Indexing As Meaning-Making

(Click to enlarge.)

By Andie Alexander

I’m currently creating an index for an edited volume, and while I’ve repaginated an index before (for the new edition of a book), this is the first time that I have ever compiled an index from scratch. As I’ve been going through the book, I’ve been marking all of the important thoughts, people, theories, etc. Well, I say “important” not because those ideas and names are self-evidently interesting; after all, who would think that Ebenezer Scrooge or the recent Disney⋅Pixar film Inside Out would be among the indexed items for an edited volume in religious studies?

Much like the above etymological definition of “index” suggests, indices (or rather indexers — i.e., me), to be more precise, do “discover,” “point out,” and “disclose” information to their readers. That is to say that indices are neither self-evident nor neutral descriptors of a book’s contents. For what would a neutral descriptor even be? The number of times a word appeared? Well no, because apart from the word “the” making an extraordinary number of appearances, even doing such a word count seems to privilege quantity of word usage over the general argument those words are making. That said, indices are anything but neutral and are themselves, by nature of being a human production, very much situated and, yes, biased (they have a viewpoint). So for me, the indexer, to compile a list of what I and those editing the volume deem relevant for the work, I must have a certain understanding of the argument of the book to determine whether Ebenezer Scrooge is worth including in the index — worth offering to a reader as a hint of more to come. That is, in selecting people, places, and ideas for the index, I have to consider which ones I think best direct and support the arguments, theories, and e.g.s of the volume.   Continue reading “Indexing As Meaning-Making”

Meet Me in St. Louis: The Simpler Side of Identity Politics

St. Louis Arch

When I was a young child, I lived in the third largest city in Missouri – Springfield – and I hadn’t really traveled much outside of the region. At the time I loved to look at atlases and read maps, and I distinctly remember the day that I came across a factoid indicating that the largest city in Missouri was Kansas City (a city I’d never seen), with St. Louis a close second.

I was livid, convinced there was a mistake, for as we all know, being bigger is better, and St. Louis was clearly superior because I’d a) been there, and b) had fun there. In other words, my positive affiliations with St. Louis, while founded on nothing more than visiting some tourist draws and swimming in a motel pool, were enough for me to align my own identity with the city and therefore create strong positive, and in the context, illogical opinions about it. (Ironically, I now live in Kansas City). Continue reading “Meet Me in St. Louis: The Simpler Side of Identity Politics”

Reorganizing Sympathies

feminist

This old image recently made the rounds again in my Facebook feed, and I shared it myself. It got me into a little bit of an argument on one of my friends’ wall. The objection was along these lines: if we water down “feminism” to gender equity, which pretty much everyone can agree to these days, then it becomes meaningless—it’s not substantial enough of a vision to drive a real agenda. Continue reading “Reorganizing Sympathies”