Wednesday, February 09, 2011

reference two-step; open letter

I too dislike them – endnotes, that is, with continual flipping back & forth between where you're reading & the back of the book. I always end up with two bookmarks, one where I'm at & the other where the reference notes are. I always thank my lucky stars when the designer is awake enough to put a running header on the notes page listing the pages to which the notes refer (eg, "Notes to pages 43-57").

Me, I've always dreamed of publishing a book annotated like The Pound Era, or one of Geoffrey Hill's critical works: full references in the back, but keyed by page number & phrase, so there are no irritating superscripts whatsoever in the actual text. But how does this work in biography? I was reading in some book t'other day, & the author made the very astute point that when one's reading a "noteless" biography – even when it has its references in the back keyed by phrase – one is far more likely to pass over a bit of sleight of hand, of evidentiary fudging. Well. That makes sense. And come to think of it, as I read Richard Altick's sprightly Lives and Letters: A History of Literary Biography in England and America, I'm pretty continually irritated by the extra work his phrase-keyed reference entail. Could we all just go back to notes at the foot of the page?
Open Letter to the editors, in re/ Radical Poetics and Secular Jewish Culture (U Alabama P, 2010)

Dear Guys:

I've had your collection for a while now, but am only now reading it page-by-page from front to back. And enjoying it immensely, by the way. It's an endlessly rich & provocative collection. I'm sure I'll hit some slow bits, but I'm a long way in & it's been all excitement so far. A few thoughts:

1) I've been thru the business of editing a collection of "essays by various hands" before, and I know it's pretty much like herding cats – keeping folks to deadlines, trying to get everybody's files in the same format, etc. But there's got to be some kind of uniformity here. I don't mean that everyone needs to be using MLA style or Chicago style, or whatever. But everybody needs to cite their sources somewhere. There're essays in here that are scrupulously endnoted with full bibliographical citations; great. There's one with a lengthy and stimulating "essay on sources"; excellent. But there's a bunch of them with wee parenthetical page number citations – eg, (Bernstein 23) – or even abbreviation citations – eg, (T 47) – that entirely lack lists of works cited. What gives? Did all the lists of works cited get lost in a hard drive meltdown or something? Or just get lost?

2) Somebody's got to proofread more carefully. You can't depend on the folks at the Press to do that any more, you know. I haven't gone thru a stretch of two pages yet without hitting a typo or two, and that's too many – it's just plain distracting. I know, I know, some of them are pretty minor; but it's embarrassing to hit "Zukofsksy," especially a few pages before you hit "Zukovsky" – and with a whole run of the name being spelled correctly in between.

3) And speaking of getting names right – and Bob Archambeau is the only person who gets to spell LZ's name with a "v," & even he gets bitch-slapped backchannel when he does it – the title of Norman Finkelstein's long poem is Track, not "Tracks." (That one three times, in short succession.)

I like this book a lot; I'm learning from it, & enjoying it. But man it's sometimes hard not to be distracted & irritated by flyspecks like these. (I ought to know; I can't look at one of my own books without wincing.) Was it Aby Warburg or Mies van der Rohe who said "God is in the details"?

But anyway, Congratulations!

1 comment:

The Road North said...

My personal favourite, passed on by FPs of Eng Lit at Stirling University, was a Derry Jeffares book on Yeats which included the footnote "remember to bloody well look this up"