On footnotes

[T]he abundance, as well as the stylistic and philosophical quality, of the footnotes to [Theodor Adorno’s] Philosophie der neuen Musik is itself “no accident” and has symptomatic value. The footnote in this context may indeed be thought of as a small but autonomous form, with its own inner laws and conventions and its own determinate relationship to the larger form which governs it—something on the order of the moral of a fable or the various types of digressions which flourished within the nineteenth century novel. In the present instance, the footnote as a lyrical form allows Adorno a momentary release from the inexorable logic of the material under study in the main text, permitting him to shift to other dimensions, to the infrastructure as well as to the wider horizons of historical speculation. The very limits of the footnote (it must be short, it must be complete) allow the release of intellectual energies, in that they serve as a check on a speculative tendency that might otherwise run wild, on what we will later describe as the proliferation of “theories of history.” The footnote as such, therefore, designates a moment in which systematic philosophizing and the empirical study of concrete phenomena are both false in themselves; in which living thought, squeezed out from between them, pursues its fitful existence in the small print at the bottom of the page.
—Frederic Jameson, Marxism and Form, 9 (footnote)
My brain has been on vacation the last few days, I guess. I was going to offer this quote bare, so that you could agree or disagree or be made a bit queasy by it or whatever. But I had this half-thought. If we think of "the inexorable logic of the material" as forming a one-dimensional train track of thought -- and anyone reading this can think of examples and strategies and conceptual reinterpretations that encourage us to disagree -- but if we support a one-dimensional sense of a "main text", then footnotes allow this text to develop a second dimension. If the train comes to a fork in the road, it knows its chugging along in two-dimensional space. But if the footnote needs to be "complete", then perhaps this branch loops around, or dead-ends. Does this need to be read as two-dimensional, then, or can we suggest that it is fractal, somewhere between one and two dimensions -- until the footnote itself branches off, until the nodes form something like a grid? Of course, that moment of stepping out of one-dimensional space is exciting (think Flatland) and feels like suddenly "living thought". But we knew that, right? So much poetry strives to turn the one-dimensional railroaded experience of reading or listening, done through the resolutely single dimension of time, into the explosion of dimensions that we perhaps suspect our inner lives exist in. Here I want to say something like: Poets don't suffer from dementia, but dimension. And duck, and run off the stage.



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