346 first prop finished, look what I had in the mail, and Nachtmahr Box Part II

346, artist book by H. Kurzke
346 – first trial

I finished a first copy of 346 almost two weeks ago. Procastinating the blog post about the Nachtmahr box that I still owe to you, I never wrote about it. But I want to show it to you, and thought I’d better do it now. This book is / will be in the form of a box with a pile of postcards in it, one card for each day I spent in hospital before and after my children were born in 2011. It is the most personal book I have made so far, and that makes me a little insecure. The front pages of the cards are much like each other, representing the monotony of staying 7 weeks flat in a hospital bed. The backsides of the cards show pages from my visual diary (I tried to keep up with  one-drawing-a-day) and sometimes updates in writing about what was going on.

This first mastercopy contains photographic prints, and scanned and cut out pieces all glued together on cardstock. For the edition, I am now making these into digital images, to then order them as printed postcards. For the first 10 or 20 copies I thought of including one of those little plastic containers and latex glove like they can be seen in the photos. But I am still not sure a) how to include it and b) whether that would just be gross.

stamps and stamp print from Ellen Golla
gift from Ellen Golla

And look what I found in my mailbox, also about two weeks ago: Stamps and stamp prints from Ellen Golla from Zebra Crossing Picture Factory. She had this fun idea of scanning stamps and then printing them enlarged. And now I have one in my studio decorating an otherwise white wall. Thank you very much, Ellen. Along with the gift she sent a bag of stamps, and I am torn between the desire of sorting them and putting them neatly into bags and folders, and using them somehow. There are a lot of different, interesting stamps in there: Some with foreign writing,

some representing crafts like photography and even bookbinding,

and of course a good selection of cats.

Well, and now I finally owe your the last bit of the Nightmare story. When I began to write my last blog post, I already started off with how hard I found it to write about the backstory of my Nachtmahr Boxes. Since then I had several goes at writing the story, taking turns in crossing out large sections and later adding them again. It really seemed like an interesting story at the time, but somehow the words just won’t come out from my hands in an entertaining way.

So I decided to just give you a short version just to get you off that cliff you are still cinging to, maybe.

Nachtmahr aus der Tiefe der Zeit by H. Kurzke
my second go at an artist book at all: “Nachtmahr aus der Tiefe der Zeit” i.e. “Nightmare from the depth of time”. It had a collection of different poems, with cut out pages, such that different things from before pages were readable as well – as for example the title. One of the poems is the spell against nightmare

A spell against Nachtmahr is quite commonly known in a modern German version from “Deutsche Gedichte” published at Insel Bücherei, editor was Hans-Joachim Simm.

I have known it since mhm, probably 2003. When I started my phd studies in Leipzig, I was faced for the second time in my life with studying just one subject from morning until night. And just like the first time, I couldn’t stand it. The first time I changed my subject of study (from physics to math and theology), this time I started to buy poetry books, old classic collections as well as contemporary anthologies and some poetry books from authors I especially liked. And then I started each morning with a poem (and spent an awful lot of time each day sneaking a look for “just one more” when I really should be working on a proof or an excercise).
The first book I bought was said cheap but thick “Deutsche Gedichte”, and the spell against Nightmare can be found on page 15.- I didn’t take me long to discover it.

nachtmahr in Deutsche Gedichte, Insel Verlag, ed. Simm
Nachtmahr in Deutsche Gedichte, Insel Verlag, ed. Simm

I have used the spell a couple of times before, but only privately. The first time I ever used it was when I had borrowed a book from a fellow student and office mate (I didn’t know then that he would become my husband one time) and hid a bookmark in the book when I gave it back to him, with some drawings and the spell written on it. Maybe I’ll be able to show a photo some time later, unfortunately right now it is in his office across town.

As you can see in the photo, it says the spell is from the 10th century, and up until recently I had no reason questioned that. But when I decided to make an edition using that poem, I took a closer look. The poem itself would be old, and therefore would be in the public domain. However, who-ever translated it, would have a copyright on the translation. Therefore I wanted either to find out who translated it to gain permission to use it. Or even better, find the original. I thought, the original might even be more interesting to use, and  I wondered how it might have sounded. – 10th century German was nothing like modern German at all.

Strangely enough, a transcription of the original was not included in the book (in contrast to other pieces from that time). I (still) did not think much of it, and followed the reference that was given in the book. However, it turned out that the poem was not dated in that source, and it was also only in modern German. And not only was it not dated, it said, it was a “modern spell in old style”. – That didn’t sound like 10th century at all.

Nachtmahr in Friedrich von der Leyen
Nachtmahr in Friedrich von der Leyen

Well, so I followed his reference… In the end I found a version that looks and sounds like it could be an original prior version of that Nachtmahr poem of which the author claims he has heard it orally. But it does not sound like it was from the 10th century. Unfortunately I couldn’t find out, where either of the two versions might have come from since this latest source did not give any specific reference at all.

And with that I was at an end with my wits, and just didn’t know how to proceed methodically. My only idea so far had been to follow the references, but lacking one, what should I do? I wrote to my father in law, who is a German literature professor (even though this is not part of his field of expertise), asking very generally how he would recommend to proceed. He thought the question interesting, and asked a collegue. Who didn’t know the answer, but found it interesting and asked a collegue… In the end three German professors and their students who were put to the problem couldn’t find the answer. One of them then wrote to the above mentioned editor Simm, and he said he relied on others and their sources when dating it (apparently the one I showed you, which doesn’t date the poem at all, and on the contrary, raises doubts about the given date more than supports it).

Thinking about a problem and then ask a collegue who let her students check all the general references (mostly articles in journal to which I had no access) and digg through libraries for other sources, order something from a library abroad; this all takes time, and before I received this final answer, I had already decided to use the other, shorter version which I was able to find. While most certainly not from the 10th century, at least it is in its original dialect. All research that has been conducted did not yield one original source for any such spell against the nightmare, and it remains unknown from when they might stem.

I am deeply dissappointed by this occurrence, I must say. Insel is an established publishing house, Simm seems to be generally considered a good editor. Still it seems a pretty obvious mistake that should have been discovered upon a simple check. This book probably even gets used in schools…

2 replies on “346 first prop finished, look what I had in the mail, and Nachtmahr Box Part II”

  1. I’m so pleased you liked the stamps that much! I hope they continue to bring you pleasure. Thanks for the kind mention.

    I am currently in a motel in the San Francisco Bay Area, in the midst of having another three days of medical appointments at the big teaching hospital. The thought of 7 weeks tethered to a bed in such a place… and more… makes my skin feel prickly… to say the least! I think it’s wonderful that you are making art out of the experience. It looks very interesting.

    And good for you to look into the origins of the Nachtmahr poem! Sadly, it seems a majority of people don’t seem to question such things. You might have left academia, but you’re still an academic at heart. 😉 Whatever the origins of the poem/spell, I do like your nightmare boxes very much!

    1. Oh, Ellen. Sorry to hear you are there again. Shopping for supplies and miniature furniture again? I hope this means at least that they have some clue by now what they can do to help, instead of them taking just another shot in the dark.

      Thank you for your interest in both books.
      346 is coming along only very, very slowly. Since I manage less than a week’s worth of postcards in a week, this might take a while. It feels extremely funny (not the haha-funny) to be taking such a close look at things again. Some things come back with a pang the moment I see a picture. Other things became strangely foggy in my mind and it is becomming hard to connect the dots between some notes and pics. It is a surprise how much I have forgotten about things I thought I didn’t need to write down because I would never forget…
      I think it is the right time to do this now: I have enough distance to not just document things, but I am still so close that the sorting and abstracting process hurts a little, – which I think is necessary for to feel what is the essential core of it all.

      I hope your three days will pass quickly and with some tangible results in the end. Keeping my fingers crossed!

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