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Friday, 24 September 2010

Malcolm Sylvers on the MEGA

Malcolm Sylvers: Scholarly Editing and the relationship between the United States and Europe. Recent developments in the Marx-Engels-Gesamt­aus­gabe (MEGA). In: Documentary Editing. Indianapolis. Vol. 24. no. 1, March 2002. pp. 12–17 [excerpts]
The editorial reorganization of the 1990s decided to continue the edition as a joint one of both authors. The former tenet of ideological orthodoxy in the socialist countries—that there was a complete identify of thought between the two—can no longer be taken seriously. But given the strong intercon­nection of the lives and study of Marx and Engels, a unified edition remains com­pletely justified. If it is clear that they possessed individual styles and interests, it is also true that their continuous and intense relationship has no parallel in German cultural history: the relations between Luther and Melanchthon, Goethe and Schiller, and Adorno and Horkheimer were quite different. […] Like other critical editons, the MEGA may be seen in these times as a useful reaffirmation of the centrality of the written text in our civilization. Specifically, the Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe adds greatly to our knowledge of these authors. The variations in their manuscripts allow us to chart the evolution of the text and thus the thought of the author. (This is far more possible with Marx, who wrote as he was thinking, than for Engels, who tended to put down on paper what he had first thought out in his mind.) The publication of all manuscripts of Das Kapital will allow us to see exactly how Engels put together the second and third volumes, and consequently it will be much easier to understand their differences as well as their similarities. The correspondence, on the other hand, with the publication of the letters they received and the identification of thousands of individuals, will take us a long way toward seeing them, not as individual geniuses, but as part of an intellectual and political environment. And their notebooks together with the existing volume on their libraries will aid us in understanding their intellectual development and the way they worked. For this reason, the existing anthologies of U.S. material from Marx and Engels, as well as the Collected Works themselves, should take on new meaning when scholars have available—or use what has already published—the historical-critical edition with regard to subjects related to this country.
What, in general, comes out of the MEGA is a much richer panorama of nineteenth-century intellectual and political history. The role of Marx and Engels in the Europe of this century is undisputed, and not only because of the political groups that considered themselves linked to their ideas. As to their possible utility in analyzing the political and economic dynamics of contemporary society, here the debate is of course open. But if a case can be made—as I think it can—that Marx and Engels could be part of a better understanding of the nineteenth century in the United States, then the Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe is certainly of interest to those who deal with this period.

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