Footnotes and Waffle

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Last night I watched scenes from the 1995 BBC version of Pride and Prejudice. I scrolled through the sections that hold less interest for me and moved onto the sections in which Darcy and Lizzie Bennett feature. I am looking for the happy ever after quality, the escapist thrill of the olden day romance, with all its affected old fashioned speech, its strait laced manners.

Lizzie Bennett’s forthright tone and Darcy’s brooding gentleman like qualities comfort me. Like wearing warm socks on a cold night in bed when my feet are too cold to let me sleep, or drinking a sweet cup of milky Earl Grey tea.

Earl Grey tea reminds me of those times many years ago when I was studying for my final year of social work. I hated to study then. I could not concentrate for long. I would prefer to do housework than to sit at my desk reading the assigned text books. Nothing made much sense to me then and even as I might have basically understood the material we were meant to pore over and absorb, I could not see the point of it. I could not recast it in the form of an essay that might answer a particular question or address an set topic without sounding pompous, wishy-washy or just waffling on, as I fear I am doing now.

Waffling on.

Waffle waffle, words on the page. The movement of my fingers as I type, the words that form in my mind as I sit here hunched over the keyboard is pleasurable in itself. No matter what the words. Almost no matter. I am aware at the same time that I wish I were saying something meaningful, something that would take me somewhere, somewhere purposeful, somewhere with oomph.

Is this blogging drowning out my capacity to think?

On Friday a friend told me that they had refused to send her exegesis in for marking as it had no footnotes. No footnotes is not the stuff of PhDs. It would not pass.

I wonder who wrote that rule down and when? Footnotes signify what? That the work has been filtered through the minds of other researchers; that the person writing the thesis has considered other points of view and acknowledges them accordingly?

It seems it is not good enough to write down the contents of one’s thoughts without some reference to other people’s ideas, nor is it satisfactory to so assimilate and process other people’s thoughts that they cannot be clearly demarcated with a footnote at least and preferably not just a reference to the author of the idea, but also to the title of the text book in which the idea appears and best of all the page number.

This proves that you have read it. You cannot write about other people’s ideas without acknowledging them, and yet there is little that any of us write that does not include other people’s ideas.

If there is no such thing anymore as an original, a truly original thought and if every thought derives from somewhere else, and someone else has already considered it, then the business of scholarship presumably is to develop that thought somehow, at best or at worst I suppose it is merely to paraphrase the thought so that it sounds as though you have understood it and can therefore regurgitate it in the interests of your own ideas. Then the thesis becomes a laddering of other people’s ideas all piled one on top of the other.

I have a tendency to bring other people’s ideas together from different places. Some thoughts from psychoanalytic theory mesh with thoughts from autobiographical theory and they look good together. I make them make sense in much the same way as I force my dreams to make sense, more sense than they would have were I able to write down my dreams exactly as I dream.

Dreams are far less tidy and cooperative than narratives. Narrative demands a logical sequence of events, one that leads to another or clear gaps in between where readers can use their imaginations to leap over the gaps and create their own bridges. Dreams make impossible leaps that are only possible in our imaginations and unconscious minds.

It is not enough for me to write what I think. I must marry what I think to what other people think. Other people whose ideas bear some relevance to what I write about.

At the Writer’s House where we explored new forms of writing, Peter Bishop told us to follow the tangents. I am good at following tangents. I do it effortlessly.

In thesis writing it is also necessary to follow tangents at least in the beginning but there comes a point where I must stop following tangents and stay in one place.

I must pull all the threads together and make some coherent sense of what I have discovered both in my own thinking and also in that of those whose writings I have explored. This is the difficult part. It is like stitching a jumper together once all the panels have been knitted separately. The stitches must appear seamless. The stitches must be so carefully done as to give the appearance that the jumper was knitted as a whole, one piece rather than a series of pieces.

This I find difficult. This I resist. I want to keep knitting new panels but my jumper will become a many armed thing if I am not careful and there is no one person other than a monster with more than two arms.

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26 Comments on Footnotes and Waffle

  1. Bonnie, Original Art Studio
    January 10, 2010 at 3:46 am (8 years ago)

    So you are concerned you will be a monster if you follow your own imagination, impulses, tangents and longings?

    When I read your beautifully written posts I feel something really wanting to burst forth, but it is struggling with many imposed constraints.

    Reply
  2. Elisabeth
    January 10, 2010 at 5:10 am (8 years ago)

    Thanks, Bonnie.

    You're right about the constraints as you well know from our recet correspondence.

    I wonder as well whether we are ever entirely free to write as we wish, notwithstanding all the authorities that are there outside in the real and imagined worlds.

    I often sense the presence of a monkey on my back, the one who takes the place of my parents, as Anne Lamott of the writing book Bird by Bird would say, the one who is your first judge and critic, the one you must learn to shoo away.

    Reply
  3. Ocean Girl
    January 10, 2010 at 6:09 am (8 years ago)

    We are not alone, we make each other, and there is an art to appear original, I think.

    Thank you for the post Elisabeth.

    Reply
  4. Totalfeckineejit
    January 10, 2010 at 10:31 am (8 years ago)

    On the shoulders of giants?

    As for blogging, it is 'writing' of some sort and variable quality depending how you feel.But I worry (apart from it being addictive)that it does indeed waste creativity as well as spark it.Last year, the first full year of my blogging,I did an awful lot of posts, but wrote and submitted fewer poems than ever.

    Reply
  5. christopher
    January 10, 2010 at 10:44 am (8 years ago)

    As I read through your meanders and realized you were doing exactly what you were writing about doing, I began looking in vain for your footnotes and the grin on my face grew at every distraction I passed.

    That's what you get to do here. There is a point to all the meanders, as you well know. This is one example, how only in English can you do this, but in French they have their own and in German too – things that won't go together the same way but must be paraphrased to work out translated between the languages.

    You did flow effortlessly, well, you flowed effortlessly around the snags. You could have had at least one footnote 🙂

    Reply
  6. steven
    January 10, 2010 at 12:52 pm (8 years ago)

    elisabeth there are so many ways in which to express understanding or knowing. the symbolic mapping of dreams is appealing to me because it requires the reader to unpack it through the filter of their own experience and knowing making the outcome unpredictable. i like that. associative writing – following the lead of a word or a phrase as you did here – is also very appealing because somewhere inside the association is a deeper mapping that points to what it is that you really see and really want to say. it's inevitable that people will think through other people's thoughts but to obviate that through footnotes – well i feel much the same as you – what exactly does it have to do with the merit of the work?! write on elisabeth!! steven

    Reply
  7. Jim Murdoch
    January 10, 2010 at 4:09 pm (8 years ago)

    Footnotes suggest that the thoughts you are presenting are not your own but a conglomeration of other people’s ideas. I’ve never written a thesis. The closest were my articles in Wikipedia on Beckett’s plays. I felt I had to reference every ruddy thing I wrote and their rules actively discourage original thought. Not that that stopped me. There are two snippets buried in all those words, two tiny things that I noticed and that I’d never read before. I can’t imagine anyone’s spotted them but if they have and have added “[citation required]” then who cares?

    The last article I wrote on my own sites (where you could think I could express any opinion I wanted) someone wanted evidence of some minor thing I claimed, which I provided in the comments but really the whole thing felt so petty. If everyone is quoting everyone else then who’s doing any original thinking?

    Also, simply quoting other people does not mean you understand what you’re quoting. It just makes you look clever. I listen to my daughter talk about her degree course and I’m frankly shocked at what she’s asked to do (by that I mean “allowed to get away with”), essays of a couple of thousand words. When I talk to her then I realise how much she understands what she’s studying and that’s a completely different thing.

    Is ‘following tangents’ not another expression for “digressing”?

    As for whether you waffle or not I think it’s a style thing. Rachel Fox is a self-confessed rambler. I can enjoy a good ramble and Carrie often comments when my blogs wander all over the place. Often you could cut the whole ramble and the post would still work on its own but I think the ramble is a good way of easing your readers into a topic just like you do in this blog. You could lose the whole first four paragraphs but why? We want to see you reflected in your words and it feels more like a conversation when someone starts off on one topic and ends up on a completely unrelated one. So don’t get in a tizzy about that. When you sink to actually talking rubbish then worry. And we'll let you know.

    Reply
  8. LimesNow
    January 10, 2010 at 5:35 pm (8 years ago)

    Elisabeth, you are a committed writer, and you should be ~ this seems what you were meant to do. On my blog's sidebar, I've posted some words to remind me of things I need to remember. I'd like to share them with you now: The irony of commitment is that it's deeply liberating – in work, in play, in love. The act frees you from the tyranny of your internal critic, from the fear that likes to dress itself up and parade around as rational hesitation. To commit is to remove your head as the barrier to your life.

    Reply
  9. Elisabeth
    January 10, 2010 at 10:12 pm (8 years ago)

    Thanks for your reassurance, Ocean Girl. It's a different slant on it, isn't it? The business of not being alone, of all of us being interconnected, hence how can there ever be an absolutely, 'absolutely' original idea.

    All ideas interlink in some way or other. I've always liked that idea that a butterfly flutters its wings somewhere in the Amazon jungle, or variations of this, and the reverberations are felt everywhere.

    Oh dear TFE, this is sobering news – fewer poems published over the course of your first year blogging.

    But then there's the other argument that in blogging you are 'publishing' and it could well be that your readership has increased exponentially.

    Take heart from this. There is no lack of creativity on blogs. I kniow here's also some rubbish but not from us, I hope.

    Essentially blogging is a creative act. It's easy to forget that. we tend to downplay the significance of it, perhaps because blogging is relatively new and at some level it's easy, easier than having to go through the process of having our work recognised by some official authority who them agrees to publish.

    Nevertheless the blogging community, the democracy of the blogging community has some value in judging our work, too.

    We do not write into a vacuum and if our work is utter crap, I doubt that we'd get much of a response at all.

    This is me taking the opposing side to what I often struggle with myself, the fear that blogging dilutes the quality of my efforts.

    Sorry about the absence of footnotes, christopher. You didn't really want one, did you? Must be tongue in cheek.

    I hate the things, footnotes that is. I hate having to put them in and often they distract me while reading.

    On the other hand, and there is always one of them, I also value them when I want to know the origins and source of some information to follow it up. But these days more especially so that I can refer to it properly in my own work.

    Ahh it is a vicious and endless cycle.

    Thanks Jim. I know well that feeling of having to reference every damn thing for fear of being caught out. For some strange reason I often think of Nietzsche's thesis. As I recall- I think I read it somewhere, no footnote available – it did not go down so well, because he did not follow conventional lines and yet he was considered a brilliant and original thinker. These days we have to footnote him.

    Footnotes are great for the anally retentive but they do not lend themselves to spontaneity.

    Thanks for your encouragement, too. It's good to know you'll let me know when I'm talking rubbish.

    Thanks for offering those lovely words, Limes.

    I need to be reminded time and again that it's okay for me to write as I do. Perhaps we all need such reassurance.

    I know I suffer a great deal from my internal critic. It must have something to do with my Catholic upbringing and the business of being sixth in line.

    Reply
  10. Manon Doyle
    January 11, 2010 at 12:49 am (8 years ago)

    Everyone has left terrific comments! I am not a writer nor will I ever be but I so enjoy your writing. I agree with Steven!! Write on!!
    Btw….. i love "Pride and Prejudice"…. every version…lol!

    Reply
  11. Kass
    January 11, 2010 at 2:26 am (8 years ago)

    No one can be original. All we can hope for is to be uniquely derivative. I find the way you put words together to be most satisfying. I am drawn to you candor and logic.

    Reply
  12. A Cuban In London
    January 11, 2010 at 9:34 am (8 years ago)

    Footnotes are an assessor's evidence of all the books he/she has not read yet. 🙂

    It's funny that you write about darcy and Lizzie and I am about to finish 'Reading Lolita in Tehran', the section about Austen. 🙂

    Great post. This resonated for me:

    'You cannot write about other people’s ideas without acknowledging them, and yet there is little that any of us write that does not include other people’s ideas.'

    Absolutely spot on.

    Many thanks.

    Greetings from London.

    Reply
  13. Conda V. Douglas
    January 11, 2010 at 10:26 pm (8 years ago)

    Lovely evocation of a writer's struggles, Elisabeth…ah yes, the great and glorious tangents…

    Reply
  14. Elisabeth
    January 12, 2010 at 9:20 am (8 years ago)

    Thanks, Manon. I'm glad to find a fellow lover of Pride and Prejudice in all its many manifestations – the wondrous original and all its adaptations.

    Manon, you might be interested to visit Lucy Tartan's blog at http://allordinary2.blogspot.com/2009/11/it-never-rains-but-it-pours.html. Scroll down. Lucy Tartan's a Jane Austen aficionado here in Australia. She's seen or read almost every adaptation of every Jane Austen novel put into film or book and studied them all. She gets into the costumery and dancing of Austen's day as well. She's amazing.

    Oh Kass, I'm amazed to hear that you appreciate my 'logic'. Candour I can recognise, but logic, me? never.

    Thanks, Cuban. I'm curious. I've yet to read the book, 'Reading Lolita in Tehran', but I've heard a little about it. Can you offer us a review? On your blog perhaps.

    Conda, thanks for your celebration of tangents. I suspect we all go off onto them.

    A friend once accused a speaker, whose paper we had just heard and which I had enjoyed, of not only following tangents but of going off on a series of non-sequiturs.

    It bothered me because I consider myself a 'tangent queen' and a master/mistress of the non-sequitur.

    Long live the tangent and the non-sequitor.

    Reply
  15. Stephen Tremp
    January 12, 2010 at 3:59 pm (8 years ago)

    I've knitted a few multi-armed monsters. Scary. So I slice off excess arms, place them in my junkyard, and revisit them later when I need an extra part for a future story.

    Stephen Tremp

    Reply
  16. Mim
    January 12, 2010 at 5:59 pm (8 years ago)

    Annie Diller wrote that every piece of her writing had a crack in it.

    Reply
  17. Tommaso Gervasutti
    January 12, 2010 at 7:30 pm (8 years ago)

    Dear Elisabeth, I am happy you enjoyed "Winter Solstice". Before reading your whole post I ask you if the 1995 Pride and Prejudice you watched is the one with Colin Firth.
    I watched the VHS of that three times! It is the best and much, much better than the film they made recently.

    All my best,

    Davide ( Tommaso )

    Reply
  18. Phoenix
    January 12, 2010 at 10:37 pm (8 years ago)

    I'm a tangent writer as well…I like following the flow of thoughts, not outlines. Too stifling.

    No footnotes, eh? Why is it that we only assume information is legit if it comes from someone else?

    Reply
  19. Reader Wil
    January 13, 2010 at 11:08 am (8 years ago)

    Thanks Elisabeth, for your visit. I must be honest with you: only the elder grandson Zayne is a musician and plays the gitar. My granddaughter doesn't do much with her violin, and the younger grandson just borrowed her violin for the photo. My grandchildren do sing pretty well, however, and often join contests.

    Reply
  20. Elisabeth
    January 13, 2010 at 11:45 am (8 years ago)

    Mim, I love Annie Dillard's writing, though I have not managed to write under the same straightened circumsutances she once recommended. It's good though to read about the 'crack' in her seemingly seamless writing. Thank you.

    Davide, of course the Pride and Prejudice to which I refer is the one with Colin Firth as Darcy.

    I agree with you the other version pales into insignificance, though I love its music and cinematography.

    I love most of the period films put out by the BBC. There's something about the past coming alive in this way. I know it's exaggerated but it offers a wonderful escape. Thanks.

    Thanks, also, Phoenix. Yes, I can see that you too like to go off on tangents. It's the best way.

    And finally, reader Wil. It
    's enough that your grandchildren sing. My children started out with musical instruments, and only a few of them stuck. I figure it's good to offer them the basics and then if they want to continue as adults, it's so much easier for them to pick it up later. Music needs to be fun, not a chore.

    Reply
  21. jabblog
    January 13, 2010 at 5:20 pm (8 years ago)

    I understand the pleasure that comes simply from writing. Words are powerful and intrinsically interesting and need to be corralled only when we have a requirement to conform to certain formats. I'm just making excuses for waffling, really – my besetting sin 😉

    Reply
  22. Poetikat
    January 13, 2010 at 9:43 pm (8 years ago)

    Ah, that Catholic "inner critic"; I know her well! (You and I are going to get on just fine.)
    Thanks for your visit. I've jumped on the follower's list and will be adding you to my sidebar so I don't forget.

    Kat (Blasts From the Past, Invisible Keepsakes and Kigo of the Kat)

    Are you on Facebook?

    Reply
  23. Elisabeth
    January 13, 2010 at 10:19 pm (8 years ago)

    Thanks, Jablog. I'm so glad we agree on the joy of writing and the pleasure of playing around with words, even when we're left with waffle.

    One man's waffle may well be another man's Shakespeare and even as I write this I think I should qualify it: one person's waffle is another's Shakespeare, though Shakespeare might be too great a stretch.

    Thanks, Poetikat. It's lovely to meet you here on my blog. I'm glad you share knowledge of Catholic angst. It certainly has a connecting quality. I can usually pick a lapsed Catholic from several paces.

    Yes, I am on Face Book, but I'd need to invite you as a friend, for all sorts of complicated reasons. Tell me how I find you and I'll happily ask for the friendship.

    Reply
  24. Jane Kennedy Sutton
    January 14, 2010 at 1:42 am (8 years ago)

    I still have wonderous dreams of coming up with a truly original thought! By my way of thinking monsters aren't all bad so I'd say – keep knitting.

    Reply
  25. ρομπερτ
    January 14, 2010 at 2:15 am (8 years ago)

    As I can think much better while using pencil and paper I wrote me dissertation once with those and later into the computer, trying to understand what I wrote, as there were way too many footnotes, references back and forth, as paper allowed me much more space than the keyboard.
    And still am, as most of the writing I do on my site is first written with a pencil, somehow feels as if was done 'by my own hands'.
    Please have a nice Thursday.

    Reply
  26. Elisabeth
    January 15, 2010 at 1:38 am (8 years ago)

    Thanks Jane, for your encouragement. I shall keep on knitting and creating monsters. Think Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley: Frankenstein and Dracula. I could do worse.

    It's interesting that using pencil and paper allows you to feel as of the work is more your own than when you 'write' on the computer. I can understand this. there was a time when I imagined that I would only ever be able to write by hand but these days it is hard for me to value the handwriting.

    I now prefer the computer, but you're right, it might add to a sense of non-originality. Thanks, Robert.

    Reply

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