27 September 2010

The Erasers & the Annotators: A Remixed Twitter Convo on Library Marginalia (and more)

"Library Books are Sacred"; or: I Erase (I swear!)
Through the act of reading, a solitary tacit concert is performed for the spirit, which regains, with a lesser sonority, signification: none of the mental ways to exalt a symphony will be left out -- just rarefied from the fact of thought, that's all. Poetry, close to the idea, is Music par excellence -- doesn't admit inferiority.

Here, in the case at hand, is what i do: when it comes to booklets to read, according to common usage, I brandish my knife, like a poultry butcher.

// Stéphane Mallarmé, "The Book as a Spiritual Instrument"
Scholars have always made notes. The most primitive way of absorbing a text is to write on the book itself. It was common for Renaissance readers to mark key passages by underlining them or drawing lines and pointing fingers in the margin – the early modern equivalent of the yellow highlighter. According to the Jacobean educational writer John Brinsley, ‘the choycest books of most great learned men, and the notablest students’ were marked through, ‘with little lines under or above’ or ‘by some prickes, or whatsoever letter or mark may best help to call the knowledge of the thing to remembrance’. Newton used to turn down the corners of the pages of his books so that they pointed to the exact passage he wished to recall. J.H. Plumb once showed me a set of Swift’s works given him by G.M. Trevelyan; it had originally belonged to Macaulay, who had drawn a line all the way down the margin of every page as he read it, no doubt committing the whole to memory. The pencilled dots in the margin of many books in the Codrington Library at All Souls are certain evidence that A.L. Rowse was there before you. My old tutor, Christopher Hill, used to pencil on the back endpaper of his books a list of the pages and topics which had caught his attention. He rubbed out his notes if he sold the book, but not always very thoroughly, so one can usually recognise a volume which belonged to him.

// Keith Thomas, "Working Methods"
All Books are Sacred

Arguing with the Page

Marking Books as Brain-Work
But in the case of the living reading-machine "reading" meant reacting to written signs in such-and-such ways. This concept was therefore quite independent of that of a mental or other mechanism. -- Nor can the teacher here say of the pupil: "Perhaps he was already reading when he said that word." For there is no doubt about what he did. -- The change when the pupil began to read what as a change in his behavior; and it makes no sense here to speak of 'a first word in his new state'.

// Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations, 157

Found Marginalia
Each moment of the reading encounter is the inconsistent aggregate of other moments, stimulated -- consciously and unconsciously -- by marks and patterns of marks (and relations of marks too inchoate and variable to be qualified as 'patterns') that evoke others and thus generate meanings that are specific to the encounter.
//Terry Harpold, Ex-foliations: Reading Machines and the Upgrade Path, 2.24
Marginalized Marginalia
(This is true.)

..what do you write?

Historians of books and readers have uncovered a series of general developments that mark significant changes in what is possible and (to some extent) what is normal for readers to do. They are usually formulated as "from . . . to" narratives and sometimes characterized as "revolutions,' but they should not be seen as absolute rules governing all reading at a given time or place. ... This study contains lesson after lesson on the ineluctable specificity of readers and readings, and it is this (I would suggest) rather than the fragmentary nature of the evidence that makes marginalia resistant to grand theories and master narratives.

// William Sherman, Used Books: Marking Readers in Renaissance England, xvi

1 comment:

Exile Bibliophile said...

I've been known to correct punctuation, but it has to be *bad*. Always in pencil. Annotate, argue, and add xref like crazy in my own books. Brackets in text, stars at key passages, words, words, words. "Scribble, scribble, scribble, eh...!?"