Some Marginal Thoughts on Annotation (Leah Christman)

I have never annotated. At the very least, I have never done it without being forced to do so; whether it be marking up a Xerox-copied installment of Great Expectations upon which a grade relies, or tediously pouring over a tired edition of Morrison’s Song of Solomon to mark motifs in AP English, this practice has always been something to dread.

For someone who regularly wishes to shut their brain off due to the constant and exhausting mass of whirling thoughts, this might seem odd. Is annotation not supposed to act as a release for the overwhelmed mind? A means of putting thoughts and responses down on paper, for the sake of perceived dialogue between the author, the self, or some future person? While I can see the idea posed in these queries, to me, annotating has always seemed an extra, unnecessary step. The author writes a work so their thoughts may be absorbed by another mind. I read, react (sometimes visibly), mull it over for moments, days, or weeks, and wait for the opportunity to discuss with someone in real time. In fact, I often beg my friends to read things with me, so that I may talk with them about it, teasing out mysteries and sharing reactions together. In-the-moment, face-to-face dialogue is that which is most cathartic to me: seeing and hearing how others react to thoughts of other people, and observing how that influences their own world view, provides the biggest thrill.

To put my thoughts in margins is, in my eyes, to marginalize them. What I want is to take my thoughts, that have been influenced by the insights of an author, and turn them into something new through others and the practices they themselves adopt through their world outlook. This seems far more effective, and meaningful, to the legacy of the author’s thoughts, and those thoughts of future, readers, than a few physical scribbles pushed to the side of text on a page.

To put these thoughts digitally seems to have even less meaning. Sure, it opens up more space for more ideas, which may change a future reader’s perception of a text. But it almost seems like interrupting an author right in the middle of a point: to say instead, “Wait! Hold everything. Readers must hear what I think before they proceed with this author and make up their own mind”. The impatience implied here is a bit frustrating, as it gives no one time to process anything in the way it is supposed to be processed, disrupting my own mental flow and that of others. Discussing in real time gives thoughts room to breathe, as well as an increased ability to make a change in some way.

These, of course, are only my opinions. Having no right to judge the practices of others, I am willing to be swayed. After all, the whole point of reading and having a dialogue is to open one’s mind. As such, I am open to having a change of heart regarding the realm of annotation.

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