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.

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