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Brev från en vän jag kallar ”min Roußeau”: En typografisk läsning av tre tidiga fragment av Thomas Thorild
Uppsala University, Disciplinary Domain of Humanities and Social Sciences, Faculty of Arts, Department of Literature.ORCID iD: 0000-0001-8553-9547
2017 (Swedish)In: Kritik och beundran: Jean-Jacques Rousseau och Sverige 1750-1850 / [ed] Jennie Nell & Alfred Sjödin, Lund: Ellerströms förlag, 2017, 222-267 p.Chapter in book (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Letters from a friend I call ”my Roußeau. A typographical reading of three early fragments of Thomas Thorild

In 1780s the Swedish poet and philosopher Thomas Thorild (1759-1808) anonymously published three ”fragments” in two different newspapers: ”Fragment”, ”Fragment of a letter” and ”Yet another fragment, stolen from a letter from one of my friends”. Although they were published separately, the three fragments evidently belong together as regards both content and form. A note appended to the second poem, signed by the anonymous ”sender” (Thorild) points out a friend called ”my Roußeau” as the author of these letter fragments, who we know is identical with Thorild’s close friend Anders Hylander (1750-1830), reader in Oriental languages. But the fragments name a certain Arist as recipient of the letters, and we know that this was Thorild’s pseudonym for Hylander, so this reverses the relationship, making Thorild the author called ”my Roußeau” and Hylander the publisher. This distinction between publisher and author is significant because the fictitious framework and the frequent occurrence of ellipsis dashes give the impression that the fragments are compilations of short fragments from different letters, which gives the publisher a highly active role. The letters can thus be said to have been written by a ”Rousseau”, but returned by a publisher to this ”Rousseau” after much revision.

The first fragment is a memoir of a young woman’s natural and unpretentious  virtue and beauty, in contrast to the paragons of decency and the vanity of fashion surrounding her. The second fragment is a panegyric to the beauty of nature as a techer of virtue, and the third fragment returns in thought to the woman in the first fragment and the memory of a present he had received from her containing the gifts of nature. The emotional tone, the praise of nature, simplicity, innocence, and virtue indicates that Rousseau’s epistolary novel Julie, ou la nouvelle Héloïse (1761) was a source of inspiration.

Certain written references by Thorild to Julie, intended for two of their mutual friends, one for Johan Lundblad (1750-1820) and the other for Sven Erland Heurlin (1758-1827), provide a supplementary framework to the fragments. A reference that is common to both leads us to the 12th letter in Part I, where Rousseau discusses the art of reading: the value of ”reflecting” on what one has read, how important it is ”to talk over the subjects on which we have been reading”, to proceed ”by exercising our sight as well as feeling”, that taste is ”the microscope of judgement” which ”brings small objects within reach”. Another letter leads to a letter in Part 2 written ny Saint-Preux to Julie, entitled ”Fragments”, three fragments showing some general similarities in content to Thorild’s fragments, but above all sharing not only the title but also the frequent use of suspension dots (points de suspension).The two references seem to suggest that the dots are the kind of ”small object” that are worth talking over, reflecting on, and allowing ”the microscope of judgement” to bring ”within reach” of ”taste”.

A closer study shows that Thorild’s equally conspicuous use of ellipsis dashes in his fragments also points in a different direction, namely, to Johann Gottfried Herder’s (1744-1803) use of dashes and other typographical markers to indicate a particular dialectical reading intended to represent the figurative form of writing and thinking that he belived the biblical creation story was based on. This use of dashes occurs already in Herder’s debut work, Fragmente (1767). Here he has assembled fragments from a recently discontinued periodical called Briefe (Letters) (1759-1765), compiled in three collections which he presented as an appendix to the extint periodical. Herder took fragmens from these letters, but reworked them so that they fit together in the collections as parts belonging to a common whole, as if the three collections were merely larger fragments of the same whole. herder’s dashes mark fragments that function as components in a visual organization of the language material which serves as an alternative to customary punctuation with its arrangement of the elements in a discursive logic. In this way a pictorial dimension is incorporated in the reading which is comparable to the visual presence of the body in the speech situation. This expanded manner of using punctuation unknowingly responds to a wish expressed by Rousseau in his Essai sur l’origine de langues (1754, but published only posthumously in 1781), where he discusses whether punctuation could be used more efficiently in written language to mark the kind of emphasis that can be heard and seen in spoken language.

In Rousseau’s ”Fragments” the suspension dots are used to imitate the interrupted speech of a person so overwhelmed with emotion as to be unable to find words for everything. They represent the feelings that are on display in such a speaker’s body, accompanying the discursivity of spoken words. Written words cannot be accompanied by any similar display, but the suspension dots remind the reader of this visual dimension of embodied speech, who can now imagine and add this form of expressiveness to the text. Herder’s fragments function instead as clauses in a dialectical reading which enables a reorganization of a sequence of text into the simultaneity of a text image, which compete with the clauses that logical punctuation arranges in accordance with the discursivity of language. The essay compares Rousseau’s and Herder’s use of punctuation as a means to introduce a visual dimension in written text, and the applicability of the two techniques to Thorild’s fragments. 

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Lund: Ellerströms förlag, 2017. 222-267 p.
Keyword [sv]
Thomas Thorild, Fragment, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Julie eller den nya Héloïse, Johann Gottfried Herder, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, typografi, layout, tolkning, editionsfilologi
National Category
General Literature Studies
Research subject
Literature
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:uu:diva-332468ISBN: 978-91-7247-500-7 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:uu-332468DiVA: diva2:1153187
Note

On page 245, the publisher has accidently cropped an illustration so that it displays only two suspension dots instead of three.

Available from: 2017-10-27 Created: 2017-10-27 Last updated: 2017-11-01Bibliographically approved

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