Neither Jesus nor Socrates left us any footnotes. The oral form into which they destined their teachings does allow for references, but these references have a more choral than notorial nature – they echo, they caress, they allude. But if they never exactly cite page and author, if they do not exactly locate the quote, both teachers do indeed quote, and do indeed gloss. They tease the footnote, one could say. This is the way it is, mostly, with prophets and poets – although there are exceptions, such as Pope’s translations of Homer, Swift’s joyful notes to The Tale of the Tub, Eliot’s credentialing notes to the Waste Land, and finally the takeover of the text by the note in Pale Fire and the backtracking notes of David Foster Wallace’s Infinite Jest, notes that are less in the Swiftian mode, which mocks all metalevels, and more in the mode of a certain desperation concerning metalevels, a desperation that the footnote’s totalizing authority has been lost. Or, to put it another way, if the footnote is an epistemic instrument, one that delivers a certainty with a robust reliance on the correspondence theory of truth (here is the author, the page, the publication, the publisher – everything the reader needs to find a source), then it bears its textual fate – to become a doxic instrument, a reference to, for instance, the entry concerning Uqubar in the The Anglo-American Cyclopaedia
(New York, 1917), or, less radically, a space that is invaded and undermined by the uncertainties of the world of midrange objects in which we live, ourselves one of them.
There’s an overview of the literature on the footnote by Fabio Akcelrud Durão in Critique 10, 2012, which has made me want to read vast volumes: from Bernays (1892) to Andréas Pfersmann’s evidentaly magisterial study of the topic, Séditions infrapaginales. Poétique historique de l’annotation littéraire (XVIIe-XXIe siècles), Genève, Droz, coll. « Histoire des idées et critique littéraire » (vol. 464), 2011, 536 pages. And yet, I have a feeling I won’t. I have a feeling that in this lifetime, even as I edit for money and write my little things for love, I will have to keep skipping. My hope is that I can make a certain poetry of skipping. And that at least I will know the references.