Sunday, July 11, 2010

Research and rescue

It is a well-spring of never ending fresh bubbling astonishment to me that every time I earnestly seek out the identification of some figure who gave their life, or neatly slice portion thereof, in service to public amusement of this country (Australia) during the 19th century, I am almost always confronted with a footnote whose seems to think it's job is to decorate the bottom of a page so the layout of the page does not get bored when it gazes down at it's feet while the reader pours across whatever passage said reader is fixed upon.

It usually happens like this: page 234, "Joshua Archibald Meatcakes then went on to the Bendigo goldfields where he performed with Herr. Schtumpschmaker (1814-1891) who played the violin. The footnote attached to the German fiddler will then say soemthing fo this nature:

"Herr. Mincefondle Von Schtumpschmaker (1814-1891) Native of Cologne. Studied the violin under Noodlepuddle in Leipzig"

Why am I being told this? What possible bearing does this coupling have upon Mr. Meatcakes? If there is a reason, why am I not shown it, or at least if not shown it, why am I not given a delicious detour regarding Schtumpschmaker. I don't mind being waylaid in a text if the scenery is nice and the information is engaging. Authors have lost, in fact, positively jettisoned the art of the anfractuous narrative with regard to biographies. Editors quake in their boot, wishing to confine the reader to just the subject and no more. Biographies are more than just railroads for facts and dates. They should be pleasant affairs infused with the vanilla of affection for the subject and the environment in which they find themselves such as Kurt Ganzl's hard bound affection on Willie B. Gill the broadway stalwart about whom most of us knew nothing.

A biography should be an astronomers map of not only planets, moons and orbits, but constellations, nodes, far-off stars and others comets of interest. It should be RICH. I research just this way and it takes me longer but the stuff that I find is richer. It is damaskene and gossip, fact and fondant. Yummy.

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