Friday, January 11, 2013

Benjamin on Zettelkasten or Card Index

Walter Benjamin, the famous literary critic, claimed: "The card index marks the conquest of three-dimensional writing, and so presents an astonishing counterpoint to the three-dimensionality of script in its original form as rune or knot notation. (And today the book is already, as the present mode of scholarly production demonstrates, an outdated mediation between two different filing systems. For everything that matters is to be found in the card box of the researcher who wrote it, and the scholar studying it assimilates it into his own card index.)" In other words, "all is note," or perhaps better: "all that matters is note."[1] I think both versions are wrong.

Benjamin called his own writing "verzettelte Schreiberei" or disjointed scribbling or scrappy paperwork.

1. Walter Benjamin, Einbahnstra├če. In Gesammelte Schriften IV, 1. (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp, 1972), pp. 84-148, 103.

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