Monday, June 22, 2009

Useless Footnotes II, or I Don't Care Where Chu-shih is

Last week I started complaining about how the footnotes in a book of Chinese poetry that I read really didn't provide helpful information. You did get more facts but they didn't serve any reasonable purpose for a reader. For instance, this geographical reference: the west gate of Chu-shih*

*A Han dynasty term, referring to the area around the eastern part of T'ien-shan, modern Dzungario, and Turfan.

It's possible that, if my geographical knowledge of China was stronger, I would know where these provinces are. Perhaps most readers of this book do know where those provinces are. But, because the poems have been translated from the Chinese, one of the things that we can assume about the audience for this book is that they don't read Chinese. This doesn't imply that these non-Chinese-reading readers won't know a great many other things about China--including the location of Turfan--but it seems likely that they won't..

But even if I did know where Turfan is, who cares? How does this geographical information help me understand the poem better? Are there associations with these areas that a Chinese reader would have and that would enrich the meaning of the word? If so, why not share those associations with me (i.e. is this the equivalent of saying "He was sent to Siberia")? If there are no associations, how do the editors feel that I am better off with the geographical information?

I do recognize that it's possible that I'm just the wrong audience for this book and the intended audience would know what is associated with Turfan (but I doubt it).

My absolute favorite, though, is this footnote:

The coir nuts*....

* Kuang-chieh, or Arenga saccharifera

Well, I'm glad that we cleared that up.

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