Wednesday, 30 August 2017

Marginalising Marginalia

As mentioned in a previous post (here), I have been taking the edX Academic and Business Writing course with Berkeley. In week three of the course, we were asked to read an article, and provide the following: determine the article's main idea; outline our opinion of the piece and our understanding; detail anything we didn't agree with; say whether we took notes; and whether our note-taking fitted with the article.

The article was a NY Times piece, entitled "What I Really Want Is Someone Rolling Around in the Text", by Sam Anderson, from 2011. Anderson tells us his story of why marginalia - ie, making margin notes on books - is important for his own reading comprehension. However, I felt there was a subtext proposing that marginalia is a key interaction by a reader with a book’s author to develop a conversation which expands the reader’s understanding of the work. There is also a flavour of “if you do not write marginalia, you are not really reading properly”. Sounded a bit arrogant.

Marginalia itself sounds like a disease. Perhaps it is: a disease that destroys the pristine mind creation that an author has privileged us with. A sacrilege of the printed page. And what was that title - Someone Rolling Around in the Text - about? Did it mean "I want to behave like a dog and roll in another animal's faeces so that I can hunt it and eat it up"? Odd.

While I understand perfectly what Anderson was saying, I found myself unable to agree with his position (2011). All my writing and reading is now electronic, and I do not annotate my ebooks or audiobooks. Nor did I annotate my hardcopy books when I used to read those. It seems to me to cross a boundary that should not be crossed: there can be no conversation, because the author has no right of reply. 

When I read now, I transcribe what I consider to be 'telling' sentences into a separate document, or simply copy them to a clipboard app. Then, if the piece has been meaningful enough, I will collect those items and organise them by writing a blog post about them or by citing or using them in academic work. I do not feel the need to attach my comments alongside those of an original author. Hitching my opinion to those of the author, post-creation, would contain an underlying smack of ego in my view. 

As a result, I did not take notes on the article we were set, but developed an argument mentally, dipping back in and out of the article, before formalising my thoughts in writing a response as I went. That response turned into a blog post. 

Marginalia is not for me.



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