gentle rereader

. . . rediscovering Jacques Barzun

“The Advantages of Inconsistency”

Patient followers of this gentle rereader know that the selected bibliography prepared by Virginia Xanthos Faggi for From Parnassus: Essays in Honor of Jacques Barzun (1976) provides the framework for my updated database.  The festschrift given to Jacques Barzun upon his retirement from Columbia is not the only bibliographic resource available in print.  JB’s writings on Teaching & Learning, in particular, have a supplement in Appendix D of The American University:  “A Check List of Writings and Speeches by Jacques Barzun on Educational Subjects, 1926–1967”.

Some of those publications are not listed in From Parnassus.  One such is “The Advantages of Inconsistency”, a presentation Barzun gave to The Foundations Group on 28 September 1961.  Unfortunately, that intriguing title has left no trace at the Ford Foundation where librarians have found neither recording nor transcript.  In an amusing 2003 postscript to private correspondence Jacques said the speech was “utterly forgotten.  Sounds interesting— wish I knew what they were.”  I have yet to discover those advantages in the Barzun Papers at Columbia, but since I have need of them I will keep on looking.

Perhaps you’ve spotted inconsistencies already.  Take Barzun’s postscript just quoted as an example.  Is that an en-dash or an em-dash after the word “interesting”?  In either case the spacing must be a mistake, right?  I agree, but since that’s how it appears in Barzun’s letter, I’ve left it that way.  I prefer the en-dash with a space on either side, mainly because it’s less likely to result in end-of-the-line “wrapping” distractions or confusion with hyphens in later transcriptions.  Over the years Barzun’s printed words have contained both types of dashes.  Publishers’ house rules must have determined which kind would be used for certain articles.  In all cases, I will do my best to preserve Barzun’s text as it appears in the original, or provide notice of alterations.

The first page – though not the first post – made for a Barzun bibliography item on this website contains an example.  The original Columbia Varsity article’s capitalized title includes the word “TEXT-BOOKS” with a hyphen.  I removed the hyphen and all but the first capital to conform with the Barzun bibliographies mentioned above.  Since we all presumably smiled when Barzun promised at the outset of From Dawn to Decadence “only a touch of pedantry here and there to show that I understand modern tastes”, you must know that a niggling exactitude is not my aim.  I want to reassure the reader that what appear to American eyes as mistakes (or mere “typos” as we too easily excuse them) reflect guiding principles laid down by the gentle rereader’s editor – himself.

Some violations of his “rules” are no doubt unavoidable.  Those with photographic memories have noted already that the pedantry quotation ends with a period in the original.  Yet because I’ve wedged it into the middle of a sentence leaving the period in place would be confusing.  That also begins to explain, I hope, my hoary use of a comma outside the quotation marks when the passage quoted has none at that point.  The old American (and still current English) practice is more often clearer.  It will drive the “smart quotes” feature to distraction, no doubt, but I hope the gentle reader will forgive the code.

Since a bibliographer earns trust by way of accuracy, I strive to get the details right.  I will be obliged, however, to any reader who points out what may well be a mistake.  Since I moderate the comments to this website, you can address them without worrying that you’ll look like a pedant yourself; just ask that your question or suggestion not be published and I’ll make the correction without any fuss.  You will have won my gratitude.

I know that when I publish a new post those who “follow” this website receive an email notification.  It may not work the same way with publishing pages, where the details of available bibliography items appear.  I hope so.  Since Barzun’s bibliography contains over 2,000 items it could be an inbox nuisance to receive an email every time I add another page.  I considered taking this website down until all the bibliography entries and pages were made, but decided to simply begin construction, post this warning, and let passersby watch as I build.  Our New Yorker’s skyscraper (pace Frenchmen and Texans) has a bedrock foundation.

Speaking plainly, the list of items for the various Parts can grow quite long, as is the case with Part VI C, articles in Cultural Criticism, with over 700 entries.  That’s a lot of scrolling.  To make matters somewhat easier, the list for each Part appears in reverse chronological order.  JB’s first writings form the foundation for each Part, with later publications stacked above.  That way anyone who wants to occasionally check progress will find the latest entries right on top and will have no need to scroll down through a long list of items already seen.

May I embrace one last inconsistency, at least for the time being?  The article linked below is not Jacques Barzun’s first article for Varsity.  As soon as I see copies of earlier and later articles – in any publication – I’ll slide more entries in where they belong chronologically.  Thank you again for your patience, and assistance as you see fit to offer it.

Without further ado, allow me to present the first page of Jacques Barzun’s updated and expanded bibliography:

“Textbooks and Tediousness”

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2 thoughts on ““The Advantages of Inconsistency”

  1. On behalf of your loyal followers, please do not fret about filling our inboxes. I get a tingle of excitement everytime you post and save the emails until I am able to sit and focus on your entries. If anything, please work faster and post more! There’s at least a couple thousand books, articles, speeches, and asides to which you haven’t introduced us yet.

Responses welcomed. Courtesy appreciated.

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