… one of the brilliant inventions of the paper bureaucracy was the idea of the margin. The margin is a place on a paper form, which is designed for writing things down that are outside, both physically and conceptually, the form that “the system” expects. The thing about the margin is that it is connected to the form in such a way that the form carries the stuff that goes beyond the form along with the form.
Austin Henderson, quoted in chapter 4 of Software Design & Usability (Klaus Kaasgaard): ‘Beyond Formalisms: The Art and Science of Designing Pliant Systems’.
Link via David Smith
Literary historians get excited about the margins from writers’ own book collections – and rightly so. Geoff Dyer is surely right that the most interesting critics are writers themselves:
On the other hand, it’s really, really exciting reading what other writers have said about Lawrence. It seems to me as well, that is the kind of thing which would encourage people when they have left university to go on to be writers as opposed to going on to be academics.
It’s part of GD’s wider criticisms of academia, which reach a frothy rant in Out of Sheer Rage:
Walk around a university campus and there is an almost palpable smell of death about the place because academics are busy killing everything they touch.
Some of the most poignant (and famous) marginalia are Sylvia Plath‘s on her copy of The Great Gatsby. They range from the banal (‘good’) to the majestic. When Nick leaves the Buchanan house, passing Gatsby in the driveway, Plath underlined the final sentence in the chapter (“So I walked away and left him standing there in the moonlight watching over nothing”), and wrote in the margin:
knight waiting outside dragon goes to bed with princess
A melancholy comment.