Who was Norton Westermont?
For Bookforum, I've written my meditations on the copy editor's art and the hidden narratives of the evolving Chicago Manual of Style. (Thank you to editor Michael Miller—my former copy-desk colleague [!]—and the U. Chicago Press.)
At 933 pages, the fourteenth was comparable in size to the heralded omnium-gatherums of its era (1996's Infinite Jest, 1997's Mason & Dixon and Underworld). For sheer head-scratching postmodern tricksterism, though, Messrs. Wallace, Pynchon, and DeLillo had nothing on the collaborative deadpan master jam that was the fourteenth. Infinite Jest's reams of endnotes were distinctive but hardly as radical as Chicago's editorial comments for a text that was essentially invisible. "Millicent Cliff was Norton Westermont's first cousin, although to the very last she denied it," 15.47 tells us—but who was Norton Westermont? In this sense, much of Chicago reads like Pale Fire without the poem. On the very next page, 15.51's directions on how to style acknowledgments delivers both a name right out of Pynchonland and a DeLillo-esque consortium: "The author gratefully acknowledges the assistance of Dr. Oscar J. Blunk of the National Cyanide Laboratory in the preparation of this chapter."
This is the first of three articles that have kept me happily occupied this fall...