Review of "Verzameld Werk," by J. A. Emmens
J.A. Emmens, Venameld werk, ed. M. Emmens Vijl- brief, H..4. Gomperts, P . Hecht, E. d e Jongh, G.A. van Oorschot and P.C. van der Plank, 4 vols., Amsterdam (G.'4. van Oorschot) 1979-81.
The obsessions and fears of everyday life, the details of our emotional and sexual relations, the misgivings we have about our vocation and avocation-none of these are normally thought to be particularly relevant to the professional output of the academic writer. Occasionally we may feel that such matters cast light on the motives for his choice of subject; but for the rest we hope, as scientists or historians, that the claims of objectivity preclude revelation of the self. In most cases the polarities-for that is what they may seem to be-are simply not sufficiently interesting to merit an attempt to elucidate science by investigating personality, or vice versa; only in exceptional cases are we tempted to assess the work of the historian with the aid of information about the idiosyncrasies of his personal life or the vagaries of his feelings.
But not even the revelations of a Michelet substantially affect the status of his production- much as we would like to discern some general principle behind the relations between private experience and emotion on the one hand and investigative writ- ing on the other. Neither the advances of phenomenology nor the advent of deconstruction have yet succeeded in achieving as much. In any case. it is only rarely that the academic writer is moved tn record in other than fugitive form those intimate thoughts and reflections that his professional life would seem to exclude. Only with someone like Aby Warburg do the private reflections significantly illuminate the public writings, as E.H. Gombrich has shown- and Warburg is in this respect a rare exception.
With Emmens, however, the position is different; for in the first and largest of the four volumes of his collected work the editors have gathered together all his published poetry and non-academic prose, as well as a good deal of the unpublished material they have so skillfully unearthed and sifted from his Nachlass. Even for the art-historical reviewer it is not easy to ignore this volume: the poetry and aphoristic writing is often of such exceptional literary quality that it invites him to con- front precisely the issues outlined here and to attempt an as- sessment of the relations between the two aspects of Emmens's work.
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- April 8, 2010