Adam Roberts at The Valve is having fun with the marginal notes found in a copy of Caesar’s Gallic Wars. A sample:
…it is copiously annotated with the blue-ink marginalia of a previous owner of the book: a strong hand, indicative, I feel, of a forceful individuality. Speaking generally I love reading the annotation of previous readers in the second hand books I buy; any number of insights could be contained in the scribbles. And these marginalia are very nice.
A couple of the comments are nicely fatuous. For example: Caesar begins his account, as every schoolchild knows, with the statement that all Gaul is divided into three parts. This, together with ‘veni, vidi, vici’, is surely the most famous thing Caesar ever said. The Loeb left hand page gives us ‘Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres’. The right hand page gives us ‘Gaul is a whole divided into three parts.’ Above this my annotator has written, in large and forceful letters:
Gaul ÷ 3 parts
Why on earth would he need such an aide memoire? Is he, like, an idiot, that he could read ‘Gaul is a whole divided into three parts’ and ‘Gallia est omnis divisa in partes tres’ and then put the book down thinking, ‘right, Gaul. That was an eleven-part division of … um…’
I have to admit I was wondering the other day what sense a future reader might make of some of my marginalia – which are often filled, not with notes on what I’m actually reading (although that occasionally figures, as well) but with things like notes on the ambient conversations occurring around me as I read, or my own free associations about other things I’m writing or plan to write.
God knows what someone would do with the marginalia on Phenomenology, for example, which have occasional marginal comments designed to help me find particular passages quickly, when I expect I’ll want to quote them in writing – I suspect some of these notes would probably look every bit as inane as the “Gaul ÷ 3 parts” annotation mentioned above, as they are actually intended to mark passages that make good sound bites, rather than interpreting a passage difficult to understand. Far more extensive, however, will be notes on fragments of conversations I want to remember (which, given my experiences reading Hegel recently, get pretty racy in places… I’ll wager you that no one else’s notes on Hegel contain the comment: “You make me feel like a natural woman!!!” And I shudder to think what interpretation my hypothetical marginalia voyeur might make of such a comment…), or dot points related to other things I’m writing or planning to write (I love the thought of someone trying to make sense of how these dot points relate to Hegel’s text: they do look like they’re meant to summarise an argument – but it ain’t Hegel’s argument…). The cumulative effect, I suspect, would make me look quite insane. Then again, I shouldn’t worry about this, as I apparently look insane anyway…