The Genres of the Fact
IF THE NARRATIVE OF THE DECUNE AND FALL IS PROFOUNDLY INFLUENCED BY drama and romance, the footnotes act in some ways as the kind of immediate detail critics require of realist fiction. This phenomenon belies the common assumption that the scholarly apparatus is a pure function of verification where no question of literary strategy arises. The loose barrage of unconnected references seems to render implausible any suggestion of narrative emplotment, and the curious position of the notes at the foot of the page or the back of the book has the effect of making them appear not quite part of the text. Yet an intertextual reading can hardly be satisfied with a notion of the footnotes that presumes that they have some more immediate connection with reality than the rest of the book. The facts and the footnotes through which they are presented, we need to remind ourselves, are also part of the written text. They are one of the multiple drafts of the historiographical consciousness. And if, as in the case of the Decline and Fall, from time to time they diverge from the narrative, we must consider carefully what verification might mean. For one thing, their contention disturbs the neat symmetry between narrative and reference. An apparatus at loggerheads with the narrative will cast doubts on the efficacy of the historical reconstruction. For another, the simple relation between modes of emplotment and unstructured sets of data that seems to fuel so much of historiographical thought will be brought into question. If the apparatus that supposedly conveys references to actual states of affairs in history starts to exhibit propensities to rhetorical intervention in the text, will it not, willy-nilly, come to be suspected as a mode of emplotment or a generic device undermining its own referentiality?
The importance of this issue might be said to rest on the question of frames of reference, embedded modes that intervene between consciousness and experience. To a transcendent entity like the impartial stranger impartiality is sustained by the possibility of a vision beyond frames of reference, a vision that can directly translate facts