Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Card Indexes, Machines of the Imagination

The German Literary Archive in Marbach has organized an exhibition called Zettelkästen. Maschinen der Phantasie«. It is to celebrate Jean Paul's 250th birthday. This is, to say the least, misleading, as Jean Paul himself did not use the Zettelkasten method at all. Though he did make fun of this approach in one of his novels (Leben des Quintus Fixlein aus fünfzehn Zettelkästen gezogen; nebst einem Mußteil und einigen Jus de tablette), he used to write down his notes and thoughts in notebooks, most definitely not on slips or card. To call him "the poetic father of the Zettelkastenmethodik" is an irresponsible obfuscation. Jean Paul refers to Moser as his source for the method he caricatures in his work.[1] The 12,000 unbound pages of manuscripts that are extant do not amount to a card index either.

That being said, the exhibition looks interesting, and I wish I could attend it. I have never seen myself he card indexes of Arno Schmidt, Walter Kempowski, Hans Blumenberg, Friedrich Kittler, Niklas Luhmann and Aby Warburg.


1. "Steht es dir denn nicht frei, wie H. von Moser zu arbeiten (der Gevatter und Vorläufer deiner Zettelkästen), der in seinem Leben keinen zusammenhängenden Bogen geschrieben, sondern nur Aphorismen, Gnomen, Apophthegmen, kurz nichts als Flechtwerk?" Ich mußte mir recht geben und fuhr demnach bandfrei wie gute Klaviere und in »sententii» magistralibus«, ohne andere Verbindungen und Bastpflanzen als denen auf dem Rabenstein so fort in der Vorrede zur zweiten Auflage, ...."

2 comments:

Thomas Teepe said...

"This is, to say the least, as Jean Paul himself did not use the Zettelkasten method at all."
- Is here a crucial word missing, or is it my deficient English?

MK said...

I am sorry, "misleading" is the word. I had something stronger there, took it out and forgot to put in the weaker word.

Thanks for pointing it out.