Friday, February 04, 2005

About those discursive footnotes...
It's interesting how various memes cluster together academic discourse. For instance, over the past few months a number of reviews in The Medieval Review have taken authors to task for having "discursive footnotes" in their books. Given how close in time the 'publication' of these reviews has been, it's hard to see each as influencing the other. Rather, it seems to be a little spasm in the academic zeitgeist.
(There's been a similar spasm of complaining about the price of books, but that could simply be caused by a bunch of expensive but important books coming out).
So what's wrong with discursive footnotes, anyway? I don't know. But it seems that senior academics are starting to slap down more junior people for discursive footnotes. There has not been any argument as to why they are bad, just the presence of discursive footnotes noted as a criticism.
I think this is a matter of style (scroll down for a previous post on that topic). For some reason, medievalists my age really like footnotes, not just to put all the ducks in a row, but as an opportunity to pull together more wide-ranging or speculative information, and for some reason this doesn't sit well with some of the dinosaurs.
Because the thing with notes, foot- or end-, is that they are really easy to skip if you don't want to read them. But if you do want to read them (and I confess to being a voracious reader of footnotes--many times the notes are more interesting than the article), it's useful for them to, you know, exist.


Tim said...

I posted a reflection from my perspective on discursive footnotes on my blog: Just wanted to let you know.

Tiruncula said...

I'm not going planning to give up on discursive footnotes anytime soon! (In fact, maybe next time I do a TMR review I'll go out of my way to praise them :)

A master of the form, btw, was John Boswell. A formative influence. I think I started emulating his footnotes when in high school. I haven't paid much attention to whether his students are also practitioners, but now I'm going to be on the lookout.