Butler’s Third Law of Research

Write the material using the wrong referencing format, so you can prevaricate by correcting this.


Butler’s First Law of Research

Write it down.

No, seriously, write it down.

In the bibliography to my thesis I quote Walter Benjamin, “The only exact knowledge there is is the knowledge of the date of publication and the format of books”.

(Of course, date of publication isn’t always clear — see Endangering Science Fiction Film with its copyright date of 2016 that I got in 2015.)

Quoting this to other people, it occurred to me I didn’t have the source. Pah.

Ironic, but. Pah.

It seemed likely to be in Illuminations, if only because that’s the book I know best. But could I find it?

A year ago, perhaps reading about Benjamin, maybe for the stuff on special effects and Brecht, I relocated the quote.

But I still didn’t write it down.

Double pah.*

Last week I was talking to Rob McPherson about the materials he’s been turning up about pubs and brewing, and I was sat at my iPad, occasionally searching for webpages to clarify details. One of these was from the Canterbury Archaeological Trust and had an interesting quote which I want to follow to its source. There’s a copy of that book in Ashford Library. The quote related to a Canterbury family who either brewed or owned pubs or …

I still didn’t write it down.

Cue frantic searching through Kent County Council Libraries catalogue.

By a miracle, the name reappeared in my memory.**

I am the kind of person with a physical memory of the “it’s halfway down p. 222” type, but I should know not to rely on it.

* And ironically it turns out that I actually misremembered that. The quote is “‘The only exact knowledge there is’, said Anatole France, ‘is the knowledge of the date of publication and the format of books'”, complete with a reference. I clearly never thought to check.

** The Flint family, if you’re wondering. The volume is Brief Records of the Flint Family.