Look It Up? Provided that You’re Dishonest and Ignorant.

A Bookish Journey From Medieval Manuscripts to the Digital Age
By Dennis Duncan

During the last quarter-century, the ebook as bodily organism has been more and more anatomized, and there was no higher medium for displaying anatomists’ findings than the ebook itself. As they illuminate long-overlooked corners of bibliography, volumes like Anthony Grafton’s “The Footnote” and H. J. Jackson’s “Marginalia”have charted the contrapuntal dance amongst author, writer, reader and materials object.

Take into account, for instance, the 2019 anthology “E book Elements,” edited by Dennis Duncan and Adam Smyth. Its desk of contents contains, satisfyingly, “Tables of Contents,” together with “Mud Jackets,” “Frontispieces” and “Indexes” — a chapter by Duncan himself. Now, Duncan, a lecturer in English at College School London, has expanded that chapter into the erudite, eminently readable and wittily titled “Index, A Historical past of the.” Fittingly, the ebook comes geared up with not one however two official indexes — one stellar, the opposite unabashedly much less so — in addition to a 3rd and maybe even a fourth. (Extra on Indexes: Duncan’s multiplicity of, beneath.)

An index, Duncan explains, is just a map: a set of signposts pointing to — indicating — the place to seek out what within the textual content’s huge terrain. This map has three constituent elements: rubrics (usually topics or private names); locaters (usually web page numbers, at the very least earlier than the e-reader period); and an inside ordering precept (normally alphabetical).

From its inception, the index has offered a window onto the historical past of the ebook, for it took the appearance of a specific kind of ebook — the codex, a sheaf of pages fixed alongside one edge — to make an index a sensible chance. The progenitor of the trendy sure ebook, the codex regularly supplanted the scroll, a medium inimical to the indexer’s artwork. (An index during which each entry runs alongside the traces of “Socrates, dying of: Take down eleventh scroll from set of 12, unroll 37 inches and run a clear finger — perchance an index finger — 21 traces down the right-hand edge” will in brief order outbulk the textual content itself.)

The doc that at this time’s readers would acknowledge as an index arose concurrently in Oxford and Paris within the thirteenth century, a consequence of the voluminous studying practiced in two newly shaped establishments: the schools and the mendicant orders of Franciscan and Dominican friars. With a lot studying, Duncan says, got here the corresponding want “for the contents of books to be divisible, discrete, extractable items of data.”

Within the mid-Fifteenth century, the mass manufacturing born of Gutenberg’s press started to make the index a daily function of the sure ebook. However its very ubiquity — and really utility — would make it an mental flash level. “Because the index turns into extra prevalent,” Duncan writes, “so too does the possibility that readers will use it first. Reasonably than an aide-mémoire the index is likely to be used as the best way right into a ebook.”

That, by some students’ lights, was a sacrilege. The Sixteenth-century Swiss bibliographer Conrad Gessner, a meticulous indexer of his personal work, admonished:

“Due to the carelessness of some who rely solely on the indexes … the standard of these books is on no account being impaired … as a result of they’ve been misused by ignorant or dishonest males.” (Gessner’s anxiousness, Duncan factors out, prefigures by half a millennium trendy fears that the seduction of on the spot Google searches is polluting readers’ colleges for immersive engagement.)

In the long run, comfort trumped peril, and the index endured. By the Victorian period, compilers had realized that indexes may very well be way over mere discovering aids — specifically, as Duncan deliciously exhibits, they made splendid automobiles for settling scores.

Edward Augustus Freeman is greatest remembered at this time for 2 issues: his ardent views on Aryan racial supremacy and being the father-in-law of the English archaeologist Sir Arthur Evans, excavator of the Palace of Minos at Knossos. Based on his fellow historian John Horace Spherical, nonetheless — or, extra exactly, to an immense entry within the index of Spherical’s 1895 ebook “Feudal England” — he must also be remembered thus:

“Freeman, Professor: … his ‘details’ … his pedantry … misconstrues his Latin … his confused views … his particular weak spot … his wild dream … distorts feudalism. …” The entry concludes with a powerful slap of a subhead: “necessity of criticizing his work.”

A small slap of my very own: In a ebook as elegantly dedicated to literacy as Duncan’s, it will be nice if the grammatical infelicities that evenly pepper the textual content (“no such character introduced themselves,” “which anybody of their proper thoughts would wish to keep away from”) had been buffed away. That is — or ought to have been — the lookout of the copy editor, an important cog within the equipment that mediates between writer and reader.

It may need made for a richer quantity, too, if Duncan had included a therapy of index-making as a basically cognitive enterprise — an concept he flirts with in discussions of indexing taxonomy however doesn’t absolutely discover. The method of indexing — entailing sample recognition, hierarchical ordering selections and a eager really feel for semantics — has a lot to inform us about what the linguist George Lakoff has referred to as “a central objective of cognitive science.” (This objection, nonetheless, could also be not more than a manifestation of “Criticism: reviewers’ pipe goals triggered by private biases of.”)

As for the index — or indexes — to “Index,” the first one, by Paula Clarke Bain, is as rigorous as a nonfiction ebook’s must be, and as enchanting because the index to a ebook about indexes had higher be. Teeming with gleeful, self-referential Easter eggs worthy of Borges or Lewis Carroll, it must be savored in full as dessert — or, if you’re prepared to be branded ignorant or dishonest, an aperitif. To wit:

“Round cross-references see cross-references: round,” “cross-references: round see round cross-references,” …“indexers: human superiority; veneration of [and quite right too]” and the unimpeachably informative “X, no entries starting with.”

When you retain the slightest doubt about “indexers: human superiority,” then please flip to the ebook’s illustrative secondary index — leaden, lumbering and generated by a industrial software program program. In an act of editorial mercy, Duncan has reproduced it solely partway by means of the A’s.

A 3rd index lies hiding in plain sight between the traces of Bain’s: a de facto index to her personal index. As demonically pleasant because the bigger map to which it serves as a information, it lures readers by means of her textual content by way of a rating of entries that work like a mad Carrollian snark hunt:

“Bootless errand see idiot’s errand,” “idiot’s errand see fruitless endeavor,” “fruitless endeavor see hopeless quest,” “hopeless quest see misplaced trigger,” “misplaced trigger see merry dance,” and merrily onward.

There’s, I believe, a fourth index in play, and it, too, is covert. I confess that I found it in a flash of irritation, as I started to notice dozens of examples of the form of authorial harrumphing (“and so we come, finally,” “allow us to pause to contemplate”) that shortly courts self-parody.

And but … Spun collectively, these declarations type an Ariadne’s thread by means of the Knossian labyrinth — a steganographic index all its personal. (Steganography see writing: hidden.) As erected by Duncan, this set of considerate rhetorical signposts ushers the reader easily, even soothingly, alongside an interesting, immensely pleasurable journey by means of beforehand uncharted terrain.

https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/15/books/assessment/index-a-history-of-the-dennis-duncan.html Look It Up? Provided that You’re Dishonest and Ignorant.

Fry Electronics Team

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