Not commonplace at all

A necessary corrective

Chris Aldrich has written a terrific essay that goes far beyond its title The Two Definitions of Zettelkasten. It sets out the long, often complex, history of the idea at the heart of the zettelkasten method: the commonplace book and its rich tradition. Chris’s corrective is absolutely essential and I hope more people will take note of it and stop referring to “The Zettelkasten Method” as if it were the tablets that Niklas brought down from the mountain.

I’m not here going to reflect on the essay. Rather, I fired up a long-dormant Hypothesis account to leave some marginal thoughts there. It seemed appropriate.

And the fact that my Hypothesis account has been asleep for more than five years is part of my main reflection, that no matter how many notes, scraps and thoughts one accumulates, as a collection is it practically useless. One needs to do the real work of connecting, exploring and shuffling, and that is something I do not do nearly enough of. My feeling, to share the blame with my tools, is that I may be making the elementary mistake of keeping all my scraps in one (digital) box. It might be better to have a landing stage, where stuff accumulates and which is then processed into the one true box. With the recent purchase of a new portable computer, I’ve been dithering about a new writing tool. This rosy imagined future of two-stage thought capture and process nudges me ever so slightly closer to Drafts.

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