Some of My Best Friends Gloss

Sven Birkerts (again).

We can expect that curricula will be further streamlined, and difficult texts in the humanities will be pruned and glossed. One need only compare a college textbook from twenty years ago to its contemporary version. A poem by Milton, a play by Shakespeare — one can hardly find the text among the explanatory notes nowadays. Fewer and fewer people will be able to contend with so-called masterworks of literature or ideas.

Hmmm. Mr. Birkerts in this essay (“Into the Electronic Millennium”) in The Gutenberg Elegies equates the presence of a critical apparatus with a reader needing guidance and by implication that the lack of a critical apparatus with a reader or readers without need for guidance. Twenty years before his writing (1994) was also the era of Coles Notes still available 20 years after Birkerts’s book appeared. Evidently there are other factors at work in the proliferation of texts with notes. For one as costs of producing annotated editions goes down we get more of them.

Fear not the call for unadorned text has been heard.

Enter Exhibit A

A lightly annotated version of Robert Lowell’s “Skunk Hour” (you can turn the annotations off)

And so for day 1715

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