The Footnote: An Explication de Texte

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Creator: Judith Gran
Date(s): 1980
Medium: online meta essay
Fandom: Star Trek, K/S
External Links: Entire text on line here; reference link
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The Footnote: An Explication de Texte was an essay originally printed in R & R #12 in 1980, and posted to alt.startrek.creative in 1997. The essay analyzes the ambiguous language in a particularly infamous footnote in Gene Roddenberry's novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture, in which Kirk comments on the "rumors" that he and Spock are lovers.

In particular, the footnote tells us that Spock thought of Kirk as his "t'hy'la," a Vulcan word that, the editor's note tells us, can mean "friend," "brother" or "lover." The editor then proceeds to get a quote from Kirk himself, the ambiguous nature of which forms the subject of the greater part of Gran's analysis.

The phrase explication de texte is real and not an attempt by the author to be flippant. It is a French term indicating a type of close reading, the careful, sustained interpretation of a brief passage of a text. A real explication de texte consists of:

  • A brief summary of the literal, not the figurative, content;
  • A description of the text's type and structure (e.g. Was it a sonnet? What kind?) and its tone;
  • The poetic devices used in the text (e.g. personification)
  • Conclusion

Full Text of Roddenberry's Footnote

Editor's note: The human concept of friend is most nearly duplicated in Vulcan thought by the term t'hy'la, which can also mean brother and lover. Spock's recollection (from which this chapter has drawn) is that it was a most difficult moment for him since he did indeed consider Kirk to have become his brother. However, because t'hy'la can be used to mean lover, and since Kirk's and Spock's friendship was unusually close, this has led to some speculation over whether they had actually indeed become lovers. At our request, Admiral Kirk supplied the following comment on this subject:
"I was never aware of this lovers rumor, although I have been told that Spock encountered it several times. Apparently he had always dismissed it with his characteristic lifting of his right eyebrow which usually connoted some combination of surprise, disbelief, and/or annoyance. As for myself, although I have no moral or other objections to physical love in any of its many Earthly, alien, and mixed forms, I have always found my best gratification in that creature woman. Also, I would dislike being thought of as so foolish that I would select a love partner who came into sexual heat only once every seven years."

Excerpt from "The Footnote" by Judith Gran

In his "editor's note" on page 22 of the novelization of Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), Gene Roddenberry finally addressed the question whether Kirk and Spock are lovers. The note apparently struck some fans, who read it superficially, as a gentle but explicit denial of the possibility of K/S. Yet a deeper reading completely undermines that reading. The footnote is constructed with deliberate ambiguity that leads the average reader into the hasty but unjustified conclusion that Kirk and Spock have *not* been lovers, while providing the more careful reader with cues that suggest the exact opposite.

Readers who are familiar with Leo Strauss' *Persecution and the Art of Writing* and other works will recognize the approach I use here. Strauss found that the writings of al -Farabi, Spinoza, Machiavelli and other thinkers who expressed unpopular ideas on topics that were controversial in their times, such as the existence of God and the relation between religion and philosophy, required a minute textual exegesis. These controversial figures tended to express their ideas on both an "exoteric" and an "esoteric" level of meaning: the first aimed at the average reader, the second at the more careful reader, who would be alerted to search for the meaning beneath the surface by certain deliberate ambiguities in the text.

As a challenge to prevailing orthodoxy, homosexuality is as controversial as the denial of religion in the age of Machiavelli. It is understandable that the producer of a mass audience TV show and film might be reluctant to state too directly that his most popular characters have had such a relationship. Does Roddenberry's footnote contain different levels of meaning? Let us analyze it and see. [1]

Subject of a 2001 Class

Whew!!! <sits down heavily>

Well, I finally did it. I taught Judith's essay on The Footnote in my freshman writing class. I gave them the footnote itself first, and asked whether they thought Roddenberry was confirming or denying the possibility of K/S. "Denying," they all said, except for the class yaoi fan :-). Then we read the essay, aloud. Should have known better than to do this on a day when my throat was sore-- I had the students do the reading, but I had to shout down a lot of small uproars. Pretty successful class, though, I thought.

The idea of K/S scandalized a lot of the students, but quite a few of them thought Judith made a good case for it; one of them said, "If I didn't know Kirk and Spock, I'd believe this." Some of them were pretty receptive to the idea, though, and one student questioned Kirk's authorship of the comment, noting that it didn't sound very Kirkian and that the editor only says Kirk 'supplied' it, not that he wrote it.

But the most interesting point that came up was that a lot of my students see no difference between 'fair' and 'impartial'-- even in persuasive writing![2] There were actually several people who claimed that, because Judith made it clear that she thought her interpretation was correct, her professing to allow the readers to draw their own conclusions was hypocritical. Obviously, we are going to have to work a little more on the concept of 'argument.' And the concepts 'marketplace of ideas' and 'debate' and 'persuasion.' But I think the concept of 'slash' has gotten enough of a workout for one semester.

I am definitely going to teach this essay next semester, though <chuckles evilly>. [3]

Further Reading


  1. entire text on line here; reference link
  2. The terms are generally interchangeable in daily life, with 'fair' meaning 'free from favoritism or self-interest or bias or deception; conforming with established standards or rules' and 'impartial' meaning 'free from undue bias or preconceived opinions'.
  3. Ellen F: Slash in the classroom, part 2, October 30, 2001