Thursday, February 07, 2008

Citations That Annoy

I confess I am utterly baffled and annoyed by citations that lead me astray. This afternoon I received two works by interlibrary loan (one physical, one electronic), whose sole utility for me was that I wanted to see the originals that my sources had cited.
The electronic file, while I admit I was excited to get (I had not managed to get the book in Prague) was, first off, apparently scanned from a photocopy, or with some really peculiar setting on the scanner that rendered the print abnormally pale. But I can live with that. Secondly, either the photocopy or the original book had its page numbers chopped off, so there was no easy way of determining what page anything was. This is, I might point out, a weird but not uncommon problem with Czech books and periodicals; for reasons unknown to me, when they were bound for the library the bindery seemed to take sadistic glee in cutting off the margins so that the page numbers and perhaps some of the text is entirely missing. In this case, however, I was able to ascertain that the portion I wanted began (said the table of contents) on page 69. My source, however, claimed that the information was on pages 63-64, which was not possible. As I was not seeking a specific quotation but a whole range of ideas, and had many other things to do, I soon concluded that reading through a fair number of pages in very faint Czech in order to say that I personally had seen them was not worth my time, so I let the original citation stand in its incorrectness (not being, I feel sure, wholly incorrect but merely a few pages off). This pained me but once in awhile I do sacrifice my principles, at least on subsidiary points such as this happened to be. Someone else can follow my source and track down which page she really meant.
I then turned to the other item. My source here (a different author) claimed that a quotation existed on page 257. I rapidly discovered that the book did not have that many pages. It did not even have 157. Nor was the quote to be found on page 57. In this case, as the book was very short and the print was very legible, not to mention in English, I started flipping through it page by page. I was about to conclude that my source was inventing the quotation out of thin air when I discovered it, in a slightly different form, on page 109. As it happens, there is text surrounding it that is even more germane to my purposes. This is why we look these things up.
Otherwise, life continues in its usual path. My advisor is now in possession of chapters 5, 6, and 7, and has suggested that I gather some hardy souls to give me a fake job interview so that any stupidities I might want to utter will be rooted out. I have also prevailed upon another member of the faculty (who has also agreed to pretend to be an especially dimwitted interviewer who will ask me questions of grotesque stupidity and nastiness) to go over my French translations. We amused ourselves with this at dinner last night and I am now confident that if any of my translations from French are clumsy in style, it is because they were that way in the original.
I do not, in fact, presently have any job interviews lined up, but everyone assures me that this is normal and means that the places to which I have applied have not finished going through the applications.

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