Tuesday, 30 June 2009

The art of citation

Recently I was talking with some friends about the problem of citation in contemporary theological writing. We bemoaned the disturbing rise of block-quotes in much current writing: the tendency merely to cite large chunks of (presumably transparent and authoritative) text, instead of trying always to speak in one’s own voice, while reserving the apposite citation for particular strategic purposes.

Anyway, Leland de la Durantaye’s excellent new book on Agamben includes a discussion of Agamben’s notion of “the art of citing without quotation marks” – an idea derived from Walter Benjamin. Durantaye writes (pp. 145-46):

“Benjamin had a singular relation to citation. He once wrote that the ‘craft of the critic’ required a ‘theory of critical citation’…. In his One-Way Street, he informed his readers that ‘citations in my work are like armed thieves who emerge suddenly and rob leisurely strollers of their convictions.’ He thus uses citations strategically; they are part of the guerilla warfare he wages against the preconceived notions of his reader…. To cite without quotation marks is to offer the idea without the imprimatur of an author or authority. This requires of the idea that it stand or fall on its own merits and not find automatic support from its lineage. Elsewhere in The Arcades Project, Benjamin compares citational footnotes to bills slipped under the garters of women for hire. His sensitivity to the less reputable sides of citation was particularly keen.”

18 Comments:

Stephen C. Carlson said...

Interesting use of the block quotation from Durantaye.

saint egregious said...

"Elsewhere in The Arcades Project, Benjamin compares citational footnotes to bills slipped under the garters of women for hire."

Tell that to my dissertation committee. I'm lapdancing for Jesus!

Anonymous said...

Interesting use of block quotation to question the use of block quotations.

TW said...

the greatest blockquote ever is theoblogging.

Ben Myers said...

Yes, the irony hadn't escaped me...

Jane said...

thanks Ben - I'm a great lover of Walter BEnjamin - he brought me and my husband together about 40 years after his death!

Adam Kotsko said...

Does Agamben really follow this procedure? It often seems like he's in such a hurry to attach an idea to a clever rereading of an established figure that he winds up misconstruing what the figure is actually saying.

Mike Bull said...

Good point, but surely we should give credit where it's due?

Erin said...

While I love the point, I must add that my professors marked down papers which did not quote profusely, almost regardless of the ideas presented in a paper. Papers of fair quality that made no real point but with liberal quotations scored higher overall in my experience. I'm sure the situated landmarks of another's text make correcting easier.

just saying...

Joseph said...

This is convenient. Regardless of what one thinks of such theories, the practice is wholly indistinguishable from plagiarism.

"Hey, I found uncited citations in your paper."

"Eh, so, my guerrilla warfare against authority has succeeded."

Convenient; it also completes ignores the fact that authority matters, even if its abused, and, besides authority, citations do a lot of other usethings, like give credit for words that are our own, for example.

Geoffrey said...

ben, good post. and good comments. Along with what has already been said, it seems that writing for professors is one thing (where you have to prove that you have mastered the source), and writing for a journal or the public is another where you have to rely on your own voice and make an original argument.

but what is the use of citation when you are not engaged in a guerrilla re-reading of the tradition, but are writing with a tradition in new movements? Why must writing be so subversive?

dbarber said...

I've posted on this matter at http://itself.wordpress.com/2009/07/01/the-sincerest-form/

michael jensen said...

Oliver O'Donovan is dead against 'em, I suspect because over-quotation and over-citation is such an American thing! But it does tend to get in the way of actual thought.

James K.A. Smith said...

Where'd Barber's "Sincerest Form" go?

Adam Kotsko said...

It went to a nice farm, where it can run and play.

James K.A. Smith said...

Oh, I'm sure it will be happier there.

dbarber said...

For reasons of prudence, I thought it best to keep it in reserve, for now.

Ted Michael Morgan said...

I like blocks and long quotations. I have never considered them negatively. Until I read this piece on your blog, I did not know that anyone did think of them negatively. A long quotation provides framing and background. Blocking defines it as something other than the point-of-view of the one making the quotation.

I reread a book by Samuel Miller a few weeks ago. He blended his quoted material into the body of his work without quotation marks but with reference to the name of author to whose he borrowed. I found that mode annoying even though Miller was a careful writer and was not stealing from others.

I think of this in terms of French and German styles of writing. The German writer often provides immense background for his ideas while the French writer often simply blends immense allusion to the background for his expositions.

I love footnotes. That is another story. When I read a work, I often begin by reading the footnotes. Then I read the blocked sections before I read the main text. I began doing that sort of reading decades ago. I don’t think it is a bad way to read.

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