When I decided to write a book, one of the first things I thought was “I’ve got to have a bibliography.” Really, this wasn’t because I had any clear notion of why I should have one. It was a reflexive thing. Like not wearing sneakers to a formal dinner party, I had the distinct impression of an obligation to have references. Not satisfied (in this instance) with mere sense of obligation, I’ve been thinking a bit about why to do this kind of research for a book (and why I didn’t think I had to do it for the blog) while simultaneously putting the bibliography together.
The following is a little of my thinking about that subject, then I’ll show off how the bibliography is going (because I use mind maps for taking notes, and they look really cool).
So, as far as I can see, there are three reasons to have references. Two of them are good and important reasons. The third might be legitimate under certain circumstances, but isn’t strictly relevant to what written works are for.
First, you can have references because you are relying on another author. So, if I’m writing a book about the life of Elvis Presley, and I take one of his other biographer’s word for when he started doing his hip gyration thing, then I put in the reference so that my readers can look it up themselves and see how reliable it is, and therefore how reliable I can be. I’m saying “Hey, when it comes to hip gyration, my assertion is only as firm as this guy’s, because he’s the one I got it from.” This could also be true of arguments. I might begin with another author’s conclusions as my premises, again making my writing (at most) as firm as the other guy’s.
Second, you can have references because you have read that author to help you think about something. Now, this is the second strictly relevant reason to have references and, while it’s relevant, it isn’t strictly necessary. If I am writing directly about a subject (laying out my arguments, making reasonable observations, etc.) then my writing can be taken on its own merits. True and valid arguments appear true and valid to people who understand them, and it doesn’t matter who said them. (2 + 2 = 4 is just as true when Mussolini said it as when Mother Teresa did.) This means that, in terms of what the writing is saying, I don’t really have to give you any references. If I do, I’m telling you who helped me come up with my arguments, so that author can help you out too.
The third reason to have references is a lot closer to trying to be popular in high school. If I say, “Only someone who is well prepared has the opportunity to improvise,” someone might say “Oh, that’s an interesting idea.” But, if I say:
“Only someone who is well prepared has the opportunity to improvise.”
- Ingmar Bergman
Then someone will go “Oh, yes, how wise.” But, strictly speaking, the fact that Mr. Bergman said that does not make it more or less true than when I say it. I say strictly because, if you have reason to trust someone, then hearing that they said something is reason to believe what they said without having thought about it yourself. But, having a reason to trust a conclusion is not the same as the validity of the conclusion itself.
I hope to pick references for reasons one and two (mainly two). I intend the book to be “common-sensical” (if I may coin a term), meaning that the ideas in it should be accessible to everyone who thinks about them. The book is supposed to be an aid to thinking. I’ll try to avoid the temptation to look cool because of the peeps I mentally hang out with.
Thanks to an excellent tool called the Syntopicon, it is very easy to start putting together a bibliography. It’s also easy, when researching topics like “art” and “beauty”, to become overwhelmed by the sheer number of references and places to look. And the Syntopicon limits itself to the great works of the Western World. Can you imagine if I could find an index of the not-so-great works of the Western World, or the world in general? It might just break my heart.
So, I have plenty to help me think through the ideas underlying my book. It seems to me that the beginning of the book is going to have to be a general discussion of art and beauty (and their place in human life) in order to lay a proper foundation for the discussion of pop-cultural ideas and works.
I’m starting to collect resources from the Great Books of the Western World because they are a tried and true source, and I have access to them (a very generous gift from a friend). I’ve also had Mr. Coomaraswamy’s book “Christian and Oriental Philosophy of Art” recommended to me. Plenty to read, ‘should be a good time.
Here are some pictures of the Bibliography so far:
The first one (at the top of the article) just shows relevant sources according to the cross-references under “Beauty” in the Syntopicon. I almost certainly won’t fill out all the threads I have on there, but it seems they all have something to say about the relevant topics, so they go on the map.
The second one shows the fully expanded mind map. The crazy web up in the top corner is the relevant references to Beauty in Aristotle, again according to the Syntopicon, and the third is a close up of part of that section.
© 2014 John Hiner III