Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Indexing, aesthetics of

Various views of the index: The Chicago Manual stance, in which the index is the indispensible tool for finding what you want to find, for getting to the heart of the book & tearing it out (as Dr Johnson was said to read books, handling them so roughly his friends ceased lending them to him). An elegant road-map, an aerial photograph of the text’s territory.

Or – the index as a re-seeing of the volume, a re-reading of what one has already written. Zukofsky’s own indices: the index to Prepositions, which is nothing but concepts; the collaborative index to “A” – LZ indexed only “a,” “an,” and “the,” and his wife Celia did the rest, chiding him that no-one would find a three-word index of any earthly use. As if anyone “uses” the index to “A” that way. (Note to self: re-read “A”, not from the beginning, but thru the index.)

Alice couldn’t abide books without pictures or conversations: I love a book with a long, rich index. My ideal of the index is an endless labyrinth of topics, subtopics, cross-references, rich asides & inside jokes. Hugh Kenner used to tag proper names with little titles: Derrida, Jacques (deconstructeur).

But I have less than three weeks to weave my ideal index, and 450-odd pages to sort thru. No wonder more often than not one meets with a sigh the pallid index of the academic study, all proper names & titles, nary a concept or event or argument. My publisher sends along as a handy example of an “author-indexed book” a copy of David Castronovo & Janet Groth’s Critic in Love: A Romantic Biography of Edmund Wilson. Blurb: “a romantic biography of Edmund Wilson, detailing his shagfests with luscious luminaries…as well as satisfying nights on the town with drinking buddies… Big kiss.” (Note to self: write a book that will win the words “shagfests” and “luscious luminaries” on the back.) I turn to the index: no “shagfest”; no “sex”; under “Wilson, Edmund” no “favorite positions” or “loses virginity to Edna St. Vincent Millay.” Just a list of names & book titles. Sigh.

Pity me my laptop and printout and three-colored highlighters.
Good Zukofsky talk in as yet (by me) unvisited corners of the blogosphere, here and here.

1 comment:

Jessica Smith said...

i love indexes. i think this is one of the reasons i like zukofsky so much.

i liked indexes before; i loved that i could read ATP via the index. but Zuk is a poet for indexophiles (um...)

looking fwd to seeing yours