have just one volume per author, with a selection of his most important “structuralist” texts. Luckily, that is exactly what I had done with Pos, so that book could stay. At one go, all the above problems were solved: we will still have a thematic series dedicated to structuralism, and we will still have our general archives. But we won’t have to force the complete works of some authors under the banner of structuralism, and we will only have to publish a very limited number of texts twice. What’s more, we’ll have a useful curation tool to structure our database and serve our aim of broadening the way people look at and understand structuralism. And best of all, this approach is replicable for our other thematic focuses and will even allow a productive criss-crossing between the different themes, at least on-line, thanks to the malleable structure of the database.


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