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9 Mobile Notes Annotating Ulysses in Print and on a Screen The footnote, once considered the treasure of a special artistic talent—the inscription on the pedestal of a monument—has sunk in reputation to a bauble dropped to the bottom of a scholar’s page or tossed onto a heap at the back of a book. And yet a note, whether an expository addendum to a text, an annotation, or a reference, exhibits an intriguingly complex set of possible relationships with the text to which it refers. When the work in question is Ulysses and the medium is digital, a rethinking of the entire question of notes and annotations becomes possible, even necessary. Undergraduate English students probably first encounter annotations and footnotes in The Norton Anthology of English Literature or another college textbook. They squint to decipher the tiny bits of information at the bottom of a page and then return to the text at the top either appreciative or frustrated . They seem to quickly form a judgment that footnoted annotations are useful places to find what they need to know, repositories of strangely arcane and irrelevant displays of knowledge, or simply verbiage.* Graduate students learn that creating notes as references to, and also as extensions of, the main text’s argument is an essential part of scholarly work, and the first stage in my professional relationship with notes con- *Or bits of information not directly relevant to the main text: I first wrote this essay in digital hypertext format for the Web (as “‘James Joyce’s Ulysses in Hypermedia’: Problems of Annotation”) and then reconceived it for print. I thought I had originally written a thoroughly hypertextual, multi-pathed document, but when I reworked it into a print-based essay I discovered to my shock that each screen flowed seamlessly into the next as if they had all been conceived as paragraphs in print in the first place. 160 Ulysses in Focus sisted of becoming proficient at writing them. The second stage involved reading other people’s notes with interest and also skepticism, occasionally reading the notes before and maybe even in place of the main text. In the third stage, I tended to stop reading most notes, often skipping them whenever a text included them. In the fourth (current) stage, I welcome the chance to write without using them when that is possible. This is a chapter about annotation, however, so I will include some notes. Doing this in a print text is a routine activity, but it is a different matter in a digital one. On a screen, for one thing, I can’t easily provide footnotes. The bottom of the screen doesn’t mean the same thing spatially as the foot of a page (text on top, note at bottom). I could provide notes at the end of long electronic “page,” but that would be only a screen imitation of a printed text. Since notes can appear as new screens, no longer at the bottom or end and no longer necessarily subordinate to a primary text, they don’t have to be short in order to meet printing requirements or to avoid overwhelming the main text. ■ In The Footnote: A Curious History, Anthony Grafton documents how, for a long time, the writing of footnotes involved particular, uncommon skills and was even considered a special talent. (A second book on footnotes, a spirited defense of them, is Chuck Zerby’s The Devil’s Details.) For the most part, this isn’t the case now, as several examples illustrate. Gérard Genette, appropriately in a footnote, quotes a clever disparaging remark from the French writer Alain: “A note is the mediocre attached to the beautiful.” In his poem “The Scholars,” William Butler Yeats contrasts “young men, tossing on their beds” and writing poems inspired by passionate emotions with the “old, learned, respectable bald heads” of their editors and annotators. And, sustaining the unlikely combination of footnotes and beds, Grafton relates a wonderfully witty quip from Noel Coward1 —to the effect that having to read a footnote resembles needing to go downstairs to answer the door while making love.* *In a footnote—where else?—Grafton notes that Coward attributed a stronger version of the remark to John Barrymore, who, according to Barrymore’s biographer Cole Lesley, “expressed the opinion that having to look at a footnote was like having to go down to answer the front door just as you were coming.” Annotating Ulysses in Print and on...


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