Wednesday, September 1, 2010

The Importance of Paper Trails

I've received an interesting comment from reader, Jonathan, concerning assumptions raised in my previous post. I'll address it here, and also discuss the scholarly value of citing other works.

Peter Haining's A Dictionary of Vampires (London: Robert Hale, 2000) provided a misattributed source on pre-Gerard usage of the term nosferatu. I derived three possibilities from this, namely, 1) Haining misunderstood Jones' ambiguous comment about von Wlislocki's "researches into Roumanian superstitions", 2) Haining obtained the misattributed quote from another dodgy source and 3) Haining fabricated the source. Here's what Jonathan had to say about my conclusions:
Great work. However, I don't think your three possibilities are necessary.

The 1861 date must surely come from a conflation of footnotes on p117 of Jones' 'On The Nightmare'.

There IS an 1861 dated bibliographic reference on that page, but it's to a completely different preceding point.

Have another look at Footnotes 1 (irrelevant to 'Nosferat', dated 1861) and 2 (the Stern quote, undated in Jones' text).

As the two are oddly arranged relative to one another, and Footnote 2 lacks a date, it's easy to see how someone in a rush might attribute that date to the wrong footnote.

Here's what I mean;
While he raises some intriguing points, I'm gonna stick to my guns on this one. Why? Let's take a look at the footnote in question:

The footnote appears in Ernest Jones' On the Nightmare (London: Hogarth Press, 1931), p. 117. Sure, their placement is a little odd. That's a formatting issue more than anything, but let's cast our eyes further up the same page:

I find it difficult to believe that Haining could have conflated the footnotes so easily. To verify where Wlislocki was being quoted from, all he had to do was comb through the book for other references to Stern, especially as "Quoted by" and "op. cit." were mentioned. I was able to do this easily enough. That's why I can tell you that Jones was quoting Wlislocki via Bernhard Stern's Medizin, Aberglaube und Geschlechtsleben in der Türkei. Mit Berücksichtigung der moslemischen Nachbarländer und der ehemaligen Vasallenstaaten, Vol. 1 (Berlin: H. Barsdorf, 1903).

While I do see Jonathan's point about the 1861 date, there's two other aspects of Haining's misattributed citation that aren't so easily dismissed. Firstly, Haining attributes an actual book title to Wlislocki, that is Roumanian Superstitions (1861). As I'd pointed out, no such book is quoted in the text. Instead, Jones makes reference to Wlislocki's "researches into Roumanian superstitions", which is where I suspect Haining derived the imaginary title from.

Secondly, it's clear that Haining either altered Jones' translation of the Wlislocki extract or derived it from another, faulty source. Compare the two sources. In Jones' rendering, we have "The Nosferat not only sucks the blood of sleeping people, but also does mischief as an Incubus or Succubus" (117), meanwhile, Haining's "quote" says "The Nosferatu not only sucks the blood of sleeping people, but also does mischief as an Incubus or Succubus" (184). There's small differences between the two, but they're significant in proving that an alteration has taken place.

So, to sum up, Haining doesn't get off the hook that easily. Using Jones' footnotes as evidence, Haining had no justification in concocting an imaginary book title (like we need more of those). In this regard, he was sloppy at best and outright deceptive at worst. If Haining's book had featured a bibliography, it would be much easier to establish which of these possibilities was most likely.

This is why paper trails are essential. Quotations, citations, footnotes, they're all-important for verifying the accuracy of information conveyed and sources consulted. It's also perfectly demonstrated in Andrew's review of Charlotte Montague's Vampires: From Dracula to Twilight: The Complete Guide to Vampire Mythology (2010), a book I'd previously regarded with a glimmer of hope, in light of its author's MA degree for History.

Yet, here's what Andrew has to say about the book's coverage of the historical origins of the vampire's destruction by sunlight:
The moniker “From Dracula to Twilight” is a misnomer as it does explore (though explore is perhaps a generous term) things that came before Dracula. When it comes to sources I would have loved to have seen one for the assertion that (having first neglected to mention Nosferatu when exploring the sunlight myth) in “later stories, vampires might collapse or explode when hit by sunlight, the ‘scientific’ explanation for this being that their neural pathways would fire randomly in their brains, causing them to experience extreme epileptic reactions, blinding them, and possibly setting them on fire”! I have seen many an explanation as to why sunlight might affect a vampire, and countless more films and books when it isn’t even explained but simply taken as read. I do not recall a theorem such as that… pray tell me your source… the book remains silent.
This is an incredibly disappoining for the scholarly reader: a dead-end. How do we verify such information? Where do we even begin to start? What are we to make of its publisher, Sphere, and their claim that they pride themselves on "publishing high-quality commercial fiction and non-fiction" and their "[p]assion, imagination and attention to detail are the cornerstones of our publishing"? It's a hell of an oversight.

Sure, footnotes and citations aren't the most aesthetically pleasing things, but they're integral for scholarly readers and further research, especially when it comes to such extravagant claims. It also applies to images, too. I've previously covered an erroneous caption and its relevance to vampire research, as well as its reproduction in another source. You see, without keeping dodgy info in "check" it tends to spread. This is detrimental to proper study of the genre and should be avoided at all cost. If in doubt, consult the primary source.


Jonathan said...

Hi Anthony - I'm flattered to appear on your blog. I have to admit it looks bad however you cut it. He's either been extremely lax with his referencing, or he's deliberately deceived his readers. Either is, needless to say, not very professional.

Anthony Hogg said...

G'day Jonathan,

Good to hear from you again!

I certainly welcome your comments, regardless, as it forced me to re-assess the source.

I've been hesitant in outright accusing Haining of fabrication, as I grew up reading his stuff. He was quite a prolific author and uncovered a wealth of unknown gems and obscurities. Check out Terror! A History of Horror Illustrations from the Pulp Magazines (A & W Visual Library, 1976) as one such example.

But, as you can see, he certainly wasn't immune from, let's say...errors.

All authors in the genre should be scrutinised, no matter what our attachment to them is. If I'm erroneous on a topic, I'd expect to be called out on it, too. It keeps things fresh and sharpens our critical ability.

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