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10 The Case of the Snuffed Footnote A Report from the Stacks It was only a minor puzzle—I knew that, I knew that. But it got to me, and it was as tenacious as a bookworm inching closer and closer to the paste in the binding. I couldn’t stop thinking about those simple but treacherous words: R. M. Weber, Dichtung und Dichter, Berlin, 1890. A footnote is shorthand for an entire world contained in a book. Why was this world remaining so hidden? A researcher thrives on asking questions and trying to answer them. Often you feel like a gumshoe. Maybe you don’t walk down mean streets, but cramped and dark library stacks can be nasty, too, and you risk your eyesight , back, and nasal passages as you seek the answer to a puzzle that you know is buried somewhere in an old book or journal. Footnotes, even ones fancily dressed up in meticulous Modern Language Association style—those dandies, those femmes fatales—can lead you into cul-de-sacs and blind alleys . Two fellow Joyceans, Daniel Ferrer in Paris and Jed Deppman in San Antonio and then Oberlin, and I were putting together a book of eleven French essays by genetic critics, including one on Joyce and paragraphs. Besides translating the essays, we also needed to edit them, and that involved modifying some of the notes the authors provided and adding new ones. One of the essays (not the one on Joyce) referred to what sounded like a bizarre late-nineteenth-century book of literary criticism that discusses poetry in terms of human sexual organs. It named an author and a title but provided no other bibliographical information. I like things to be neat and consistent and full, and as I began to flesh out the partial references for notes like this The Case of the Snuffed Footnote 175 one I found myself braving the library stacks again and again in search of answers. Ferrer declared himself an agnostic in matters of bibliographical completeness . He seemed to wonder why I was bothering with some of the questions I posed to him. But when you hear Research’s call, you need to marshal your courage and follow your gut instincts, and when online searches prove insufficient, you have to be brave and go wherever is necessary, even into the bowels of the library. It’s dark in there, and dusty and lonely, and we all know of some people who went in and never came out, but you can’t keep thinking about the danger, you can’t let it get to you. Despite what anyone says, you know that too much depends on finding the answer to the question. ■ A statement in one of the essays we were translating intrigued me from the moment I first saw it. The author was providing a quick history of manuscript study and indicated that the establishment of European manuscript libraries in the nineteenth century, particularly the Goethe- und SchillerArchiv in Weimar, Germany, inspired this kind of work at the end of the century. But, he went on, a tendency of critics to rely slavishly on models from the natural sciences marred much of this work, and as an especially egregious example he cited a book from 1890, which the French text named Poésie et poètes (Poetry and Poets) by R. M. Weber. Weber considered poetry to have a physiology, and believed its mechanisms could be given reproductive and anatomical terms: semen, potency, uterus. The French text gave no source for Weber, and when we wrote to the author, he couldn’t help us. He had written the essay in the 1970s, he told us. He no longer had his notes and working papers and remembered nothing about Weber. He could find only a brief reference: R. M. Weber, Dichtung und Dichter, Berlin, 1890. It wasn’t much to work with, but we had already identified quotations when we started with no reference information at all. R. M. Weber, Dichtung und Dichter, Berlin, 1890—I’d do what I could with it. (In chapter 3 I quoted an entry from one of Paul Valéry’s notebooks describing a fertilized embryo as the beginning of the process of creating a poem, but Valéry surely wasn’t the elusive author we were seeking.) We had the option of simply printing this reference as a note. It is a complete bibliographic entry, after all, since Modern Language Association format...


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