Many years ago, I purchased a copy of Hermann Hesse's book Siddhartha from a used book store. When I got home and began to read it I realized all the references to water had been underlined in pencil, with notations in the margins alluding to things like spiritual cleansing. This greatly altered my reading of the text. I was caught between my interpretation of Hesse’s words, the anonymous author’s interpretations, and my interpretation of the anonymous author. It was also through this reading that I first discovered the use of metaphor and symbolism in literature, thanks to those penciled comments.
Several years later, while doing my first undergrad, I wrote a paper on Peter Greenaway’s use of water as a metaphor in his films. That first reading altered the way I view creative endeavors forever. Since that time, I seek out and enjoy a these types of books. One establishes a relationship with the notations, much like the relationship one establishes with the book. Sometimes I can’t help but wonder, were they writing a paper? Was it for leisure? Trying to learn English? There are famous cases of it, outcries against it and lovers of it. Beyond simple underlines and side comments, there are cases of marginalia commenting on other marginalia, cross references to other books or pages, and translations of the text.
And, if a spontaneous anonymous commentary which is read in direct conjunction with the text is the marginalia of a book, could graffiti be the marginalia of the street? What is the marginalia of the internet? Blogs, though many refer to themselves as such, don’t fit my personal definition. They aren’t read in conjunction, but instead either prior to, or after, the item on which they are commenting. If blog comments where displayed alongside the blog, rather then accessed through clicking, that would do it.
As designers, we have the ability to incorporate marginalia in new ways. Rather than put a notes page at the end of a booklet, why not use wide margins with line rules to encourage it? Or, if you prefer, reduce your margins to make it impossible. How can you bring it into the internet? Or to other forms of advertising?
Through the print material we produce, we can’t help but create a dialogue with the world, why not encourage it to respond?