A plea to publishers

Ansai 2

I’d like to discuss in-text citations—yeah, funky, I know. I guess this issue has been subject to debate over the years, but (like Brexit) nothing seems to be happening.

I’ve just been admiring an excellent, well-argued book on Chinese folk culture. Having resigned myself to leaping the constant hurdles of parenthetical references, I finally lost it when, right in the middle of a purple passage, I was confronted with an indigestible mouthful:

Ansai1

That’s not just an Olympic hurdle, it might defeat even a motorbike jumper.

Sure, such references may be useful—in the form of notes (and between footnotes and endnotes, the latter make for a more readable text). But please, I really don’t want to choke on Ansaixian Weiyuanhui Wenshi Ziliao Yanjiu Weiyuanhui 1989! When forced to adopt in-text citations I sometimes give abbreviations (in this case, perhaps ASX 1989; in my latest book I often cite the Yanggao xianzhi as YG, though a more pedantic publisher might expect me to pepper the text with a longer citation).

There’s endless guidance about in-text citations, and I’m not going to address house-style here. But even short in-text citations are irritating. I know we’re used to it; often we just get in the habit of skipping over the parenthesis. If you’re interested in following up, then look at the note, FFS. Often the reader won’t be, in which case a parenthesis is seriously tedious.

And while I’m about it, even if we really want to limit our audience to sinologists, Chinese characters in the text are another distraction. Again, it suggests, “Look at me! I’m a sinologist!” Characters are useful; but assuming one gives them on first appearance, then it’s too much to expect us to try and search back for the characters a couple of hundred pages later. The place for characters is in a combined Glossary–Index.

Most authors are happy enough to get their research in print with a reputable publisher. They are helpless victims. But it’s galling that all their hard work in making their text more reader-friendly than their PhDs should be cancelled out by this fusty academic convention. Meanwhile academic publishers don’t care, as long as they fulfil quotas.

Thing is, as technology improves constantly, there’s hardly an economic argument to be made. Such issues are solveable—as long as publishers care whether their authors’ texts can reach out to a wider audience. It suggests that they simply don’t care if all their authors’ hard work is readable (“Hey, no-one’s gonna read this book anyway”); or perhaps that the very hallmark of academic excellence is to be unreadable. Yet distinguished works of detailed research published outside the narrow ghetto of academia provide notes, not in-text citations; and—surprise surprise—such books sell very well.

Academics seem to be getting mixed messages: even amidst all the modern pressures to “outreach”, academic publishing remains a bastion of obscurity. Scholarly prose is quite impenetrable enough already without these further obstacles.

Meanwhile on a blog like this, apart from the luxury of including colour photos and maps, while I do include some notes (and even some in-text citations), it’s a great feeling to be able to provide online links—like the way that de Selby footnotes increasingly take over the text of The third policeman.

Discuss…

My new business enterprise

If my Daoist ritual joke-book (example here) inexplicably fails to soar into the charts (other reviews here), hastening rather than subsidizing my retirement, I have a cunning backup plan—inspired by both Myles and Hašek’s The animal world.

At the entrance to the escalators on the London tube, one often finds a sign that may bemuse travellers, particularly hapless tourists:

Dogs must be carried on this escalator.

This has already been unpacked by generations of drôle pedants before me. The grammar of the sign is nicely explained here:

  1. All dogs should have a chance to go on this wonderful escalator ride
  2. This escalator is for dog-holders only
  3. You can’t carry your pet on the other escalators
  4. When riding with a pet, carry it.

None other than Terry Eagleton drew attention to this in his Literary theory: an introduction, along with classics like

Refuse to be put in this basket.

(YAY! No pigeonholing for me!) See also here.

So here’s my solution (©Stephen Jones 2017), a boon both to passengers and to my own modest bank-balance:

I am designing two booths, one at both ends of the escalator, where you can hire a dog of your choice (selection of breeds available to suit all moods) for the brief duration of the ride, in either direction, returning it as soon as you step off. At off-peak hours I can maintain a skeleton dog-team [fine use of hyphenEd.], with an elaborate Heath-Robinson-esque system of pulleys to whisk an animal speedily to whichever end the needy traveller awaits..

The cost of feeding and training the dogs will be slight compared to the handsome profits to be made from stranded passengers, and should keep me in Bombay Sapphire for years.

Ruin an Irish book in one letter

Following my glowing paean to the Great Man, as a belated tribute to the Flann O’Brien Society’s recent competition —and supplementing my efforts regarding Chinese and orchestral cliché (see also Myles tag)—I hereby submit my weighty ethnomusicological ethnography:

The catechism of Clichy: vocal liturgy in a Parisian suburb.

For further scholarly works that I haven’t really published, see here.

A Bach mondegreen

WAM musos tend to pick up a smattering of what Peter Cook called The Latin. So in the spirit of Myles, we may interpret the fifth movement of the B Minor Mass thus:

Algernon was starving and scared as the van carrying gravy mix called round. The incident has been immortalized in many a baroque Mass:

Ate, in terror, Paxo minibus

Actually, like Un petit d’un petit, that’s a soramimi, not a mondegreen. Cf. Gandhi in Mary Poppins (I know, the italics don’t really make that sound any better).

Anyway, from ridiculous to sublime—a flippant pretext to extol the glories of Bach:

 

Et in terra

Not a lot of people know that Bach had a dog called Potentia. Hence the movement in the Magnificat:

Fetch it, Potentiam!

You can follow this up with the mountweazel

The acme of ethnographic authority

If it’s proper language you’ll be wanting, by blessed chance I’ve just come across “The trade”, an early (1940) essay on pubs by Myles na gCopaleen that has found a respectable home in the fine anthology Great Irish reportage.

This is the ultimate insider’s account. Pubs were Myles’s office and his home—seldom can ethnographers have had such an in-depth knowledge of their chosen fieldsite. He shows great sensitivity to change in attire and interior design:

The result is a combination of utility (functional something-or-other architects call it), comfort and restraint—but no pints.

His poignant account manages to be both engaged and dispassionate. Just the opening paragraph is a too, er, deaf ‘orse—sorry, I mean tour de force (blame Keats and Chapman):

In the last ten years there has been a marked change in the decor of boozing in Dublin. The old-time pub was something in the nature of the Augean stable (it is true that Pegasus was often tethered there) with liberal lashings of sawdust and mopping-rags to prevent customers from perishing in their own spillings and spewing. No genuine Irishman could relax and feel at home in a pub unless he was sitting in deep gloom on a hard seat with a a very sad expression on his face, listening to the drone of bluebottle squadrons carrying out a raid on the yellow sandwich cheese. In those days a genuine social stigma attached to drinking. It was exclusively a male occupation and on that account (and apart from anything temperance advocates had to say) it could not be regarded as respectable by any reasonable woman. Demon rum was a pal of the kind one is ashamed to be seen with. Even moderate drinkers accepted themselves as genteel degenerates and could slink into a pub with as much feline hug-the-wall as any cirrhotic whiskey-addict, there to hide even from each other in dim secret snugs. A pub without a side-door up a lane would have been as well off as one with no door at all.

This calls for a song, or two

I don’t mean to go too far down the route of silly puns—there’s a wealth of other sites for that—but in the spirit of Keats and Chapman:

There’s this Englishman sharing a train compartment with two young guys from Sweden—Sven, and his friend Olf, who’s dressed in drainpipe trousers and brothel creepers.

After spitting on the floor and sneering at the English guy, Olf goes off to the buffet car to get a can of beer. After one swig he spews it up all over the compartment and lets out a torrent of foul abuse.
“What’s up with him?”, the Englishman asks Sven.
Sven bursts into song:

Rude Olf the Ted loathes train beer.

Oh well, I guess I have to do the old Mary Poppins one too:

Gandhi, with his hunched gait, walked barefoot, so that the soles of his feet became hard. With his frail form, he led a spiritual life, but his diet gave him bad breath. All of which made him (altogether now) a

Stoopy calloused fragile mystic, vexed by halitosis.