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February 1, 2009 11:47 PM   Subscribe

MLA citation filter: How would I go about citing a footnote in a text that is not written by the author of the text? For example, I am writing about a poem in an anthology, and I will be making use of some of the information provided in the footnotes. How would I cite those parenthetically? Google has just turned up instructions on how to do citations, and I can't seem to find anything on this in my MLA handbook.
posted by you zombitch to Writing & Language (8 answers total)
A lot of formal citation systems aren't that clear about certain special cases. A few weeks ago I saw someone writing up a report, including a DVD in it showing his experiment, and trying to figure out how to properly cite the DVD in the report. So he had a DVD with no title, director, actors, or distributor. Another good one is quote-with-citation-within-quote-with-citation. Do you add the inner citation to the outer document's citations? Change the quote to remove it?

Anyway, sometimes in this type of situation different people have different opinions about what correct is.

So, my first port of call would be the person marking the paper, or your academic supervisor; do whatever they think is right.

Second, some universities also have help-with-writing offices, and/or librarians who know all about proper style. If yours does, you could ask there.

Third, you could cite the footnote within the anthology as if it were a poem in the anthology, prepending the poem name with 'footnotes to'. You know, Cortex, C. "Footnotes to Living in Sin." The Treasury of American Poetry. Comp. Nancy Sullivan. New York: Guild America, 1978. 721.
posted by Mike1024 at 12:27 AM on February 2, 2009

I agree with Mike1024, at least up through his second suggestion. I would especially stress that you should really be asking your instructor or advisor this question. If the MLA doesn't provide a set format for this situation, then there is no "right" and "wrong" way to go about it, although there could be plenty of bad, ineffective, or illogical ways of doing it. The safest course of action is to consult the preferences of one's editor or instructor.

Mike1024's third suggestion seems mostly OK to me, except that I don't see the justification for putting quotation marks around "Footnotes to . . ." since it's not an actual title. I'd be more likely to solve the problem by doing something like this:

In the text of the paper: As Edward Editor has noted, Poet's phrase "blah blah blah" alludes to "blah dee blah dee blah" (fn. 4).

In the list of works cited: Poet, Polly. "Noteworthy Poem." Massive Anthology of Poetry. Ed. Edward Editor. New York: Publishing House, 2006. 217-18.

But really . . . if possible, ask the person who will be grading the paper.

p.s. I thumbed through both the MLA Handbook and the MLA Style Manual and didn't find anything more official.
posted by Orinda at 1:03 AM on February 2, 2009

On second thought, that would be better thusly: As Edward Editor has noted, Poet's phrase "blah blah blah" alludes to "blah dee blah dee blah" (Poet, "Noteworthy" fn. 4).

Or just (Poet fn. 4) if you discuss only one poem by this poet in your paper.

Putting the poet's surname in the parenthetical citation (even though it's mentioned in the text of the model sentence I cooked up) would clarify where the reader should look in the list of works cited.
posted by Orinda at 1:08 AM on February 2, 2009

I would do this:

(1) In references, `` Lastnameofeditor, Firstname. Blah Anthology of Whatever. City: Publisher, Year. ''

(2) In text, just (Lastnameofeditor, pagefootnoteappearson).

(3) Email grader with "Here is situation. I am citing like this (example). Is this okay?". Email, not verbal; you want a record of "Yes, this is okay" from your tired grader who might forget that it's okay.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:28 AM on February 2, 2009

I'm with ROU_Xenophobe. If the author of the footnote is the editor, why would you list it in the works cited under the name of the poet? Keep It Simple, Stupid. (Also, check with your prof.)
posted by Dr. Send at 9:08 AM on February 2, 2009

ROU_Xenophobe's example:

(1) In references, `` Lastnameofeditor, Firstname. Blah Anthology of Whatever. City: Publisher, Year. ''

Have you got an MLA Handbook (6th edition) at hand? Look under subject 5.6.2 and you will see that this way is definitely nonstandard--the citation for an anthology should include a notation indicating the role of the editor / compiler / translator / whatever. Otherwise, it would be implied that the editor authored everything in the anthology. So that should read:

Lastnameofeditor, Firstname, ed. Blah Anthology . . .

Thus corrected, ROU_Xenophobe's arrangment would allow you to acknowledge the editor directly in your parenthetical citation. ROU_Xenophobe's example of citing just the editor's name and the page number may be acceptable (ask your instructor!) but in published work in literature studies I've more commonly seen things like (217 n. 4) or (217 fn. 4) or (217 note 4)--where the footnote is numbered 4 and appears on page 217. I can't think off the top of my head what's done to cite an unnumbered footnote (one marked with an asterisk or dagger, e.g.).
posted by Orinda at 9:21 AM on February 2, 2009

If the author of the footnote is the editor, why would you list it in the works cited under the name of the poet?

I suggested that because the poem is probably already under discussion and cited in the Works Cited list. Citing the editorial apparatus under the name of the editor is also a good solution, but it necessitates creating a second entry for the same work in the list of Works Cited. I consider that confusing and excessive, so the style I suggested above is my version of Keeping It Simple, Stupid.

I speak from the perspective of someone who regularly reads student papers citing literary works from anthologies. Students occasionally want to cite information from the headnotes and footnotes, too. When they email me to ask how to go about doing it (as you zombitch should do with her instructors!), I suggest something along the lines of what I recommended in my first response above.

I can't think of a published piece of scholarship I've read where the editorial apparatus is cited separately from the literary work unless the editorial apparatus is the subject of extensive discussion in itself. I'd be interested to know of it if you can point me to an example, though.
posted by Orinda at 9:33 AM on February 2, 2009

I'm not sure, but this looks like what you want.
posted by Brak at 1:48 PM on February 2, 2009

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