Friday, February 15, 2008

Foot Notes

1. A foot note is the literary equivalent of a distant relative arriving unannounced for a visit.

2. The immediate question becomes Where do we put it?

3. No, all those places are spoken for; we'll put him at the bottom of the page.

4. Have fun imagining Messers. Gutenburg and Caxton coming to grips with the foot note.

5. Have more fun imagining you were the first writer to use a foot note.

6. You probably got the idea from the likes of the Talmud or some scholia wherein commentary was thought a part of the package, maybe even a blurb. Rabbi C. thinks this is a cool argument, as abundant in logic and wisdom as a generous apple strudel.

7. Foot notes are tings authors can't resist saying but won't take the heat for placing within the text.

8. Footnotes are things editors called the writer on with a note in the margin--relevance?--with which the author in large measure agreed but had decided to take a stand upon.

9. Authors can be stubborn.

10. Editors, too.

11. Foot notes at the ends of chapters are the equivalent of mother-in-law apartments.

12. Foot and chapter notes in the back matter are the equivalent of turning out all the lights, not answering the phone, and hoping they'll think we're not in.

13. Foot notes are the equivalent of soup stains on a neck tie.

14. Foot notes are the equivalent of illegal immigrants to persons living in border states.

15. Get a life; foot notes are here to stay. You don't believe it, just read The Brief Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao by Junot Diaz.

16. This has some relationship to earlier philippics on detail ad style; if shrewdly used, foot notes make a text sit up and bark with authority.

17. It is a truth universally acknowledged that precious few novels these days sit up and bark.

18. What's that bandage on your hand?

19. I was bitten by a book.

20. Go figure.

21. For the past week, spell check on Blogger dot com has not worked, which means Blogger dot com is getting into the act and saying screw it to conventions of spelling.


R.L. Bourges said...

21; Blogger dot com is the repository of the most fascinating collection of posts-turned-bookmarks - a modern-day version of incunabula, in fact. (1)

best (2)

(1) personal hypothesis: all the posts lost to blogger dot com are disabling the spell check feature. Maybe need to send a team into the machine.

(2) some of those book bites are as nasty as snake venom. You'll want to keep an eye on that hand.

(3) what the hell, I'm on a roll. Loved your whole post. There, I said it.

R.L. Bourges said...

That Diaz?
"Fuku always eats first and it eats alone."
"No matter what you believe, fuku believes in you."
Damn it all, I've got the eyes to do the reading so why the fuku don't I have the pesetas to buy all the books I want?
(Answer? Fuku.)

x said...

Definitely derived from the talmud where every barely relevent bee in one's bonnet had to be captured and squashed along the margins.

lettuce said...

ha! i especially like No.12

footnotes are also, of course, an attempt by some smarter students to get around the word-limit.
(an attempt which i am sometimes inclined to treat with respect and tolerance - our smarter students are rare enough and deserve to be cherished)

Unknown said...

I always think that footnotes are the mark of a condescending* and insecure ** writer.


* I mean, if the writer doesn't trust the reader to know what he's talking about, and has to explain it in a footnote or an end note, that's a bit insulting, isn't it? Especially in this day and age of free and easy information access; if I don't know what the author is talking about, surely I could look it up? And if I don't care enough to look it up, I probably don't care enough to read the footnote, either.

** And if the writer feels constrained to explain and support himself, that seems to suggest that he doesn't trust himself enough to be contextually clear without additional justification. All writers should have enough arrogance to dispense with footnotes, and take the consequences. If someone shows up on my door with two dueling foils and slaps me with a glove because I left out that explanatory note saying that it wasn't really that fellow's wife, but someone of the same name and description, then that is simply the cost of self-expression. And frankly, I think that scar on my cheek is rather becoming.

lowenkopf said...

DR: Your footnote is choice. So many times the footnote represents a dialectic between the writer wanting to get something he's researched into the text--but doesn't know where to put it--and being afraid to take the chance.