March 15, 2011

The Devil in the Reference Notes


In The Aims of Education, Alfred North Whitehead argued that “Style is the ultimate morality of mind.”  In On Writers and Writing, Walter Raleigh held that to “write perfect prose is neither more nor less difficult than to lead a perfect life.”
Mr. Ferrara is certainly not the only writer who relies heavily on the italic font, the typographical equivalent of table-banging, to jazz up his prose. He is, however, the only one I know who italicizes the words of others without bringing that alteration to the reader’s attention when he does so.
He could have defended this departure from good practice in his “Author’s Introduction” to TCATL, or in one of its footnotes—that is, notes at the foot of the page—where it would be hard to miss and evaluate. He chose instead merely to stipulate, in the fourth note to Chapter 1, on page 327: “Emphasis added, here and throughout the book unless otherwise indicated.”
I suppose Mr. Ferrara believes it was reasonable of him to expect his readers to find and retain this stipulation early in their reading. I do not believe that is a reasonable expectation, but I may be wrong. After all, my late discovery of it (well into my second reading) may not be typical. Until I saw that note, however, my impression was that those many emphases were those of the original authorsi.e., not added—unless Mr. Ferrara indicated otherwise.
Consequently, in those cases where I knew that was not the case—I had the cited books on my shelf—Mr. Ferrara appeared to me to be guilty of multiple counts of misquotation. I now see he was merely guilty of the lesser offense of amplifying the perceived “volume” of his evidence while obscuring the agency of the amplification.
Apparently Mr. Ferrara could not trust readers to “get” the meaning of his quotations without his help, and yet also realized that to din “emphasis added” in their ears as many times as necessary would risk highlighting, not his point, but only his low opinion of his readers (not to mention stylistic puerility).
We will have further occasions to show how Mr. Ferrara’s notes illuminate the morality of his mind.