Lapidarium notes RSS

Amira Skomorowska's notes

"Everything you can imagine is real."— Pablo Picasso

Lapidarium

Tags:

Africa
Age of information
Ancient
Anthropology
Art
Artificial intelligence
Astronomy
Atheism
Beauty
Biography
Books
China
Christianity
Civilization
Cognition, perception, relativity
Cognitive science
Collective intelligence
Communication
Consciousness
Creativity
Culture
Curiosity
Cyberspace
Democracy
Documentary
Drawing
Earth
Economy
Evolution
Friendship
Funny
Future
Genetics
Globalization
Happiness
History
Human being
Illustrations
Imagination
Individualism
Infographics
Information
Inspiration
Internet
Knowledge
Language
Learning
Life
Literature
Logic
Love
Mathematics
Media
Metaphor
Mind & Brain
Multiculturalism
Music
Networks
Neuroscience
Painting
Paradoxes
Patterns
Philosophy
Poetry
Politics
Physics
Psychology
Rationalism
Religions
Science
Science & Art
Self improvement
Semantics
Society
Sociology
Storytelling
Technology
The other
Time
Timeline
Traveling
Unconsciousness
Universe
USA
Video
Violence
Visualization


Homepage
Twitter
Facebook

A Box Of Stories
Reading Space

Contact

Archive

Mar
14th
Wed
permalink

The social life of marginalia


Mark Twain left a comment about “Huckleberry Finn,” in his copy of “The Pen and the Book” by Walter Besant.

This, it seems to me, would be something like a readerly utopia. It could even (if we want to get all grand and optimistic) turn out to be a Gutenberg-style revolution—not for writing, this time, but for reading. Book readers have never had a mechanism for massively and easily sharing their responses to a text with other readers, right inside the text itself.”

— Sam Anderson, The New York Times Magazine critic

Marginalia” refers to the notes and scribbles made by readers in the margins of their texts. As the reader’s ongoing dialog with a text, it takes different forms — drawings in illuminated manuscripts, decorations, doodles, and such.

Blackwood Magazine most likely introduced the term in 1819, but Edgar Allan Poe popularized it between 1845-1849 with Marginalia. (…)" — (Bobulate)

"Marginalia was more common in the 1800s. Samuel Taylor Coleridge was a prolific margin writer, as were William Blake and Charles Darwin. In the 20th century it mostly came to be regarded like graffiti: something polite and respectful people did not do. (…)

But marginalia never vanished. When Nelson Mandela was imprisoned in South Africa in 1977, a copy of Shakespeare was circulated among the inmates. Mandela wrote his name next to the passage from “Julius Caesar” that reads, “Cowards die many times before their deaths.”

Studs Terkel, the oral historian, was known to admonish friends who would read his books but leave them free of markings. He told them that reading a book should not be a passive exercise, but rather a raucous conversation.

Books with markings are increasingly seen these days as more valuable, not just for a celebrity connection but also for what they reveal about the community of people associated with a work. (…) In his poem “Marginalia,” Billy Collins, the former American poet laureate, wrote about how a previous reader had stirred the passions of a boy just beginning high school and reading “The Catcher in the Rye.”

As the poem describes it, he noticed:
A few greasy looking smears
and next to them, written in soft pencil-
by a beautiful girl, I could tell,
whom I would never meet-
Pardon the egg salad stains, but I’m in love.”
— Dirk Johnson, Book Lovers Fear Dim Future for Notes in the Margins, NYT, Feb 20, 2011.

"In getting my books,” Edgar Allan Poe wrote in 1844, “I have always been solicitous of an ample margin; this is not so much through any love of the thing in itself, however agreeable, as for the facility it affords me of penciling in suggested thoughts, agreements, and differences of opinion, or brief critical comments in general.” (…)

It’s a sentiment that a certain type of reader might be inclined to endorse by underlining, asterisking, or even scrawling “yes!” in the adjacent margin. Such readers feel that they aren’t really giving a book their full attention unless they’re hovering over it with a pencil, poised to underline or annotate at the slightest provocation. George Steiner memorably defined an intellectual as “quite simply, a human being who has a pencil in his or her hand when reading a book.” (…)

Marginalia have always been at the center of serious reading, but they have a place, too, at the margins of literary history. (…)

The Kindle allows for electronic marginalia via the “notes” function, but it feels all wrong: something about having to call up a menu and type a note on the keypad, with its little stud-like plastic buttons, makes the whole process seem forced and contrived. Marginalia are supposed to be spontaneous and fluent. “Noting” something on a Kindle feels like e-mailing yourself a throwaway remark. There’s also something attractive about the contrast between the impersonal authority of the printed page and the idiosyncrasies of the reader’s handwriting. A book someone has written in is an oddly intimate object; like an item of clothing once worn by a person now passed away, it retains something of its former owner’s presence.

No doubt this partly explains why there was such widespread interest in the contents of David Foster Wallace’s archive when it was acquired by the Ransom Center, in 2010. There’s something deeply gratifying, after all, about seeing how one of the most important writers of his generation modified Cormac McCarthy’s author photo, in a copy of “Suttree,” with spectacles, mustache, and fangs. It’s not as though Wallace never clowned around in his actual writing, of course, but this particular kind of goofiness—spontaneous, distracted, childish—makes him seem especially vivid and present. It’s probably not quite what Steiner had in mind with his definition of the intellectual, but it gives us a glimpse of a Wallace we wouldn’t otherwise have had access to.”


Inside cover of David Foster Wallace’s annotated copy of Suttree by Cormac McCarthy. (Harry Ransom Center)

— Mark O’Connell, The Marginal Obsession with Marginalia, The New Yorker, Jan 26, 2012.

[This note will be gradually expanded]

See also:

☞ A Year in Reading — Sam Anderson’s marginalia: highlights from a year in reading — and scribbling | NYT

                                                             (Click image to explore)

A View From the Margins, NYT, Dec 30, 2011.

☞ H. J. Jackson, Marginalia. Readers writing in books, Yale University Press New Haven and London, 2001 (pdf)