I’m Dennis Duncan, a British Academy postdoctoral researcher at the Centre for the Study of the Book at the Bodleian Library in Oxford. Table of Discontents is a blog to accompany a three-year research project, A History of the English Book Index. On the one hand, it serves as a useful way for me to start thinking about the bigger arguments of my project: to select representative texts, for example, and to start getting some of the ideas down in writing. On the other hand, it seems the perfect place to present some of the odder things which crop up in my research, indexes which, precisely because they’re anomalies, might not find a place in the finished book.
Here’s the blurb about A History of the English Book Index:
The project charts the history of the book index from the late middle-ages to the age of the Kindle. It also examines the anxiety which has accompanied the index from its earliest days – that it poses a threat to ‘deep reading’, bringing about a degraded form of learning, a claim which can be found as far back as the early sixteenth-century and which is still alive and well in Nicholas Carr’s ‘Is Google Making us Stupid?’ (2008). Tracing the development of the index, its critics, and its variety and distribution across different genres (why, for example, are novels rarely indexed?), the project shows how the index has shaped the ways that we read, as well as coming to represent the distinction between factual and fictional modes of writing. As indexing becomes the paradigm for the processing of ‘big data’, and digital archiving brings about both a quantitative leap in the accessibility of materials and a qualitative change in how scholars treat them, the project provides a timely historical context for the way that the index affects conceptions of knowledge and scholarly practice.
As for myself, as well as being a postdoc at the Bodleian, I’m a Junior Research Fellow at Jesus College, Oxford. Prior to this I ran the Modernism MA at Birkbeck, University of London. I’ve published on Italo Calvino, the French avant-garde (particularly ’pataphysics), and the languages of the distant future (I’m also in a Radio 4 doc about this). My PhD was on the Oulipo, and led to my current project when I wrote an article on novels with indexes. I’ve also translated the works of both real and imaginary writers, from French and from Danish. My edition of the French Surrealist journal, Le Grand Jeu, came out with Atlas Press last summer, while a collection of essays on the novelist Tom McCarthy is due later this year. I review books on translation and book history for the TLS, write bits and bobs for the LRB blog, and occasionally pop up on the Litbits programme. I also blog about pop music here.