Zettelkasten Forum


Translation of a quote by Luhmann

@Eurobubba said:

@sfast said:

Zettelkasten als Klärgrube - nicht nur abgeklärte Notizen hineintun. Aufschieben des Prüfens und Entscheiden - und eine Tempofrage (Zettel 9/8a2)

Translation:

Zettelkasten as septic sink -- don't only put in fully processed notes. Delaying of examination and decision -- and a question of speed. (note 9/8a2)

( @Eurobubba how would you translate?)

Oh, now you're risking a lengthy off-topic digression on the semiotics of technical terms as metaphors! That's a deceptively challenging little snippet of text there (I should probably expect no less from Luhmann!). Maybe:

Zettelkasten as settling pond — not just for fully digested notes. Put off examining and deciding — and keep moving! (Zettel 9/8a2)

(Another digression — I think it makes sense to keep 'zettel' in English to refer to the specific concept/object within the Zettelkasten system while leaving 'note' as a more generic expression.)

Comments

  • So, let me start from the backwards:

    Why do you translate " und eine Tempofrage" with "and keep moving"?

  • @sfast said:
    So, let me start from the backwards:

    Why do you translate " und eine Tempofrage" with "and keep moving"?

    It's not a literal translation (obviously)! I took the entire quote as a recommendation or advice to someone who might want to emulate his zettelkasten process (or maybe just to himself; I don't know the context, but unless I'm wrong about his intention it doesn't really matter). I understand "eine Tempofrage" as "a matter of speed" or "(keeping up the) pace", i.e. getting the information into zettel form quickly. He's giving the reader permission to put off examining and deciding and to include not-fully-digested notes in part ("und") for the sake of not allowing the process to bog down. If he's concerned about Tempo and he's acknowledging that these notes are nicht abgeklärt, that strongly suggests that he wants to move on to the next note or to some other task rather than spending time now to complete the Abklärung. Since the style of the German is informal, e.g. it's not written in complete sentences, "keep moving" seemed like the most natural way to express that in English. There's no one word in English that quite corresponds to this sense of Tempo.

    FWIW, if this were for publication I'd also want to take a closer look at just what he meant by "abgeklärt".

  • edited February 14

    Mh. I think the main issue here is that we have a different approach on translating. I try to be as close to the phrases as I can get while you are willing to interpret in order to get the point across you see. That is also the reason why I refuse to use "Zettel" and just say (or write) notes. I am very hesitant to touch language.

    "Abgeklärt" by the way seems to be a play of words. It has meaning in the context of the settling pond (which is the better translation imho than mine) and meaning in the context of evaluation. Water is "abgeklärt" when the particles settled on the ground. If you are "abgeklärt" you have your shit together (sometimes meant in a slightly derogatory way). German has its strange way with its pre- and suffixes. You can even have an "abgeklärt" deal. You can find [100 synonyms in 4 categories|(https://synonyme.woxikon.de/synonyme/abklären.php) for this word. Our language is quite strange. :smile:

    The note is not an advice. It is just a note in his Zettelkasten.

  • I stick closer to the original wording for things like legal documents, but this wasn't that. More broadly, though, my philosophy is that translating is "impossible" anyway — any word or phrase in one language will never mean "exactly" the same thing to a reader in a different language because meaning is always dependent on context, and a different language environment is always a different context. The best you can do is produce a target document that functions as intended in the target language environment. So producing an effective translation is always and irreducibly a matter of subjective judgment. "Traduttore, traditore."

  • Perhaps, I have one issue here stemming from our interpretation differences:

    not just for fully digested notes

    The notes are fully digested and that is not what "abgeklärt" refers to. They are processed as notes but not evaluated for writing projects or the context of the research.

  • edited March 1

    I see... Maybe something along the lines of "include notes even when not yet sure where they fit in" (or maybe even "where they'll settle"). I'd have to give it some more thought...

    @sfast said:
    That is also the reason why I refuse to use "Zettel" and just say (or write) notes. I am very hesitant to touch language.

    I'd say 'notes' is pretty close to 'Notizen' but that and Zettel are two different concepts. If you're talking about an electronic ZK (as opposed to Luhmann's with literal slips of paper), you're already using Zettel metaphorically in German. In English, since the concept needs to be explained anyway (even if you say 'slip' and 'slipbox'), you might as well take advantage of the specificity gained by adopting the German word.

  • @Eurobubba said:
    I'd say 'notes' is pretty close to 'Notizen' but that and Zettel are two different concepts. If you're talking about an electronic ZK (as opposed to Luhmann's with literal slips of paper), you're already using Zettel metaphorically in German. In English, since the concept needs to be explained anyway (even if you say 'slip' and 'slipbox'), you might as well take advantage of the specificity gained by adopting the German word.

    I agree on the premisses. But I the metaphorical use of Zettel in the digital realm should not translate into one extra step of translation. The reason I refer to ditigal notes as Zettel in German is to invoke a haptic sensation. This would be lost with the German word in English. I'd rather switch to slip than to Zettel.

    Even in German it is not obvious why you'd still call it a Zettel and not something else.

  • @sfast said:
    I'd rather switch to slip than to Zettel.

    The problem with 'slip' is that it doesn't necessarily immediately evoke a slip of paper unless you actually use the full phrase 'slip of paper' — and that's not what a note in an electronic Zettelkasten is. You'd still have to explain just what it is you're actually talking about, so you won't really have gained anything by not borrowing the German word.

    In German I think the main reason you call it a Zettel is because the system as a whole is called a Zettelkasten. I guess I'm saying you might as well keep both words in English, since 'slip box' doesn't mean anything outside this context and you're not going to be able to avoid explaining the terms anyway.

  • I see the problem with slip.

    But I am not sure if I need to correct my opinion: "I'd rather switch to slip than to Zettel."

    I don't use both but still see "Zettel" as more problematic than slip. Either way, you have to explain it via the metaphorical layer. With "Zettel" it is the same. Nobody got first why files are called "Zettel" unless they know the background.

    "Note" would be more understandable while both "Zettel" and "slip" need further explanation.

    And "Zettelkasten" as a system is very unknown in Germany, too.

  • edited March 21

    I see both sides. I personally use "zettel" even though I am a native English-speaker (though with fondness for German). What is revolutionary for me about the zettelkasten is the whole concept itself. This concept is more than just the place to store zetteln. It is about reshaping my relationship to reading, research, and writing altogether. So the foreign word (whether literally in the sense of it being German or figuratively in the sense that even most Germans are not familiar with the idea) evokes this new conceptual relationship. To use familiar words like "note" might make it more legible to newcomers but at the risk of eroding the crucial relationship to the whole that the word invokes– that relationship of communication that Luhrmann talks about.

    "Notes" in English parlance are often treated as records of past thoughts or "memos" in the sense of "reminders" and thus prompts for things that are supposedly already in your head. The zettel is an externalization of thought and also thought-in-process (or writing). A zettelkasten is a conversation partner.

    I've always been meaning to find another word for the zk in my own relationship with it, but no other word has really fit. Maybe I'm too unimaginative or lazy? Or maybe it's just too late for me?

    But this is more a practical note, not a note about translation, I guess.

  • Ok. Evidence is piling up for the use of "Zettel". Perhaps, the question is better answered with an empirical approach? I'll start a poll.

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