Friday, January 11, 2013

Of Notes and Books

Thanks to a reader of one of my latest entries, I was alerted to Andrew Piper's Book Was There. I have not yet read it, but I have poked around and found that he has a blog of the same title on (here). It shows that he shares some of my interests. This let me to to the following discussion Notes and books and Piper's own discussion of the publication of The Original of Laura which he takes to be "a timely reminder of the tangled history of the relationship between the book and the note." He takes Arno Schmidt's Zettelkasten as another example of notes, saying: "I think it is fair to say that for many of us much of our note-taking is done on the same medium as our book writing – and here is where our current moment strikes me as crucially different – and our book reading. As we gradually move to a bookish world that is no longer exclusively defined by the printed book (if it ever was), my question is what happens to this lost sense of metamorphosis surrounding composition – when “all is note” we might say?"

I think he is very much mistaken. Neither Nabokov's notecards nor Schmidt's Zettelkasten are notes. They are manuscripts in the form of slips or, in German, Zettel. They are in other words Zettelmanuskripte which were not an uncommon form to write in German (and other languages) before the advent of the computer. Such manuscripts consisting of ordered slips are more ways of writing, than ways of note-taking.

This is not to say that writing and note-taking are radically different activities. They are not! But none of this goes to show that "all is note." On the contrary. More about this in future instalments.

By the way, I have come to the conclusion over the last five years that Luhmann's Zettelkasten is also more of a manuscript than a collection of notes.

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