February 4th, 2004

The footnote that contradicts the text

Yes, that's a strange kind of footnote, indeed.

Usually a footnote is meant to support a text. As in "See Smith-Toble's authoritative treatise that agrees with me."

Sometimes a footnote qualifies the text. As in "When I say Woofenbacher's family relationships were tortured, I leave out his relationship with his father, who died when Woofenbacher was 5. As far as can be determined, there were no problems in this relationship."

Sometimes a footnote points to someone with a contrary opinion, that one might want to read for an alternative point of view, even though the writer is convinced the other point of view is wrong. As in "For a contrary account of Woofenbacher's family life, see Schanker 1976."

But occasionally a footnote is found that disproves the text. For instance, in a recent Journal of Ayn Rand Studies article, Louis Torres critiques a piece I wrote that critiqued a book he co-wrote. Speaking of me he writes:

"Nor does he reveal that *he* is a producer - a poet." This is footnoted.

The footnote (41) says: "Enright's biographical sketch says that he is 'a poet and a computer consultant...'"

Stop right there. The text says I don't reveal it. The footnote says I do reveal it - in the biographical sketch which accompanies the article, which is where you might expect to find the occupation(s) of an author.

The footnote supports his contention that I am a poet. It just contradicts his contention that I didn't *reveal* it.

I suppose he could have made his original statement true, if he had written:

"Deep in the biographical sketch, he hides the fact that he is a poet."

Except that sounds way too silly.

Of course, a lot people don't check footnotes! So some readers of Torres' critique will go on thinking I was trying to hide my poethood, but have now been outted!

Silly poem of the day:

When hiking through scholastic prose,
Footnotes sometimes stub your toes.