Sunday, June 25, 2017

Dennis Duncan in a wonderful article on "the weaponized index"

William King, Times literary supplement
"The fashion for satirical indexes had begun in 1698, when the poet and lawyer William King contributed a four-page table to the second edition of Charles Boyle's attack on the King's Librarian, Richard Bentley.  King's index, inserted at the back of the book, was entitled 'A Short Account of Dr. Bentley by Way of Index', and sure enough, each of the headwords relates to some aspect of Bentley's low character:  his 'egregious dullness, p. 74, 106, 119, 135, 136, 137, 241', for example, his 'familiar acquaintance with Books that he never saw, p. 76, 98, 115, 232', or his 'Pedantry, from p. 93 to 99, 144, 216'.
     "King's index is a rather wonderful twofold attack on Bentley—as Isaac Disraeli once put it, it is 'at once a satirical character of the great critic, and what it professes to be'.  Thus, part of the fun is that those page references are real ones. . . .  At the same time, the 'Short Account' is also a covert attack on Bentley for being an 'index-scholar', a pedant whose scholarship is based on 'alphabetical learning'—looking things up in tables—rather than a real affinity with the works of the ancients."

     Dennis Duncan, "Hoggs that Sh—te Soap, p. 66," Times literary supplement no. (January 15, 2016):  14 (14-15).  Duncan goes on to talk about indexes prepared for the books of the targets themselves, "a new method for satirically attacking the publications of one's political enemies", as, for example, in the case of this index, directed against a work of the young Addison:
Uncultivated Plants rise naturally about Cassis (Where do they not?), p. 1 
The Author has not yet seen any Gardens in Italy worth taking notice of.  No matter, p. 59
And, in the Preface to its second edition,
[This Table] is not indeed of the same bulk with some Dutch Lexicons and Glossaries, but I do not however despair of its finding a place, (as it is an Index) in the most Letter'd, Renowned and Humane Dr. Bentley's Library.
     Now, see, here I, too, a "reference librarian" and therefore an eminent practitioner of the shady art and superficial collecting practices of Dr. Bentley, have turned yet again to "'Common-placing and Indexing'" (15), in this case of an article on "Common-placing and Indexing" as a satirical practice directed against commonplacers, indexers, and all those who rely unduly on works of reference as a way of pretending to more learning than they actually have.

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