- Apr 2022
There are a number of books which feature the sketchbooks and notebooks of famous writers, researchers and artists. However, most of their work is presented as art in and of itself. Rarely are the messiest and ugliest pages pictured. Most of the layouts in these books are laid out as art. Frequently missing are the structural parts and interviews with the original authors talking about their process. How do they actually use these notebooks in practice? How do ideas move from their heads into the notebooks and from there into their practical work? The notebooks only capture raw ideas as a scaffolding for extending the user's brain and thinking, but it doesn't capture the intangible ideas and portions of process which are still trapped within their brains. To be able to evaluate these portions, the author needs to talk or write about those missing portions of the process otherwise the way they create genius is wholly missing. A viewer of such notebooks would be no closer to creating genius for themselves by attempting to follow the same patterns without these additional structures. It's like the indigenous peoples who talk with rocks as part of their cultural practice—so much of what is happening is missing from the description of "talking with rocks" that most people wouldn't even know where to begin, but for the initiated, the process would be imminently crystal clear.
Which of these books actually delves into the process and does interviews as well?
This article actually lays out the notebooks as their own form of art rather than centering the idea of creative process as a means of helping others to follow these same patterns. We need the book that does for the art and design area what Sönke Ahrens' book How to Take Smart Notes does for the note taking space. It's interesting to see Niklas Luhmann's collection of 90,000 index cards, but without knowing how he used them and what purpose they served, the enterprise is lost. Similarly the depiction of Roland Barthes' index cards in Roland Barthes has a similar function. Showing them is not equivalent to actually understanding them.
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It is notinsignificant either that among the illustrations of the Roland Barthes par RolandBarthes there are a series of facsimile reproductions of the author’s handwriting,analogic reproductions of linguistic graphemes, pieces of writing silenced,abstracted from the universe of discourse by their photographic reproduction. Inparticular, as we have seen, the three index cards are reproduced not for the sakeof their content, not for their signified, but for a reality-effect value for which ourexpanding taste, says Barthes, encompasses the fashion of diaries, of testimonials,of historical documents, and, most of all, the massive development of photogra-
phy. In that sense, the reproduction of these three slips ironically resonates, if on a different scale, with the world tour of the mask of Tutankhamen. It refers, if not to the magic silence of a relic, at least to the ghostly parergonal quality of what French language calls a reliquat.
Hollier argues that Barthes' reproduced cards are not only completely divorced from their original context and use, but that they are reproduced for the sheen of reality and artistic fashion they convey to the reader. So much thought, value, and culture is lost in the worship of these items in this setting compared to their original context.
This is closely linked to the same sort of context collapse highlighted by the photo of Chief William Berens seated beside the living stones of his elders in Tim Ingold's Why Anthropology Matters. There we only appreciate the sense of antiquity, curiosity, and exoticness of an elder of a culture that is not ours. These rocks, by very direct analogy, are the index cards of the zettelkasten of an oral culture.
Chief William Berens seated beside the living stones of his elders; a picture taken by A. Irving Hallowell in 1930, between Grand Rapids and Pikangikum, Ontario, Canada. (American Philosophical Society)
- Dec 2021
With secondary sources, I like to check and see what the author is doing with the information. It's standard to refer to interpretations that agree with yours, but often even more interesting when the new interpretation is arguing with, modifying, or "complicating" the previous one.
I have noticed in some anthropological literature that it appears that the authors completely missed the boat as the result of the lack of ability to communicate with their subjects or better understand their broader basic contexts.
Particular examples of this: -1930s: A. Irving Hallowell conversations with William Berens, Chief of the Berens River Anishinaabe about rocks
- Robin Wall Kimmerer mentions in Braiding Sweetgrass that the new American immigrants looked down on the indigenous people for not "giving thanks" for their food, when in fact it was so embedded into their general culture that it should never have been in question. The immigrants just didn't possess the ability to see the how the thanks had been given.