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Issue No. 189
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Do Not Attempt to Read Luhmann's Paper on Zettelkasten Unless You're First Aware of This

Scott P. Scheper
Downtown San Diego, CA
You——but only if this page I wrote about You is true.
Tuesday, 4:54 pm

Dear Friend,

Zettelkasten is the ultimate tool for producing prodigious amounts of genius-level work. It's what turned one of the most revered social scientists of the past twentieth century into a "publication machine." [1] Drawn to Zettelkasten are those desiring similar results——primarily writers, researchers, and an assortment of knowledge workers.

If you've been following me lately, you're starting to become aware of a problem afoot in this space. The issue centers on the critical misconceptions surrounding what Zettelkasten is.

Those who wish to understand what Zettelkasten is can start with the paper Luhmann himself wrote about it, which I will share with you soon. Yet, there's a few things you must first know before you even make the attempt to read it.

First, as an academic, Luhmann is not unique in his writing style. The paper he wrote on Zettelkasten appears relatively straightforward. It's an article, nothing intimidating. The sentences are short, its paragraphs are not unusual. Yet once you begin reading, you'll find deep concepts packed into almost every sentence. To really understand it, you'll need to spend time cogitating on each idea before moving on. You'll need to go through it with a pen in hand. Expect it to take a while. I'd advise one to break it apart over several days. Don't rush it.

The second thing you should know pertains to the nature of academic writing. The writing style of researchers tend to avoid polarizing claims (anything close to sounding dogmatic). Its style is not one of fashion, but of objectivity, formality, and precise language.[2] Many of those who write in this style belong to the Guild of CYA ("Cover Your Ass"). Such characters are wordsmiths of the hedge. You should expect this style before reading Luhmann's article on Zettelkasten.

Now, with those two things in mind, there's one more thing that must be cleared up before you attempt to read Luhmann's paper on Zettelkasten. It concerns the most crucial term in the paper. This term must be pointed out because it's also the recipient of its most glaring translation error.

And the word is...

...something I shall tell you all about tomorrow!

God I love doing that!

So check back here then.

But please,

Always remember...

To stay crispy, my friend.

Tuesday, 6:14 pm

  1. Schmidt, Johannes. "Niklas Luhmann's Card Index: Thinking Tool, Communication Partner, Publication Machine." Forgetting Machines. Knowledge Management Evolution in Early Modern Europe 53 (2016). ↩︎

  2. Miller, Nick. "Four Key Features of Academic Style." Students, March 2, 2020. ↩︎


Scott P. Scheper