I was a TA in the English department in college, and most of my efforts were devoted to correcting grammar, punctuation, and citation style for freshman comp, with the professor providing the actual overall grade. After several years of this, I came to be regarded as the foremost authority on documentation styles on campus — for instance, when the department chair called my citations into question on my honors thesis, literally everyone else in the room said I couldn’t have gotten it wrong. That was a proud moment, akin to when the office manager at the chiropractor’s office where I worked after graduated told me that I was the best data entry clerk she had ever met.
That experience has produced two results:
- I have very firm opinions about citation styles.
- I realize that it’s an issue not many people pay close attention to.
I would like to discuss these points in turn. First, I have come to believe that parenthetical citations have only very limited utility — mainly for indicating repeated references to a pervasively-cited text in a given chapter or section. That is, it is most useful when it prevents an excessive number of footnotes from cluttering the page; when parentheticals are used for every citation, it produces its own (arguably even worse) form of clutter. Worst of all is the author-date citation system. In the hard sciences and social sciences, it may make sense, since there is a premium on the latest findings. In humanities settings, on the other hand, the requirement to base the citation date on the edition used leads to ridiculous notations like “Aristotle 1991.” The intention is to simplify cross-references with the works cited page, but the actual effect is to require cross-reference to the works cited page — a shortened title would be much more serviceable. So for me, the ideal is footnotes, sometimes announcing parenthetical citations, and using shortened title references after the first reference. I also think that Ibid. and op. cit. are basically a really efficient way to generate inadvertant errors when revising the text leads to a break in the sequence of references and therefore shouldn’t be used.
This brings me to my second point: my years of experience in overanalyzing and overthinking citation style have led me to develop my own hybrid style that reflects all these preferences. Given my detail-orientation, my use of this style is absolutely consistent, and as a result, I almost never get called out on it, even though it fails to match up to any given publisher’s style sheet. (Admittedly, if a journal insists on parenthetical citations, I can’t get away with it — but if they accept footnotes, I’m home free.) Both Zizek and Theology and Politics of Redemption are in “Kotsko style.” In fact, Politics of Redemption represents perhaps my greatest citation-style triumph yet, as they took the increasingly rare step of allowing me to use footnotes rather than endnotes.
Obviously I’m reveling in this deeply meaningful victory, but I’m worried that it’s all downhill from here — that some shift in the publishing industry as a whole will lead to the abolition even of endnotes, forcing me to litter my subsequent works with references to “Augustine 1947” and “Aquinas 1982” and “Moses et al. 2010.” At that point, the only option may prove to be suicide.