Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Footnotey footnotery, plus tomfoolery!

In modern times, it appears to be fashionable to write histories of random ideas and concepts; or perhaps this has always been fashionable, and I merely young. Still, it seems as though the Victorians must not have written such things. One of my dear friends, for instance -- knowing my sanguine proclivities -- once gave me a history of the color red. What possible purposes do these serve? Entertainment, I guess, and much accidental edification as one encounters obscure anecdotes and historical byways.

This Affordable and Interesting little thing is a beautiful example of this scholarly phenomenon:

This "rich vision of the true origins and gradual triumph of the footnote" discusses, in a quite erudite fashion, such footnotey masters as Edward Gibbon (who "transformed it into a high form of literary artistry") * as well as how the footnote has evolved and what that says about scholars and thinkers through the ages. Footnotes are "the weapon of pedants," trumpets the dust jacket, "the scourge of undergraduates, the bête noire of the 'new' liberated scholar"! Flipping through the book demonstrates that the author has liberally polished his own use of the footnote form, being as enthusiastic as any of the aforementioned undergraduates, though arguably more skilled. I cannot imagine that this book would technically be useful for anyone, but I can think of lots of people who would find it interesting: for instance, writers and other weirdos. **

Ever hear the phrase, "a footnote in history"? Past U.S. minor party presidential candidates count for that status, I think. From this Collector's Item, we can discover the 1908 candidates for parties Probitionist, Independence, Socialist and People's:

The Democratic candidate was William Jennings Bryan with John Worth Kern for Vice, while the Republicans fielded William Howard Taft and James S. Sherman. The book opens with an earnest introduction saying everything that might be expected about the glories of democracy, and then something interesting comes up right away: a table of what the voting requirements are, state by state! These, naturally, seem a bit shameful now: "uncivilized Indians" being disallowed from voting in some places, or "Indians holding tribal relations", or "Chinese". Clearly, women couldn't vote either (who would ever think that's a good idea?). The rest of the book attempts to summarize the various parties and their ideas before continuing on to topics of more general interest ("Morality in Wall Street", "Socialism", "The Crimes of Labor"). Overall, a very interesting book, and accompanied by a neat historical piece!

Doug says that this tin plate -- a campaign advertisement for Taft, sort of like a bumper sticker, I guess -- would have been hung upon 1908 stove-pipes, hiding them from view. Apparently stove-pipe decoration used to be all the rage! These days, this plate would more likely be used as a simple wall-hanging ... for someone who really wants a picture of Taft on her wall. And who doesn't want that?! These two items together come to $50.00, and you'll unquestionably earn your chops as a real Taft fan if you go for this unique pair.

Turn of the century politics were interesting not just in America, of course, but elsewhere too, as we see from this week's Favorite:

Cuba, in the late 1800s, went for a War of Independence against Spain; pressure built in the U.S. to intercede on Cuba's behalf, until in 1898, we vigorously joined the fray. The U.S. made short work of the conflict (though some contest that it was pretty much over anyway), and came away feeling triumphant -- Secretary of State John Hay called the events "a splendid little war". Written by a geographer who traveled there for some time, this is a nicely illustrated little piece ...

... that answers what the author says were "common questions" about Cuba -- chapter titles include "Right of Search of American Vessels" and "The Question of Atrocities". Splendid, indeed. For $40.00 you can learn just how splendid war can be!

Well, we try not to let the blog get too political here at O'Gara and Wilson, so I'll refrain from any of the cultural observations that come to mind. Enjoy the beautiful weather, my gentle readers -- there's clover everywhere! How much gentler could it get?

* My personal favorite master of the footnote would be Terry Pratchett, the famous comic science fiction author, whose books are apparently the most shoplifted in Great Britain, and whose earlier work -- which, I often contend, is better than the later -- is chock full of glorious footnotery. He always uses the footnote form to tell a tangential story, or stick in an irresistible hysterical/sardonic punchline/observation that would otherwise spoil the narrative flow.

** Which means it's good that it's affordable, *** because we don't make any money.

*** $12.50.

1 comment:

Lilithcat said...

Mark Dunn, who wrote Ella Minnow Pea: a progressively lipogrammatic epistolary fable, which I loved, also wrote Ibid: A Life, a novel written entirely in footnotes, which was not as successful. But an interesting idea.