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the Complete Review
the complete review - diaries

Band 1: 1908–1919

Rudolf Carnap

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To purchase Tagebücher Band 1: 1908–1919

Title: Tagebücher Band 1: 1908–1919
Author: Rudolf Carnap
Genre: Diaries
Written: (2022)
Length: 543 pages
Original in: German
Availability: Tagebücher Band 1: 1908–1919 - Deutschland
directly from: Meiner Verlag
  • Edited by Christian Damböck, in collaboration with Brigitta Arden, Roman Jordan, Brigitte Parakenings, and Lois M. Rendl
  • Tagebücher Band 1: 1908–1919 has not yet been translated into English
  • With an Introduction by the editors, and an editorial appendix
  • Includes six facsimile pages of the diaries and forty-two photographs

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Our Assessment:

(--) : an impressive editorial accomplishment -- with a great deal of interesting material

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
FAZ . 24/3/2022 Miguel de la Riva

  From the Reviews:
  • "Aufschlussreicher noch dürften die Tagebücher freilich für eine noch zu schreibende Biographie Carnaps sein, zu der Damböck mit biographischen Skizzen in den Einleitungen Vorarbeit leistet. (…) Selbst bei der Schilderung traumatischer Erlebnisse wie einer beinahe tödlichen Schussverletzung im Weltkrieg wird dieser Duktus nicht verlassen. Während man im Tagebuchschreiber so gleichsam den Autor von Aufsätzen über „Protokollsätze“ wiederzuerkennen meint, der die Konstatierung von Elementarerlebnissen zur Grundlage der Erkenntnis machen und scharf von den daraus abgeleiteten Schlussfolgerungen oder Bewertungen unterscheiden möchte, entbehren sie in den Augen des Herausgebers doch nicht des literarischen Anspruchs. In Carnaps Stil möchte er eine „neusachliche, radikal moderne“ Ästhetik sehen, die im Verzicht auf Urteile und in der Absage an einen übergeordneten Sinn der geschilderten Ereignisse mit der Metaphysikkritik Carnaps harmoniere. " - Miguel de la Riva, Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       German-born philosopher Rudolf Carnap began keeping a diary in 1908, and would continue to do so until his death in 1970, leaving some 4500 pages written in shorthand. Tagebücher Band 1: 1908–1919 is the first volume in a planned edition of five in which the entries are transcribed and published in a scholarly edition -- a remarkable and (editorially) exemplary publication.
       The diaries from these years do make up the bulk of the volume, but it also includes a valuable introductory section on, first, the diaries in general as well as then on this volume in particular; appendices including an extensive one on the Editionsprinzipien (the editorial principles employed) and six facsimile pages from the diaries; an extensive Carnap-family-tree, a list of those university courses Carnap attended during this period, as well as forty-two photographs. Finally, there is also the related supplementary Leseliste, a chronological list of Carnap's reading that he kept, here covering 1909 to 1919.
       The section of the Introduction that deals with this first volume provides helpful orientation in summarizing biographical information about Carnap, both covering the years before he began keeping a diary as well as also the years through 1919 themselves, as the diaries, with their day-by-day and often mundane-specific focus, miss some of the bigger picture. The potted biography then makes it much easier to follow what is chronicled -- at times in little more than quick-fire catalogue form -- in the diaries themselves.
       It did take Carnap a while to get find his diary-writing footing. The first notebook covers the period February to May, 1908, while the next only picks up again in March 1910 (and is kept in a distinctly different style). The third notebook (of the twenty-one collected in this volume) is epistolary, the notes for and copies of letters Carnap sent to Tilly Neovius between November 1911 and December 1912. (As the editors explain, these are included because they are not the actual letters (they are the copies/transcriptions Carnap kept) and because they do have a diary-like (tagebuchartigen) character and hence fit in this sequence (although there is, time-wise, some overlap with the next notebook).)
       The diary -- or rather, Carnap's first stab at keeping one -- begins 14 February 1908, with Carnap writing at some length. He says he has long intended to start keeping a diary, and is now finally taking the plunge -- though he almost immediately notes that his diary-keeping might not be of the usual sort; the sixteen-year-old suggesting he might go about it differently than most people:

Vielleicht etwas anders, als es andere Leute tun. Ich bin ja überhaupt nicht ganz so wie alle anderen.

[Maybe a little differently than other people do it. After all, I'm not at all like everyone else.]
       For all that, the early diary entries are among the most expansive and reflective in this volume; it also proves a short-lived experiment, filling less than a dozen pages here. Still, it offers an interesting glimpse of the youth -- not least his enthusiasm at the time for Esperanto: "Ich schwärme wieder tüchtig für Esperanto" ('I'm really enthusiastic about Esperanto again') he notes, and reveals that he subscribes to three Esperanto publications (while also worrying that the strict list of rules at his school, which prohibit, among much else, students joining any associations will become an issue, as he has joined the Germana Esperantisto Societa). (Carnap will also continue to show great interest in learning languages.)
       The next notebook picks up in March of 1910, and covers Carnap's visit to Greece and then return to Germany. The entries here are little more than highlight-notes of where he was and some of what he did, a date-diary in most summary form. (The Greece trip is described in greater detail in his letters to his mother and sister, found elsewhere.) The notebook is also very short, covering a span of barely six weeks, and that in just three pages -- but the final entry, from Jena, tantalizingly includes the mention: "Der erste Kollegbesuch" ('The first university lecture'), as he begins his studies. Here as elsewhere he has, however, very little to say about the academic experience.
       The third notebook brings the third variation on his diary-keeping, started more than a year later, in the fall of 1911, the Tilly-letters. Here again Carnap goes on at greater length and in more conversational tone, as befits correspondence. It's not really representative of most of the rest of the diary, however -- also in, as Carnap admits, him taking pleasure recounting whatever comes to mind ("macht’s mir nun einmal Spaß, immer zu erzählen, was mir gerade einfällt").
       Here again his interest in languages is also prominent, as he takes up Swedish -- and, at one point, asks Tilly to respond to his letters in Swedish, so he can practice more. He's pleased to be able to read Selma Lagerlöf in the original -- already familiar with some of her work from German translations --, and he appreciates Tilly suggesting her work (rather than, as his teacher does, Strindberg -- though he'll come to read quite a bit by him as well).
       There's then some overlap with the more succinct diary-notations Carnap kept during some of this time (from March 1912 on), as well as some more expansive entries. Carnap began his university studies in 1910, continuing through the beginning of the war; overall, however, as the editors note: "Im Tagebuch sind die formativen Jahre von 1912 bis 1914 nur skizzenhaft dokumentiert" ('In the diary the formative years from 1912 to 1914 are only roughly sketched'), giving only a very limited sense of what he was learning.
       While it is generally clear when he is attending university, he reveals little about his studies and what intellectual engagement he might be finding there; often he acknowledges little more than his presence there, as in, for example, March of 1914, when he records:
Sa 7 Institut.
Mo 9 Institut. Abreise von Tante Tine und Rugard.
Di 10 Institut.
Mi 11 Institut.
       (There's a bit more here during the rest of the month -- but also more of the same.)
       Occasionally, he will mention study-related activity -- "Geschrieben, gerechnet." ('Wrote, did math') --, and some of the reading-material he mentions is related to what he is studying, but on the whole he has more (if still not much) to say about unrelated activities, the other reading he is doing or mentions of swimming, eating, singing and the like.
       Carnap does not discuss his initial reaction to the outbreak of war, noting here in the diary simply the significant events of the times: on 1 August 1914 comes the general mobilization order, and by the eleventh he's been enrolled in the artillery. Once he begins his military service the diary-entries are again more detailed, and Carnap's experiences make for an interesting war-record. He was sent to various fronts, and fought in a variety of places and conditions; the diary here is a fascinating and often detailed -- much more so than almost anywhere else in the diary -- record of his many different activities, including drills and combat, but also time off, for shorter and longer periods; he also manages to get in a great deal of reading (as, it seems, he always does, whatever the circumstances).
       Carnap mentions doing maths on occasion but of course is limited in the progress he can make in his studies; nevertheless, he reminds himself:
(D)ass ich später nur Student bin, darf mich nicht beirren, der Krieg hat ja nur die Zivillaufbahn gehemmt, nicht die geistige und körperliche Reife.

[(T)hat later I'll only be a student shouldn't worry me; after all, the war only kept my civil career in check, not my intellectual and physical maturing.]
       In these years, Carnap is also steered into his first marriage, and after the drama of a battlefield injury -- an experience that is colorfully described -- he marries Elisabeth ('Cha') Schöndube in the summer of 1917. (The marriage would end in divorce in 1929.) Regrettably, there are no diary entries of the early part of the marriage: the diary breaks off the day before they were married, in August, and the next notebook only begins with an entry from the end of October (the first entry the exhortation to: 'Buy shoes !').
       In November 1918, Carnap notes repeated visits to the dentist but the end of the war in little more than passing; the 9th of November is at least more prominently noted -- even if still only as: "Revolution." (though at least circled for additional emphasis). The final year covered here, through November 1919, is also limited to very short entries, the final month, for example, including days when all he notes is: 'Packed apples', while other activities include splitting wood and sawing a bookshelf.
       These first dozen or so years of Carnap's diaries are a very mixed bag, with only parts of them offering what amounts to any sort of narrative. Much else is often little more than a staccato presentation of the incidentals -- sections that are of some interest as (points of) reference but are hardly of much reading interest. But the volume must be seen as a whole, supplemented by the other materials included here, notably the introduction but also everything from the list of university courses Carnap took to the photographs, all together forming a solid biographical whole -- or at least the material for full biography, well-arranged if not yet re-presented in more approachable form.
       Of particular interest and value is the reading list that Carnap kept, While there's regrettably little commentary by him on his reading -- though very occasional observations can be found when there are corresponding diary-mentions (though usually the mentions are just that) --, the chronological list of titles and authors provides fascinating insight into what he occupied himself with. Carnap was a remarkably open-minded reader, greatly interested in literature as well as philosophy, mathematics, religion, and politics. Both this reading list and the one in the second volume of his diaries (covering 1920 to 1935) also end poignantly with 'final' reads: this one, in 1919, with the Treaty of Versailles; the next, in December 1935 with Carnap crossing the Atlantic after leaving Germany, reading Hitler's Mein Kampf.
       The book list here covers his reading from April 1909 through 1919 and numbers 1438 books -- a considerable amount of reading, with Carnap keeping steadily at it. The range is impressive, including a great deal of classical world literature -- fiction, poetry, and dramas -- and philosophical works. As the war comes to a close, he reads more political works, including an interesting variety concerned with Germany's future and international relations. Many of his areas of interest are suggested by the scientific and mathematical books he reads -- including by Planck, Schlick, Hilbert, and Dedekind -- but his interests also extend to, among other areas, astronomy, geography, and ... spiritualism. He read widely in philosophy -- but also always returned to literature, including some simply popular fiction.
       The reading list is a fascinating and revealing record; and, if thoroughly annotated, one suspects a solid biography could be built up on this foundation alone; it would be an interesting way to approach his life. (Oddly, there is still no adequate biography of any kind of Carnap.)

       This volume of Carnap's diaries is mostly not one for casual reading. While there are considerable stretches that read like more familiar narrative diaries -- above all, the war-notebooks --, a great deal of it consists of merely of concise notation -- and even that often not of the things in Carnap's life that one might imagine would be considered of greatest significance, with the mundane tasks and accomplishments of the day often looming larger than matters of more lasting import, both personal and historic. Almost everything is very much of the moment, and almost everything is more record-keeping and observation, rather than reflection (which is presumably the kind of thing readers hope for from personal journals). But together with the sturdy apparatus in which the diaries-proper are presented this is still an invaluable volume -- more reference work than simple read, but ultimately providing a good picture of Carnap's life during these years. The many various sections here, including photograph-album and reading list along with the introduction and the diaries themselves, make for a substantial (auto)biographical record. The reader has to work to piece together the larger picture of Carnap's life in these years, rather than having it be served up in neat and simple form, and ultimately it is more reference work than one to simply be read, but there is a great deal of valuable material and information collected here.
       Editorially, the Tagebücher are exemplary in their presentation, providing not just a trove of material but presenting it in an accessible way. Even the casual reader can find things of interest here, but of course its real value is for those who want to dig much deeper into Carnap's life during these years. If still not a full picture -- planned volumes of Carnap's correspondence will be a welcome complement -- there's already a great deal of interest here.

- M.A.Orthofer, 17 November 2022

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Tagebücher Band 1: 1908–1919: Rudolf Carnap: Other books by Rudolf Carnap under review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       Philosopher Rudolf Carnap lived 1891 to 1970.

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© 2022 the complete review

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