Posts Tagged ‘footnotes’
September 4, 2013 | by Jonathan Franzen
This week, to celebrate the launch of our Fall issue, we will preview a few of our favorite footnotes from “Against Heine,” Jonathan Franzen’s translation of the Austrian writer Karl Kraus. Click here to get your subscription now!
People are very talented in the jungle, and talent begins in the East around the time you reach Bucharest.18
18 This sentence is very funny in German. I can’t translate it any better, and so I have to resort, dismally, to trying to explain the humor. Kraus is again going after easiness—here, the ease with which foreign travel lends spice to writing. The joke is, approximately, that the jungle is fascinating to us non-jungle-dwellers, and that we mistake this fascination for talent on the writer’s part. Thus: people are very talented in the jungle. Kraus ridicules this phenomenon by way of contrasting himself with Heine, whose best-known prose was his travel writing and his dispatches from Paris. Although Kraus vacationed abroad and spent parts of the First World War in Switzerland, his life’s work was focused exclusively on Vienna, and it obviously galled him to hear foreign-traveling writers praised for their “talent.” Here I think his venom is directed more at admirers of jungle writing than at its producers. The former are perpetrating bad literary values, the latter merely making the most of such talent as they have. There is, after all, a long tradition of writers venturing overseas for material. The funniest fictional example may be the young man Otto, who, in William Gaddis’s The Recognitions, goes to Central America in quest of the character he natively lacks, but the inverse relationship between travel and character is found in real life, too. I’m thinking of Hemingway, whose style was as strong as his range of theme was narrow (would he actually have had anything to say if he’d been forced to stay home?), and of Faulkner, a writer of real character whose best work began after he gave up his soldier dreams and his New Orleans flaneurship and returned to Mississippi. You can’t really fault Hemingway for being aware of his own limitations, but you can (and Kraus would) fault the culture for making him the face of twentieth-century American literature.
Hemingway’s star seems to have faded a little, so a takedown of him now wouldn’t be as incendiary as Kraus’s takedown of Heine, but he’s an interestingly parallel case, not only in the general outlines (both he and Heine were expats in Paris, obsessed with their literary reputations, and famously nasty to writers they perceived as rivals) but in their literary methods. Kraus’s critique of Heine’s writing—that it was fundamentally hack journalism, dressed up in an innovative and easily copied style—could apply to a lot of Hemingway’s work as well.
August 12, 2013 | by Ann Beattie
Like every other person in school, I hated footnotes. That was what you’d be quizzed on and lose out, having watched the soaring bird while forgetting the gnat. They were a trap. Boring. Even the texts were boring (I thought then, along with my teachers being bizarre). I’m not kidding about this: to avoid classroom giggling (or worse), my high school English teacher referred to Melville’s book as “Moby Richard.”
Of course, now I’m a convert. Recently, there’s been a trend for writers to footnote fiction (Nicholson Baker; Tim O’Brien)–it’s the idea of footnotes as a continuation of the text, or, sometimes, perhaps a preemptive strike, using the gnat-gems to discourage academic pedants.
I’ve just finished reading (belatedly—it was published in 2007) a book I love, The Grand Surprise: The Journals of Leo Lerman, that wouldn’t be the same book without the footnotes, though they are not Lerman’s, but made by his former assistant, Stephen Pascal (apparently, with help from Lerman’s nearest and dearest, Richard Hunter and Gray Foy), when Pascal put the book together posthumously. In a certain world (primarily New York), at a certain time (from the forties on through 1993), there was hardly anyone Leo didn’t know, or know of, and that is in large part why he had the career he did, at Vogue, Mademoiselle, etc., which were not then the magazines they’ve become. Here, I must digress and say that along with a new enthusiasm for footnotes, I also love the use of brackets. Consider this, from Lerman’s book (brackets added by Pascal), about a once much-discussed writer who resists paraphrase but whose reputation always existed in anecdote, so what the hell: “[Writer Harold] Brodkey came to Diana Trilling bringing [his] forty-page manuscript written in ‘defense’ of her, against critics of her Mrs. Harris. He insisted she read this; she retaliated with the first chapter of her memoir. Harold then told Diana that she had no taste, she lived with ‘mail-order’ furniture, and a collection of ‘cheap’ third-rate drawings and Japanese woodcuts typical of academe house furnishings. He ended, as he left, saying out of nowhere, ‘Give my love to Leo Lerman!’” Read More »