September 29, 2004

Ask, and ye shall receive

I asked for it. In a follow-up to my post on Thomas Pynchon's 1973 transduction of the Vsesoynznyy Tsentral'nyy Komitet Novogo Tyurkskogo Alfavita into magic realism, I quoted from Mark Dickens' 1989 treatment of the real story of Soviet language policy in Central Asia. At the end of that post, I wondered "what were Pynchon's sources for the history of this period?"

This was around dinner time on 9/27. The next morning, I got the answer.

Jim Bisso (of Uncle Jazzbeau's Gallimaufrey) emailed:

According to Steven Weisenburger, in A Gravity's Rainbow Companion: Sources and Contexts for Pynchon's Novel, Pynchon's main sources for the Turkic linguistic escapades of Vaslav Tchitcherine are Professor Thomas G Winner: (1) Oral Art and Literature of the Kazakhs of Russian Central Asia, 1958, and (2) "Problems of Alphabetic Reform Among the Turkic Peoples of Soviet Central Asia" in Slavonic and East European Review 31, 1952, pp.133-47.

People like Tim May and Jim Bisso are an amazing resource, and it's wonderful that modern networked computing allows someone like me to get the benefit of their knowledge and interest.

However, some people seem to find this same phenomenon threatening. In a Fresh Air commentary aired on 9/23, "critic at large" John Powers said of bloggers that

Some shriek "gotcha!" at tiny factual errors in articles written on short deadlines by people who actually have to leave the house to do their work.

I guess it could look that way, if it bothers you to learn the facts of the case from people who know more about it than you do. And as for the "gotcha" part, which seems to refer to the practice of posting objections for others to read, what's the alternative? If someone sends an objection or correction to the journalist or the media organization, it'll either be ignored or else presented in an abridged form in some sort of letters or feedback area. That's fine, but why shouldn't they post it directly for others to read as well?

Bloggers make mistakes, too -- plenty of them. We also leave things out. We might not be writing on deadline, but then on the other hand we have real jobs, sometimes several of them, and we write for fun in odd moments of spare time. If our blogs have readers, our mistakes and omissions, big and small, usually get corrected. This generally happens in a pretty friendly way, even in areas like politics and linguistics where emotions have been known to run high in Real Life. I think that's partly because everyone is playing on a fairly level field. People Jim Bisso know that if they send me email or post something relevant, I'll add their information, in the same place as the original or an even more prominent one, and give them credit for it. (Well, unless I get too far behind...) Or they can blog it themselves, and have the same access to interested readers that I do.

And although we bloggers are sometimes embarrassed by others' corrections, objections and amplifications (look down at the bottom of the cited post), we're always happy to get them. (Well, in principle we're happy, anyhow.)


Posted by Mark Liberman at September 29, 2004 12:29 AM