Wednesday, January 26, 2011

I Am The King of Footnotes!

So, one of the many small but pressing tasks I've been dealing with over the past few days has been the request from the editor of a volume I've contributed an essay to that I add a footnote to take into account two sources I didn't otherwise cite.* I've now worked out a satisfactory way to incorporate both into an existing footnote,** but the event caused my wife to observe that this is the first time anyone's ever asked me to add MORE footnotes to anything I've written.

It's true: I like footnotes (or, more accurately, endnotes). I like to include additional pieces of evidence, small clarifications, interesting tangently related bits, and the like. Sometimes a note is like a mini-article of its own, carefully researched and placed in a subordinate position to the main point of the essay.

This tendency reached its peak in my dissertation, which was about two hundred pages long (double-spaced), plus about another hundred pages of endnotes (single-spaced). One of my committee members, the late Dr. John McCabe, observed as he was congratulating me after the dissertation defense that I'd never get away with that again. Instead, I think over time it's become a hallmark of my work. As the editor of the volume I was talking about before just observed, I'm one of the few -- perhaps the only -- person he knows who has footnotes to my footnotes.***

That's when it occurred to me: I shd embrace my desire to 'load every rift with ore', as Keats put it. Or, to put it another way,

I am the King of Footnotes.

Do I get a t-shirt?


*since my citations weren't intended to cover everything ever written on the subject, but rather a sampling of representative pieces
**unfortunately now including a criticism of a critic I'd hitherto silently omitted -- which is worse, I wonder: to be left out altogether, or to be included with your piece's shortcomings noted?
***doesn't everybody?


N.E. Brigand said...

This is a most amusing post.

How do you handle the notes --and the notes on the notes-- when reading a paper aloud?

David Bratman said...

Footnotes are the print manifestation of hypertext. They should be encouraged, not disdained. (And they should be printed as footnotes, at the bottom of the page, not as endnotes somewhere else.)

Jason Fisher said...

David, thank you! I have always felt the same way. I hate having to hold my place in a book and flip through the next ten, twenty, or more pages, searching for the note, then return to my original place in the text — over and over again. To me, the only justification for enddotes, rather than footnotes, is if you really think readers simply aren't going to read them. In which case, why print them anywhere?

John D. Rateliff said...

Hi N.E.B.
When reading a paper aloud, I leave out all the notes -- after all, that's why they're notes: relevant but tangental material set apart from the main flow of the text. I make sure nothing essential goes into the note that you need to know before you can read the rest of the paper. But sometimes I get a question that addresses a point I've already anticipated and so I'll gladly read a note in response to it.

Hi David. Hi Jason.
I'm actually an endnote man. If the note's on the same page, I stop and read it, which breaks up the flow of the argument. When its in the back I have the choice: read through all the text, or skip to the note right away, or some mix of the two. The page-flipping doesn't bother me much, since I often have multiple bookmarks in a book (and indeed often read a book out-of-sequence).

Josh Long said...

I prefer footnotes for the same reasons mentioned by David and Jason.