As we reported previously in these pages, our colleague Helmut Puff is one of several professors in the German Department to have received a named Collegiate Professorship, one of the highest honors LSA bestows upon its faculty. It is customary for faculty newly honored in this way to deliver an inaugural collegiate lecture to the public. Now the Elizabeth L. Eisenstein Collegiate Professor of German and History (so named after the eminent print historian), Puff took the lectern this past April, just after classes let out, to give his long-awaited lecture on the subject of his most recent work: the history of waiting.
With his usual eloquence, Puff took a large, appreciative audience through the courtly architectures of waiting rooms and antechambers, from papal residences in the South of France to German and Austrian palaces of the 18th century, where history records a young Mozart waiting to see the elector Max Joseph, only to hear that the latter had no vacancy for the young composer in Munich. The practice of waiting, often while milling about with other waiters, to see the powerful in their chambers was socially significant enough to leave a linguistic trace: Borrowing from the French, the German language developed a verb – “antichambrieren” – to describe the act of making the rounds through the waiting rooms in the hopes of securing a coveted audience with a king, a duke, a pope. Waiting rooms allowed the public into spatial proximity with power, but they also shaped authority, social standing, and political positioning. Lingering in antechambers, early modern European waiters confronted the “conundrum of mutual obligation in societies marked by inequality,” as Puff put it in his lecture. He vividly illustrated the social hierarchies that the practice of waiting both assumed and reinforced, offering detailed evidence from written historical accounts, visual illustrations of (and in) waiting rooms, and even floorplans and blueprints that showed the orchestration of waiting to be central to the architecture of power. With these spatial arrangements came a particular sense of time that Puff, in his work, is able to reconstruct in its historical specificity by considering what it meant for early modern Europeans to wait: they experienced time differently than we do today, and waiting, along with what Puff described as the temporality of “occasionalism,” was central to that experience.
Puff's inaugural lecture, introduced by LSA Dean Anne Curzan, was warmly received and prompted a lively discussion that spilled over into a convivial reception for those who were ableto attend in person. For those who missed it, there is a recording online. That said, anyone interested in learning more about Helmut Puff’s fascinating work on waiting will have to …wait for the book. But not much longer: The Antechamber: Toward a History of Waiting is due out this October from Stanford University Press.