- Jun 2022
Before we begin, please note that this piece assumes intermediate familiarity with Zettelkasten and its original creator, the social scientist Niklas Luhmann (1927–1998).
Even the long running (2013) zettelkasten.de website credits Niklas Luhmann as being the "original creator" of the zettelkasten.
We really need to track down the origin of linking one idea to another. Obviously writers, and especially novelists, would have had some sort of at least linear order in their writing due to narrative needs in using such a system. What does this tradition look like on the non-fiction side?
Certainly some of the puzzle stems from the commonplace book tradition, but this is more likely to have relied on natural memory as well as searching and finding via index methods.
Perhaps looking more closely at Hans Blumenberg's instantiation would be more helpful. Similarly looking at the work of Claude Lévi-Strauss and his predecessors like Marcel Mauss may provide at least an attack on this problem.
My working hypothesis is that given the history of the Viennese numbering system, it may have stemmed from the late 1700s and this certainly wasn't an innovation by Luhmann.
link to: https://hyp.is/hLy7NNtqEeuWQIP1UDkM6g/web.archive.org/web/20130916081433/https://christiantietze.de/posts/2013/06/zettelkasten-improves-thinking-writing/ for evidence of start of zettelkasten.de
- Hans Blumenberg
- Niklas Luhmann's zettelkasten
- Claude Lévi-Strauss
- zettelkasten history
- Marcel Mauss
- zettelkasten origin myth
- numbering systems
- Vienna University Library
- May 2022
In the case ofLévi-Strauss, meanwhile, the card index continued to serve inimportant ways as a ‘memory crutch’, albeit with a key differencefrom previous uses of the index as an aide-memoire. In Lévi-Strauss’case, what the fallibility of memory takes away, the card index givesback via the workings of chance. As he explains in an interview withDidier Erebon:I get by when I work by accumulating notes – a bitabout everything, ideas captured on the fly,summaries of what I have read, references,quotations... And when I want to start a project, Ipull a packet of notes out of their pigeonhole anddeal them out like a deck of cards. This kind ofoperation, where chance plays a role, helps merevive my failing memory. (Cited in Krapp, 2006:361)For Krapp, the crucial point here is that, through his use of indexcards, Lévi-Strauss ‘seems to allow that the notes may either restorememory – or else restore the possibilities of contingency which givesthinking a chance under the conditions of modernity’ (2006: 361).
Claude Lévi-Strauss had a note taking practice in which he accumulated notes of ideas on the fly, summaries of what he read, references, and quotations. He kept them on cards which he would keep in a pigeonhole. When planning a project, he would pull them out and use them to "revive [his] failing memory."
Questions: - Did his system have any internal linkages? - How big was his system? (Manageable, unmanageable?) - Was it only used for memory, or was it also used for creativity? - Did the combinatorial reshufflings of his cards provide inspiration a la the Llullan arts?
Link this to the ideas of Raymond Llull's combinatorial arts.
- Apr 2022
Beatrice Webb, the famous sociologist and political activist, reported in 1926: "'Every one agrees nowadays', observe the most noted French writers on the study of history, 'that it is advisable to collect materials on separate cards or slips of paper. . . . The advantages of this artifice are obvious; the detachability of the slips enables us to group them at will in a host of different combinations; if necessary, to change their places; it is easy to bring texts of the same kind together, and to incorporate additions, as they are acquired, in the interior of the groups to which they belong.'" 
Webb 1926, p. 363. The number of scholars who have used the index card method is legion, especially in sociology and anthropology, but also in many other subjects. Claude Lévy-Strauss learned their use from Marcel Mauss and others, Roland Barthes used them, Charles Sanders Peirce relied on them, and William Van Orman Quine wrote his lectures on them, etc.
In a remarkable essay on precursors to hypertext, Peter Krapp(2006) provides a useful overview of the development of the indexcard and its use by various thinkers, including Locke, Leibniz, Hegel,and Wittgenstein, as well as by those known to Barthes and part of asimilar intellectual milieu, including Michel Leiris, Georges Perec,and Claude Lévi-Strauss (Krapp, 2006: 360-362; Sieburth, 2005).1
Peter Krapp created a list of thinkers including Locke, Leibniz, Hegel, Wittgenstein, Barthes, Michel Leiris, Georges Perec, and Lévi-Strauss who used index cards in his essay Hypertext Avant La Lettre on the precursors of hypertext.
see also: Krapp, P. (2006) ‘Hypertext Avant La Lettre’, in W. H. K. Chun & T. Keenan (eds), New Media, Old Theory: A History and Theory Reader. New York: Routledge: 359-373.
Notice that Krapp was the translator of Paper Machines About Cards & Catalogs, 1548 – 1929 (MIT Press, 2011) by Marcus Krajewski. Which was writing about hypertext and index cards first? Or did they simply influence each other?
- Ludwig Wittgenstein
- Gottfried Wilhelm von Leibniz
- index cards
- paper machines
- Michel Leiris
- Claude Lévi-Strauss
- Marcus Krajewski
- Roland Barthes
- Peter Krapp
- Georg Hegel
- Georges Perec
- Aug 2021
Claude Lévi-Strauss, another thinker who used Zettelkästen extensively
This needs sourcing.