24 October 2009

Footnotes, Anyone?

I love footnotes. My love of footnotes is not confined to those glorious sorts of articles, thrust upon the world by medievalists as often as not, in which the text of the article occupies only the top third or so of each page, the rest being taken up by footnotes. No, even some of my favorite fictional books have footnotes; the epic Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell has some of the most beautiful footnotes I think I've ever read.

When doing research, however, it is easy to become mired in the footnotes. I believe I have referred to this before as the "footnote spiral of death." The footnotes in a book chapter lead you to an article, which leads you to another article, which leads you to a further book, which leads you to the composer's collected works, but the collected works notes are all in German, so you cling to the only thing mentioned in English, which leads you to a book that will take two weeks to arrive through inter-library loan...

And so on.

I had that problem last weekend, when I entered a footnote spiral of death centering on Thomas Becket, the Holy Innocents, Chaucer's "Prioress's Tale" and a grain of wheat. Maybe I'll explain some time, or maybe you've already heard that one.

Today I saw Andrew Cusack's lovely post on Joost Swarte. At first, I saw the picture with the car and trailer full of books and thought, that looks like me when I go on vacation. Then I saw this:

And I thought, I wonder if Joost Swarte was ever mired in a footnote spiral of death. Because that's what it feels like.