Zettelkasten Forum

No longer lurking

Hello everyone!

My name is Taylor and I'm new to the forum, though not new to the Zettelkasten method. I've been reading Zettelkasten.de since my undergrad degree (around 2013/2014) and lurking the forums for as long as they've been around. Thank you Christian and Sascha for your tireless work collecting resources, translating the Zettelkasten concept into English, and sharing insights from your own research process!

I'm now a doctoral student studying philosophy at a Canadian university (mostly phil. of language, phi. of logic, what is known in North America as "Continental philosophy," and occassionally some virtue ethics and phil. of sexuality). I've gotten more serious about my research and writing process lately, and have a lot more free time due to the current pandemic. So I figured I should get involved here to learn more from others.

By way of introduction, I thought I'd share an overview of my experience with the Zettelkasten Method. I've gone through three ZK iterations:

  1. The first was in undergrad (circa 2013-2015) and primarily consisted of vague, quotation-heavy notes from a Marxist philosophy course I was taking. It also included, I'm embarrassed to admit, an almost exact copy of the first half of Book I of Spinoza's Ethics (Spinoza's Ethics is written in a very ZK-like manner, and I basically copied Spinoza's own intratextual citations). Needless to say this approach got very boring very quickly and didn't generate anything of note (so to speak). Christian and Sascha already warned of collecting without processing, but I guess I needed to learn this lesson for myself.

  2. The second iteration (circa 2015-2016) was made during a Masters Degree in cinema studies and consisted of mainly of film-viewing notes and notes on film theory. I organized this one more hierarchically, inspired by Dan Scheffler's protocol (e.g. Godard - Breathless - Jump Cuts). I don't have much memory of this ZK but I do remember I didn't link notes very much. Most of the notes didn't have enough context for me to do anything useful with. I did end up producing some papers out of it, but they were very choppy. Too much hierarchy, not enough linking.

  3. The third iteration (2017-today) I started during my Masters Degree in philosophy. It started out a bit bumpy but I think I've gotten more comfortable with it. I initially kept Scheffler's nesting titles and a focus on concepts rather than claims. I had notes like "Aristotle - Substance", "Aristotle - Accident", "Aristotle - Homonymy". The insufficiency of this became clear when I went to write a research paper on Aristotle. You can't really build a paper outline with concept notes alone. So I started making both concept and "proposition" notes, with concept notes structuring collections of proposition notes on a single term (ideally; it often doesn't work out like this). However, after reading the recent renaissance of the Folgezettel debate, I'm suspecting that I'm still trying to use the ZK as a collecting/drafting machine rather than a thinking machine, as Pseudoevagrius warns. Sönke Ahrens gives a similar warning, I think, when he warns against thinking like an archivist ("Where should this note be categorized?") rather than a writer ("What line(s) of thought in the ZK does this note expand on?"). It's got me thinking that my ZK may still focus too much on categorization than on association and development of ideas and lines of thought.

Here are my current ZK projects:
1. A seminar paper on Nietzsche's Genealogy of Morality
2. A short piece of writing on Raymond Ruyer's book Neofinalism
3. A long term, ambitious dissertation on the status of language in Deleuze's philosophy (and perhaps situating it in relation to the structuralist tradition and early Analytic philosophy of language, if I'm extra ambitious)

I think that's enough for now. I look forward to being more engaged here!


  • Thanks for sharing your journey in such detail! That's a very nice level of detail, and I guess we can all relate to note collections being lost and abandoned one way or another. Let's all just pause a minute in remembrance of the grand ideas that were never produced.

    With English notes, I still struggle with concept note title conventions. (In German, I use "Begriff XYZ nach Artistoteles", literal "Concept XYZ according to Aristotle", but that doesn't cut it.) The simple dash I like very much and never adopted from Dan.

    Please keep us posted with your project progress! We have a "Your Current Projects" category that is super well suited for sharing what you do and also get feedback on the How.


    Author at Zettelkasten.de • https://christiantietze.de/

  • Thank you Christian!

    Naming notes is one of the biggest challenges I think. Along with what to call concept notes (I ended up just using "X's concept of Y" for the most part, unless it was a very uniquely named concept), I also struggled with whether I should include "distinction" notes (e.g. do I need a note for "a priori" and one for "a posteriori" with a link between them or do I just need an "a priori vs. a posteriori" note? Or all three?). Right now I'm still struggling with whether to title notes about what a philosopher thinks in the form of "A thinks p" or just "p". (The former is better for history of philosophy, while the latter is better for systematic philosophy. But I want to do both!) And there are times when I just want a note to be a quick, one sentence comment that doesn't really deserve a full title. But I also can't stand untitled notes in my ZK!

  • @Taylor glad you are here. I enjoyed your introduction and the perspective you are adding to the conversations.

  • @Taylor Why not both :)

    Have an overview of all uses of p, and then have each variant/interpretation/source of p in a separate note.

    Author at Zettelkasten.de • https://christiantietze.de/

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