References, Please

Tim Parks in the New York Review of Books:

Daumier_Footnotes__jpg_600x713_q85In the age of the Internet, do we really need footnotes to reference quotations we have made in the text? For a book to be taken seriously, does it have to take us right to the yellowing page of some crumbling edition guarded in the depths of an austere library, if the material could equally well be found through a Google search? Has an element of fetishism perhaps crept into what was once a necessary academic practice?

I have just spent three days preparing the text references for a work of literary criticism for Oxford University Press. There were about two hundred quotations spread over 180 pages, the sources being a mix of well-known nineteenth- and twentieth-century novels, very much in the canon, some less celebrated novels, a smattering of critical texts, and a few recent works of psychology. Long-established practice demands that for each book I provide the author’s name, or the editor’s name in the case of a collection of letters or essays, the translator’s name where appropriate, the publisher, the city of publication, the date of publication, and the page number. All kinds of other hassles can creep in, when a book has more than one volume for example, or when quoting from an essay within a collection of essays, perhaps with more than one editor, more than one translator, more than one author. Since the publisher had asked me to apply the ideas I develop in the book to at least one of my own novels there are even three quotations to be referenced from Cara Massimina, a noir I wrote way back in the 1980s.

More here.