i through xvii
Footnotes electrify me.i For ages, I skipped them. Averted my gaze from their insect-like presence, annoying but ignorable. “If the author has something important to say,” I thought, “why don’t they just write it up here?” And to the footnotes that simply offered a citation, a star on a roadmap of ideas claimed by humans, I simply said, “Fuck your intellectual property. I’ll read the bibliography.”
I can’t even remember the book I was reading that initiated me into the world of voracious footnote reading. The desire emerged out of curiosity—a page that consisted of half-text, half-footnote. The bulk of the footnote threatened to bust the text above it clear off the page. It was like an uprising. I read it, feeling suckered. I emerged a changed man. It told me the story within the story. It took me, the reader, up to the operating table, and pointed at the text, anesthetized and split open from stomach to sternum. The footnote inserted a bloody, gloved finger into the incision. “There,” it said, narrating structure and function of organs as they quivered and pulsed inside the body. Then it sutured up the slice, and sent me away with a wink. I knew I’d be back.
“Do not let footnotes become vehicles for additional comments of substance. If the point is important, it should be included in the body of the essay. If not, it should be excluded altogether.” ii
If this were true, I would still be skipping footnotes. As far as I’m concerned, footnotes are a creative act. And as with any creative act, failure is more common than success. Most footnoting is dry and hideous. The exception, though, are the footnotes that beg a photocopy at 150%, the ones have you licking the page.iii Terrible footnotes are like a free tourist map. They show you everything unexciting and stupid about where you are. They never show you the things they could, either because the mapmakers want to keep it secret, or they’re too ignorant to know that other routes are possible. Good footnotes are call and response, auto-conversations overheard by eavesdropping readers.
It’s easy for me to say. I come from this world of books and big words. This world imagines itself universal, but it is not. I have the white skin, the cash and the immersion in my family’s academic overachievement that reserve me a place inside it. I did not have to fight hard (as many do) to arrive there. This world unmade me, remade me, makes me now as I unmake and make myself with and against it. It’s with all of this in my pocket that I seethe at inaccessibility of theory and haughty intellectualism. I can say “FOOTNOTES FOR THE PEOPLE!” because I have already been comfortable with the footnote for the few. To the contrary, bell hooks has argued the point that for workingclass people, footnotes tend to indicate a book is “for college educated people,” and she generally avoids using them.iv The exclusivity of the footnote is built in—it’s a sign that says “welcome” for some, and “keep out” for others. I would like to think that we can wrench it from the domain of the oppressive and elite.v
The footnote may never know the universal.
If there is one thing we all must learn,vi it
is that nothing works for all of us simultaneously.
We must make our worlds big enough,
sturdy enough, to contain both variance and
conflict, and keep the capacity to remain
intact and connected in the midst of it all.
We’re all in this together. We’re doing different
kinds of things together. My footnote
and your crowbar. Your dance revolution and
my alien-gendered body. My diary and your
bullhorn. We share lungs and heart. Also,
my lungs and heart are my own.
R E F U S A L : I refuse to believe that we cannot first extract the promising before we shatter the oppressive.vii I refuse to be misunderstood. viii I refuse to believe that we will not triumph.ix I refuse to ignore the stories inside the stories we’re presented.x
I N T E N T I O N : I will continue to fight
tooth and nail: Community! Survival! Resistance!
xi We will learn from one another, find ways to build our community with one another.
xii It’s up to us to carve our way into
The footnote becomes unruly when we let
it occupy the center ring.xiv As troublemakers,
isn’t that what we’re going for? When
does unruly move from a devious wink to
an explosion that destroys much more than
we intended?xv Is to liberate the footnote
from the dreadful iron grasp of intellectual
elitism to pollute populism? Or is it to light
a fuse that may lead to a mighty charge?xvi
The footnote speaks, we listen. Is this what
we mean by revolution? Giving voice to the
footnotes, literal or figurative? xvii Allowing
footnotes to penetrate text, to spill over, to
sully the textual body, to split the surface?
What mess will result, what fluids will spill
over the page? The coming together of bodies
can be dubious or promising.xviii I am reluctant,
I am open, I am listening.
i Don’t be scared. Read on. I dare you.
ii University of New England, Academic Skills Offi ce. “Footnoting” http://www.une.edu.au/tlc/aso/pdf/bibfn.pdf
iii Lick this page now. I don’t care if I don’t deserve it yet. I want your spit on my words.
iv hooks, bell. “Keeping Close to Home: Class and Education,” in The Presence of Others. T 2nd ed. Andrea Lunsford and John J. Ruszkiewicz. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1997, p. 93.
v Take a pen. Scrawl across me, the text, the footnote, the implicated body. Do you lay claim to me? Tell me what you think, how you feel.
vi “We all must learn? ” Curse your ostentatious sincerity of vagueries.
vii I’m sorry, but this is impossible. Is it not?
viii I’m sorry. I don’t understand you, and I don’t understand why you write this. The story within the story, the tangent that will not be tethered is this: I discovered that being misunderstood is inevitable later than some and earlier than others. I was on a couch in San Francisco, age 26, bandaged from sex reassignment surgery in the form of bilateral mastectomy and chest reconstruction, and everyone in public was still calling me “she” without batting an eyelash. I was angry, not because they were wrong (though they were), but because my gender is never complete inside a pronoun. I got the sudden, sinking feeling as I took my Percocet, “I do not exist, I do not belong.” “Existence” and “belonging” are relative; I may be alien in my gendered body, but I exist and belong permanently in ways that privilege me. I found myself grateful for the knowledge that “existence” is not translatable to anyone in its entirety, and I continue to be furious at the fact that a sense of home, of existence, of comfort, and of belonging are dealt out selectively, along with hundred-dollar bills, owned homes, and privilege. I will be misunderstood. We will all be misunderstood. We fight back with articulation, with specifi city.
ix I might agree with you if and when you tell me what you mean by “we.”
x But what if those stories disrupt your own? Whose stories will you continue to ignore, and why?
xi The words are vessels left unfi lled. You tell me something and simultaneously tell me nothing. Your exclamatory vehemence leaves me hesitant to question content and specifi city when the sentiment is so pretty and compelling. And still, I raise my fi st as you exclaim.
xii You are a fucking daydreaming hippie. It’s not that it’s a bad idea—but tell me, WHOSE community?! Who counts, who is left out? Who decides, who is left without decision-making authority? Who speaks for “us” ? And which “us” do you mean? You speak of community like it is One. You have thousands. Of which do you speak? Which do you want to survive?
xiii Existence for whom? From whom do you require understanding and belonging? And to what extent?
xiv The spotlight feels warm—I can’t see the faces of the audience at all!
xv Text, I’m going to ask you something …
xvi Text, listen to me.
xvii Text, let me inside you.
xviii Can you feel me? I can feel you.