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Organizing Knowledge

  • Date Submitted: 01/28/2010 08:26 AM
  • Flesch-Kincaid Score: 39.1 
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Anthony Grafton and Bruno Latour may be considered as people of knowledge and education. They both were engaged in the process of knowledge acquiring and transforming it into their own ideas and new horizons of thought. For most aficionados, Princeton historian Anthony Grafton put the bon mot in play a few years ago in his elegant The Footnote: A Curious History (Harvard University Press). Now, however, in The Devil’s Details: A History of Footnotes (Invisible Cities Press), former Amherst College dean Chuck Zerby, in his odd doppelgänger to Grafton’s volume, merely credits Grafton with reusing the line while stating (see backhanded compliment at Zerby footnote No. 31), “Grafton indicated that three other scholars have used the quip.” That is, before Zerby made it four (and your writer made it five). (1)

But can we trust Zerby? His initial footnote to Grafton’s book, on Page 13, gives the publication date as 1999. By Page 55, the date reverts to 1997 (the correct year), where it remains in subsequent citations. Is this the Devil teaching Zerby manners, befouling his own Grafton footnote as punishment for the author’s daring, as a mere freelancer, to zap our leading footnote-ologist? Another Zerby aside, commenting on a purportedly inadequate Grafton citation (“Grafton’s annotation is not as fulsome [sic] as one might wish”), suggests that less preternatural causes, like carelessness, prompt Zerby’s error. But this aggressive proponent of a footrace within the historiography of the footnote does remind us that Grafton’s own crediting of the remark under whelms. The eminent Renaissance scholar points readers to a 1976 book, Cole Lesley’s Remembered Laughter: The Life of Noel Coward, in which Coward “attributed a stronger version of the remark to John Barrymore.” (3) Any chance Barrymore stole it from Edwin Forrest?

Grafton begins his search with what prove to be two...

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