Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Thoughts on footnotes

I've written a number of times about the footnotes to my edition of Dracula (you can find those posts here and here), and I've continued to think about how fun they were -- perhaps not so much as a first-time reader of the novel, but still, they were fun. And I'm reminded of a comment Mandarine left on one of those posts:

I was thinking someone should set up a literary comments/editing/footnote wiki, where one would suggest classics, and everybody could add/edit all sorts of comments around the text. Each comment would have categories, so a reader can then check or uncheck the 'fun', 'gothic', 'schoolboy', 'academic', 'cultural reference' footnotes as they please.

Now wouldn't that be awesome? I think that's a great idea. I have no idea how to set this up, but someone else surely does (maybe someone's done this already?). The footnotes in Dracula make me realize how much fun this would be, because those footnotes provide a range of information, from historical background to personal responses to almost off-topic musings to textual inconsistencies. They are much more personal than footnotes generally are; in places they are more like a reader's musings than formal footnotes. And reader's musings are very interesting to read, provided, of course, that the reader is interesting. Maybe one of the options on this hypothetical literature wiki would be to follow the footnotes or comments of one particular author, so you could find a writer you liked and follow his or her way through the text.

For those of you who know Nabokov's novel Pale Fire, you have a glimpse of how much fun this can be; that novel starts with a 999-line poem and the rest of it is one person's notes on that poem, notes that are ... fascinating. Given the right primary text and the right reader, or group of readers, this could be a great exercise in thinking about how people read. Or it could be just plain old fun.

And, of course, you could have the scholarly comments, the historical footnotes, the theoretical ponderings, the critical citations. And these wouldn't be limited by space constraints. They could be limitless in number and endless in length.

The commentary would get much longer than the primary text, I would think. You'd need to make sure a person could search through the material and get a handle on it somehow. I guess you'd run into the problems they have over at Wikipedia with fights over who gets to post what material. But anyway -- it would be cool to experiment with, wouldn't it?

As I'm typing this, in the oddest of coincidences, the Hobgoblin is laughing uproariously at this website: Joe Mathlete Explains Today's Marmaduke in 500 Words or Less -- it's a site that has a commentary on the cartoon that's just as funny as or funnier than the cartoon itself. I call it a coincidence, because it's kind of like the commentary I'm talking about with Dracula -- parasitic, perhaps, second-hand, but very clever and funny. The internet makes this sort of thing easy. Isn't the internet the best?