Marginalia takes many forms: this much is obvious. From a single careless scribble to rows and rows of tightly spaced notes; from a loose arrow to a swarm of additional diagrams; from a stray question mark to a multi-paged attack on the original author: marginalia knows no single method. It cares not for categories. It does even keep itself in the margins, creeping oft into the text itself: under, above and even on top of lines. Marginalists know no bounds. Sheets have been added; pages have been taken away. Pencil, ink, paint, sand, glue, tar, feathers, blood and beer: they’ve all found their way into ‘the margins’.
The greatest examples of marginalia represent something more than a simple addition to – or defacement of – the original text. They constitute the birth of a whole new text. In most cases this is an obvious improvement on the original. Marginalists owe their forbears a lot – one cannot deny this – but to cast them in the role of shameless dependents is, I think, wrong-headed. In the hands of a master, marginalia is a magnificent art form. Great things may yet happen in the margins.
The lack of accessible margins in electronic books worries many – and well it might. Where are we without our blessed margins? Dispel your fear: the margins will return, in one form or another. Consider the humble blog, with its comments corner. This is, it seems to me, a margin of sorts, albeit a very public one (which adds, of course, another intriguing dimension). It cries to readers: come scribble in me! Leave your meandering thoughts here! Unload your mindless ideas at the foot of my table! Piss around my post!
Thus is the web a mecca for marginalia…