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At the Margin of Discourse: Footnotes in the Fictional Text

Shari Benstock
PMLA
Vol. 98, No. 2 (Mar., 1983), pp. 204-225
DOI: 10.2307/462046
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/462046
Page Count: 22
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At the Margin of Discourse: Footnotes in the Fictional Text
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Abstract

The referential and marginal features of footnotes serve different functions in criticism and literature: scholarly footnotes shore up the text by enclosing it and limiting its claims; in fiction, footnotes extend textual authority by enlarging the fictional context. Both inner- and outer-directed, these two kinds of notations display a self-conscious anxiety about the critical and creative acts they annotate. Scholarly notes mask this ambivalence by claiming extratextual authority; literary notes highlight the ambivalence by consciously dividing the text against itself. This essay examines the ways footnotes in Tom Jones, Tristram Shandy, and Finnegans Wake parody the notational convention and draw attention to the faulted authority of its discourse by flouting scholarly claims to objectivity and neutrality, by calling into question the relations of author and reader on textual grounds, and by using self-reflexive narrative methods to illustrate the rhetorical double bind that keeps all language at the margin of discourse.

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