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The Zettelkasten Method for Fiction I – Knowledge is Knowledge


imageThe Zettelkasten Method for Fiction I – Knowledge is Knowledge

The source does not have an influence on the nature of the knowledge you process. I demonstrate this by processing quotes from 'The Godfather'.

Read the full story here


Comments

  • Factoring fiction into atomic knowledge quanta.

    @sfast said:
    There is no reason to treat them any different, because the source does not dictate the nature of the type of knowledge we are confronted with.

    As a testament to your assertion.

    Last spring term in ENGL473 which was a review of literature based on place and most of it fiction, I was surprised how much of the better fiction elicited the same kind of deep processing into my zettelkasten.

    The genre or medium of your source material does not matter for the application and applicability of the Zettelkasten Method. The Zettelkasten Method is a way of dealing with knowledge ... It is not important if your source is a podcast, a book, a philosopher, a theologist, or a dead character in Game of Thrones. Knowledge is knowledge.

    This is a diamond gemstone piece of encouragement! Your example in the blog post is a model to aspire to.

    Will Simpson
    “Read Poetry, Listen to Good Music, and Get Exercise”
    kestrelcreek.com

  • edited January 5
    • The quote "a man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man" does not appear in the copy of Mario Puzo's "The Godfather" novel that I've found.
      Instead it's the slightly different "a man who is not the father to his children can never be a real man".
      The first version comes from Coppola's famous movie. In both versions, it is spoken by Don Vito Corleone to singer Johnny Fontane, who begs for an acting job. The scene proceeds with the even more famous "I'll make him an offer he can't refuse", which again leads to film mogul Jack Woltz finding the severed head of his prized horse Khartoum between his bed sheets.
      I can hardly imagine a better guiding star than Don Vito Corleone to develop ideas about family, honor and what it takes to be a good father and a real man.

    • I found it very illuminating to see an example of processing fiction that doesn't lose time with questions on how a sentence is embedded in plot, character or narrative structure, but directly focuses on its unadulterated meaning.

    • I especially like the initial reformulation - I think it summarizes the intentions of Puzo as a writer, of Don Vito as the character, and of myself as the reader:
      "To become a real man, a man must be complete. You cannot have something missing. Being there for the family is an essential part of a man’s life. So, if a man is not spending time with his family the issue is not just that he withholds quality time from its family. He violates his own honor."
      My inner eye lets me see my favourite quartet of complete men - Leonardo da Vinci, Newton, Leibniz and Walter White, surrounded by their wives and children.

    • I've re-started my processing of James Joyce's "Ulysses" by sorting sentences into a) quotes that make straightforward claims on how the world is or how to act in it and b) quotes with a more hidden meaning.
      But that work is still a bit inconclusive.

    • I think the "First conclusion: Do not care about the source" holds immense potential, especially for historians who in my layman's view waste way too much time assessing side issues like reliability.

    • In one of the sample zettels on GitHub, we read:
      "Men need a code to live by. With no code, with no honor, men become weak and eventually succumb to the temptations of the expedient and lower vices. Making honor depend on whether we spend time with our family puts the pressure on us that's necessary to prevent us from becoming weak. It saves us from living as if we are not the already-dying present. It saves us from the hazards -- for ourselves and our family -- of self-centeredness."
      I found this renewed emphasis on pressure most inspiring, especially after an earlier post:
      "But the common theme is that I put myself under pressure. Creativity happens when you put yourself in a place where it is inevitable to transform what you know or even yourself. Some of the most creative places are prisons, gulags, concentrations camps etc. Or think of the creativity of a person who suffers from paranoia. There is no lightness to creativity. It is mostly a result of external or internal pressure that can't be avoided." (Emphasis is mine, TT.)

    @Will wrote:

    Your example in the blog post is a model to aspire to.

    I couldn't have said it better.

    Post edited by Removed202201121 on
  • edited January 7

    @Will @thomasteepe I feel honored to receive such a compliment from two seasoned Zettlers. :)

    The quote "a man who doesn’t spend time with his family can never be a real man" does not appear in the copy of Mario Puzo's "The Godfather" novel that I've found.

    Dang. :) (I'll change it in the article -- via delegation of course..)

    I can hardly imagine a better guiding star than Don Vito Corleone to develop ideas about family, honor and what it takes to be a good father and a real man.

    I agree 100%. He reminds me of my own grandfather (who was a similar dangerous man but never was criminal or part of organised criminality).

    If you are into fantasy the Drenai-Saga by Gemmell might be a nice read for you. Mostly Legend and The First Chronicles of Druss the Legend.

    I found it very illuminating to see an example of processing fiction that doesn't lose time with questions on how a sentence is embedded in plot, character or narrative structure, but directly focuses on its unadulterated meaning.

    Let's wait how my style develops when I read the books on literary studies in my shelf. :) But I agree with your embedded sentiment (or the one I read into it). At least in Germany, my experience is that some snobbism is part of the literature culture and if you lack certain cultural capital ones approach to literature is not taken seriously.

    I've re-started my processing of James Joyce's "Ulysses" by sorting sentences into a) quotes that make straightforward claims on how the world is or how to act in it and b) quotes with a more hidden meaning.

    My recommendation is to buy 7 Basic Plots by Booker and devour it. You might have another view on Ulysses right away.

    I think the "First conclusion: Do not care about the source" holds immense potential, especially for historians who in my layman's view waste way too much time assessing side issues like reliability.

    I need to postpone my opinion on that until I work on the Zettelkasten for historians specificially. My sloppy semesters in history are not enough to have an opinion on that.

    In one of the sample zettels on GitHub, we read:
    "Men need a code to live by. With no code, with no honor, men become weak and eventually succumb to the temptations of the expedient and lower vices. Making honor depend on whether we spend time with our family puts the pressure on us that's necessary to prevent us from becoming weak. It saves us from living as if we are not the already-dying present. It saves us from the hazards -- for ourselves and our family -- of self-centeredness."
    I found this renewed emphasis on pressure most inspiring, especially after an earlier post:

    "But the common theme is that I put myself under pressure. Creativity happens when you put yourself in a place where it is inevitable to transform what you know or even yourself. Some of the most creative places are prisons, gulags, concentrations camps etc. Or think of the creativity of a person who suffers from paranoia. There is no lightness to creativity. It is mostly a result of external or internal pressure that can't be avoided." (Emphasis is mine, TT.)

    My brother from another mother! Then my in the article published in the middle-distant future on the Pressure Cooking Method of Creativity might be a fitting read for you. :smile:

    Post edited by sfast on

    I am a Zettler

  • edited January 6

    @sfast - I cannot believe I have to write this.

    • Classifying concentration camps among the "most creative places" is hands down the most obscene thing I've read in this forum.
    • You may want to reread my previous post, with the extra information that Leonardo da Vinci, Newton and Leibniz were unmarried.
      If there was a dose of sarcasm in this point - what could that mean for the others?

    • Please do not call me brother again.

    Do me a favour and terminate my membership in this forum.

    Post edited by Removed202201121 on
  • edited January 7

    You may want to reread my previous post, with the extra information that Leonardo da Vinci, Newton and Leibniz were unmarried.

    Oh, your sarcasm went right over my head.

    Classifying concentration camps among the "most creative places" is hands down the most obscene thing I've read in this forum.

    Not if you deem Viktor Frankl's work as one of the most admirable of all existing. I might not have the usual sensibilties of you "normal" Germans since my family was abducted and tortured (and killed) by the Nazis and the Soviets alike. If you think I am sympathising with the of the guards of the concentration camps and gulags you are very wrong (almost as wrong as you can be I might say).

    Please do not call me brother again.

    All men are my brothers, and all women are my sisters. So, in some future, it might slip over my lips.

    Do me a favour and terminate my membership in this forum.

    If you base your request on the misconception I sympathise with the guards of the concentration camps and gulags you can retract it. If I misunderstood you in this regard then send me a pm to confirm your request. In this case: Thanks for your awesome work in this forum.

    I am a Zettler

  • @sfast:

    • I never suspected you had sympathies for Nazis or the like. But looking at concentration camps and coming to the conclusion "look at the ideas people generated under these conditions - this is one of the most creative places" is something I find obscene.
    • It was never my intention to make this a discussion about concentration camps. I found your article on fiction abysmally incompetent, and I wanted to poke more or less gentle fun at it. By adding the quote in question I wanted to startle people into looking much closer at the things you actually write.
    • In this forum you are one of the moderators and you can delete posts.
      I guess you will explain to readers the events from January 1, where you first unsuccessfully tried to muzzle user @daggerman and then probably banned him and then made his comments and yours disappear. I do not have an opinion on whether that was right - I found @daggerman's initial post fairly insolent - but I think it is a good idea to create some amount of transparency about what things can and cannot be said in this forum. - This question of forum transparency and equality is the main reason that made me decide to leave.

    • This post will very soon disappear from the radar of its few readers, and things in the forum will proceed as normal. I hope that as a result of this conversation some people will read and write with a more alert sense for quality.

    So, here is the confirmation of my request:
    Please terminate my membership in this forum.

  • @thomasteepe said:
    I found your article on fiction abysmally incompetent, and I wanted to poke more or less gentle fun at it.

    It would have been more productive to actually pointing out your criticism. At least for me. Now, I will die in ignorance.

    I guess you will explain to readers the events from January 1, where you first unsuccessfully tried to muzzle user @daggerman and then probably banned him and then made his comments and yours disappear. I do not have an opinion on whether that was right - I found @daggerman's initial post fairly insolent - but I think it is a good idea to create some amount of transparency about what things can and cannot be said in this forum. - This question of forum transparency and equality is the main reason that made me decide to leave.

    I am surprised that there needs to be further reasoning and an explicit rule that trying to publicly shame someone into doing something and then ignoring the explicit warning of a moderator to not proceed such a behavior is no allowed.

    So, here is the confirmation of my request:
    Please terminate my membership in this forum.

    Done. Best of luck in your life.

    I am a Zettler

  • Well that escalated quickly...

  • Anyway...back to topic.

    I agree with others that the depth of processing is impressive. I look back at some of my notes, fiction or otherwise, and they seem depressingly shallow in comparison. I did have some questions though.

    I imagine if we were looking through @sfast's Zettelkasten we would find a large amount of related material. As an isolated example though, it seems like we are putting knowledge into the quote as opposed to extracting knowledge from the quote. It is almost like the quote was used as a writing prompt.

    The quote was also processed in isolation. Given that it is set inside a novel, one could imagine expanding upon the ideas based on the actions of the character or other thoughts he has expressed.

    Turning these comments into questions, what would be the goal in processing fiction like this? Does the fiction serve as a source of inspiration? I guess it depends on what your project is. If your goal is not to analyze this particular novel, then maybe there is no point in examining the context of the quote.

    About a year ago, I started reading more fiction again and I had the question of how, or even if, I should put anything back into my Zettelkasten based on it. I have quotes from people like Lincoln or Aristotle. Your article helps me realize that they are not necessarily more legitimate sources of knowledge than Don Quixote. Most of the time, a line catches my eye and I make a note where I either struggle to understand it or use it as a prompt for thinking.

    I was assuming synthesizing ideas across the novel would lead to something deeper, but it is much more difficult for me than extracting isolated passages.

    I guess my main, somewhat rhetorical, question is, what is the point of processing/extracting knowledge from fiction? Maybe this question is meaningless because it is essentially the same thing I struggled with when processing a biography on Lincoln. I guess the difference is when most of us sit down to read non-fiction we have some plan or goal in mind. The reading can be in service to some purpose. When we read fiction, it is likely to not be in service of some project. So then, the knowledge we process from this fiction is like the knowledge we process from this forum or a conversation from a friend. Something catches our attention and we grab it. This is the example you are demonstrating.

    If your project was analyzing representations of the Mafia, then you might process The Godfather like a philosopher would process Kant. Maybe this is the criticism that @thomasteepe was trying to bring in. There is a deeper way of treating the material as a whole, but this was not an example of it. However, I think the reason it is not an example of it is because it was not your goal.

    Sorry for the stream of consciousness here.

  • @boxcariii, you ask several rhetorical questions, so here are my rhetorical answers.
    I am but a beginner. My only intention is to add to the conversation where I dream I might contribute.

    @boxcariii said:
    It is almost like the quote was used as a writing prompt.

    To use a quote as a writing/thinking prompt is the highest compliment you can give to a quote. You are capturing it into your private web of knowledge.

    The quote was also processed in isolation. Given that it is set inside a novel, one could imagine expanding upon the ideas based on the actions of the character or other thoughts he has expressed.

    Quotes are supposed to be taken in isolation. Literary criticism is the domain that considers the inside or context of a novel.

    Turning these comments into questions, what would be the goal in processing fiction like this? Does the fiction serve as a source of inspiration?

    The best fiction is inspirational, but there is a lot of crap out there.

    Your article helps me realize that they are not necessarily more legitimate sources of knowledge than Don Quixote. Most of the time, a line catches my eye and I make a note where I either struggle to understand it or use it as a prompt for thinking.

    It seems we both use quotes as prompts for thinking.

    I was assuming synthesizing ideas across the novel would lead to something deeper, but it is much more difficult for me than extracting isolated passages.

    Again this is a domain where literary criticism excels. Literary criticism looks at themes and how quotes from a book apply to and interrelate with the book's themes.

    I guess the difference is when most of us sit down to read non-fiction we have some plan or goal in mind. The reading can be in service to some purpose. When we read fiction, it is likely to not be in service of some project.

    Yes, no, and maybe sometimes. You hedged your assertions, but I'd hedge them even more. Whether fiction or non-fiction supports a plan, goal, purpose, or project, it's a genuine mixed bag.

    Sorry for the stream of consciousness here.

    Me too, sorry for subjecting you to my stream of consciousness.

    Will Simpson
    “Read Poetry, Listen to Good Music, and Get Exercise”
    kestrelcreek.com

  • @boxcariii said:
    I imagine if we were looking through @sfast's Zettelkasten we would find a large amount of related material. As an isolated example though, it seems like we are putting knowledge into the quote as opposed to extracting knowledge from the quote. It is almost like the quote was used as a writing prompt.

    100% acurate, but not 100% complete. The isolated quote in question is basically a claim. Claims are just information: Just there and you have to do something with it if you want to transform it into knowledge. The five aspects of knowledge I use are a tool to transform it.

    It think the following is missing:

    • Similar to a aphorism by Nietzsche of even a psalm of the bible one can argue that the meaning is embedded and one needs to unfold it. I did it via the five aspects of knowledge. Another way of unfolding the meaning could be relating the claim to other parts of the book to contextualise it.
    • It is quite hard to distinguish extraction and putting something into the quote. Anything you do epistemiologically with the quote needs some mental tool. Even analysing an argument could be seen as adding something to it: The logical form. I think both aspects are present whenever you process anything by necessity. You bring two things together, the text in question and your mental tools, and see what you can do.

    The quote was also processed in isolation. Given that it is set inside a novel, one could imagine expanding upon the ideas based on the actions of the character or other thoughts he has expressed.

    Yes. My purpose was to present an element of the whole process. @Annabella asked a very good question on how to understand why we like certain characters. I will give my answer by analysing what Puzo did with the reader. (Spoiler: In [German], the movie was criticised for exactly this issue)

    Turning these comments into questions, what would be the goal in processing fiction like this? Does the fiction serve as a source of inspiration? I guess it depends on what your project is. If your goal is not to analyze this particular novel, then maybe there is no point in examining the context of the quote.

    My personal goal, as stated above, was to demonstrate how you can ignore context. Hence, the claim "knowledge is knowledge". When I process the book for my own sake, I will do something similar. It will be a source of inspiration for both my personal and professional life. I don't have any obligation to adhere to conventions of any kinds.

    From the top of my head, I think that I will connect bits of the books like this to:

    • My experience of being a care-taker of severly handicapped autist with epilepsy and his treatment by the public. (Side-Job to finance university)
    • Behavior in a low-trust environment like communism, war, prison or disfunctional families.
    • Sympathy and how to manipulate it in fiction (My main connection will be The Shawshank Redemption)
    • Machiavellianism
    • The nature of evil (one of my annoying writing projects)

    About a year ago, I started reading more fiction again and I had the question of how, or even if, I should put anything back into my Zettelkasten based on it. I have quotes from people like Lincoln or Aristotle. Your article helps me realize that they are not necessarily more legitimate sources of knowledge than Don Quixote. Most of the time, a line catches my eye and I make a note where I either struggle to understand it or use it as a prompt for thinking.

    This is my claim. Most of the bits of wisdoms are just unfounded claims by people we trust. Most of the time we have a gut feeling and processing is a way to understands ones gut feeling.

    I was assuming synthesizing ideas across the novel would lead to something deeper, but it is much more difficult for me than extracting isolated passages.

    I guess my main, somewhat rhetorical, question is, what is the point of processing/extracting knowledge from fiction? Maybe this question is meaningless because it is essentially the same thing I struggled with when processing a biography on Lincoln. I guess the difference is when most of us sit down to read non-fiction we have some plan or goal in mind. The reading can be in service to some purpose. When we read fiction, it is likely to not be in service of some project. So then, the knowledge we process from this fiction is like the knowledge we process from this forum or a conversation from a friend. Something catches our attention and we grab it. This is the example you are demonstrating.

    My personal recommendation is to be assertive enough to just produce with the same confidence Lincoln, Nietzsche or Puzo put out their claims. You don't see any empirical evidence connected to my processing. The nature of my work will lead to empirical evidence in the future. But there are quite some parts of my Zettelkasten that are not founded on any empirical evidence. It is fine because I am just stating my opinions to the best of my ability.

    The benefit to me is that this deep processing enhances the effect literature has on me. It is an amplifier.

    If your project was analyzing representations of the Mafia, then you might process The Godfather like a philosopher would process Kant. Maybe this is the criticism that @thomasteepe was trying to bring in. There is a deeper way of treating the material as a whole, but this was not an example of it. However, I think the reason it is not an example of it is because it was not your goal.

    I might add another spoiler: Puzo uses a cognitive vulnerability to make the reader like Vito.

    Sorry for the stream of consciousness here.

    No need for an apology.


    @Will said:
    Quotes are supposed to be taken in isolation. Literary criticism is the domain that considers the inside or context of a novel.

    I might add a grain of salt: Context can be useful. Nietzsche was burned by Lou Salome. And looking at the famous picture of him posing as an ass invoked some additional thoughts on his work. :)

    I am a Zettler

  • @will and @sfast, thanks for the responses. They were certainly helpful. Aphorisms (Nietzschean or otherwise) were exactly what I had in mind when I was writing my post and I think this really helps illustrate the point.

    What I am understanding is that there is nothing wrong with taking a quote from anywhere, treating it as a claim, and then analyzing it. It might completely change the interpretation by considering other context, but that does not make it unproductive to examine it alone. However, if I take the quote in isolation, I should be careful not to apply it to its context either.

    For instance, I cannot take a random line from Nietzsche and then say he believed whatever interpretation I come up with. That in itself would be a claim that would require more support.

    Maybe that is the useful dichotomy. @sfast makes no claims about the characters or the novel. He sees a claim and analyzes it. If he took the step of then making a claim about Puzo or Vito (based solely on the single quote), then treating the quote without context is problematic.

  • edited January 10

    What's interesting to me is that I expected this to speak more to how a ZK could be used to write fiction, not process works of fiction. Maybe I'm particularly dull in my understanding of ZK, but to me an idea is an idea. Whether it shows up in a work of fiction or whether it shows up in Luce Irigiray's Je, Tu, Nous. You process them the same. What's really interesting to me is how fiction writers might use a ZK to organize thoughts, develop characters, plots, subplots, etc. That sounds bananas and fascinating. Any chance you'll be speaking on that? Anyone else wanna chime in on it?

  • edited January 10

    What's really interesting to me is how fiction writers might use a ZK to organize thoughts, develop characters, plots, subplots, etc. That sounds bananas and fascinating. Any chance you'll be speaking on that?

    The series has four parts. It beginns with pure processing and ends with creating. So: Yes.

    I am a Zettler

  • @taurusnoises said:
    What's interesting to me is that I expected this to speak more to how a ZK could be used to write fiction, not process works of fiction. Maybe I'm particularly dull in my understanding of ZK, but to me an idea is an idea. Whether it shows up in a work of fiction or whether it shows up in Luce Irigiray's Je, Tu, Nous. You process them the same.

    Yes, that's the way I think about it as well. There's the additional question of how to determine if something is fiction or non-fiction - it's not always clear. But in the context of capturing ideas in your ZK, I don't think it matters.

    What's really interesting to me is how fiction writers might use a ZK to organize thoughts, develop characters, plots, subplots, etc. That sounds bananas and fascinating. Any chance you'll be speaking on that? Anyone else wanna chime in on it?

    I believe a ZK is eminently suited to doing this; look forward to @sfast 's further comments as well.

  • edited January 19

    As someone who has completed half of a PhD in comparative literature -- not a terribly impressive feat, I know -- I have read this latest blog series on The Zettelkasten Method for Fiction with interest. Let me share a few of my reactions.

    • I love the enthusiasm for reading and learning from fiction, and for incorporating it into our webs of thought and knowledge.
    • The tools described (a “framework” for analyzing stories and a “functional model” for analyzing characters) are not at all similar to practices I used or witnessed during my time in graduate school. That’s fine, as Sascha’s goals in approaching fiction are also evidently different from mine (and from those of the graduate students and faculty I’ve interacted with). It seems that Sascha’s tools serve his own goals, and I’m glad he’s shared them with us. But I wanted to note that there are many other ways to analyze fiction than what’s presented in these blog posts.
    • The “Disclaimer” in Part II was disheartening to read. I can understand the desire to “exclude” style and focus only on story, although I’d argue that to do so is impossible, and in any case excludes what’s most interesting about fiction. But hey: if “story” is what matters to you, feel free to (try to) focus only on that. What sank my soul, though, was Sascha’s facetious dismissal of style (which he says is “not important to the story itself”) as the use of “lots of different synonyms” or the indulgence of an “alliteration addiction”. I suppose that “style” is what I’ve spent my years in comparative literature studying, although I’d call it by a different name and tend to think there’s more to it than use of synonyms and alliteration, and perhaps more to be learned from “style” than from “story” (scare quotes because I don’t think these elements can or should be separated). Sascha, I actually think you would agree, and I hope that you eventually loosen your exclusionary approach to fiction.

    Although I’ve already gone on too long, I feel the need to address one of the wildest forum exchanges I’ve ever seen, between Sascha and “Removed202201121”. Rather than fully wading into whatever happened there, I’ll just try briefly to unravel some of the contorted sarcasm of that Jan 5 comment. I don’t know that user, and I could be wrong about what I think they probably meant. But in any case, I’ll foolhardily attempt to guess the intentions behind a few of their points:

    • When the user commended Sascha’s “example of processing fiction that doesn't lose time with questions on how a sentence is embedded in plot, character or narrative structure, but directly focuses on its unadulterated meaning”, they probably meant that those “question” can never be elided, and that it is foolish to think one can determine a sentence’s “unadulterated meaning”.
    • When the user claimed to be sorting Joyce’s Ulysses into “a) quotes that make straightforward claims on how the world is or how to act in it and b) quotes with a more hidden meaning”, they were probably suggesting that this is an absurd and impossible thing to attempt.
    • When the user wrote that Sascha’s conclusion to not care about the source “holds immense potential”, they were probably 100% sarcastic.
    • I’m pretty sure that the user is not a fan of Don Vito Corleone ... and I’d guess they think there is more than a “slight difference” between those two quotes of his.

    To be honest, I’m mostly on Removed202201121’s side regarding these points ... even though they presented their argument in a stunningly obscure way and then threw a fit when Sascha took them at their word. They also made no real attempt to understand or acknowledge Sascha’s points. But, @sfast , I also think that in your blog posts you presented your conclusions in a way that did not leave much room for other ways to approach and analyze fiction. ... I realize that I haven't explained what these "other ways" actually are, but I hope that this comment encourages you to more clearly allow for the possibility that they might exist.

  • Thanks @dgbeecher for your awesome comment!

    @dgbeecher said:
    As someone who has completed half of a PhD in comparative literature -- not a terribly impressive feat, I know -- I have read this latest blog series on The Zettelkasten Method for Fiction with interest. Let me share a few of my reactions.

    • I love the enthusiasm for reading and learning from fiction, and for incorporating it into our webs of thought and knowledge.

    At least something. :)

    • The tools described (a “framework” for analyzing stories and a “functional model” for analyzing characters) are not at all similar to practices I used or witnessed during my time in graduate school.

    I am totally aware of that. I attended to a couple of classes in literary studies. When I started to learn about stories I was struck by the difference of people who teach to write stories and and my experience in literary studies. Later, when I read authors like Jordan Peterson, Jonathan Pageau and Christopher Booker on how they analyses stories, I came to the conclusion that their approach to stories is much closer to the "story practicians" (Truby, Coyne and alike) than the "story theoreticians" (mostly academics).

    To me, there is a crass line between those to groups of people. This series is me being in the camp of the later. So, regarding the Zettelkasten Method, there could be a distinct series called "The Zettelkasten Method for literary studies".

    • The “Disclaimer” in Part II was disheartening to read. I can understand the desire to “exclude” style and focus only on story, although I’d argue that to do so is impossible, and in any case excludes what’s most interesting about fiction.

    The audience of this series is mostly of one of two backgrounds:

    1. People who just want to know what they can do with fiction to utilise their Zettelkasten to get the most out of it. For them the first article is the most important one. It is basically a "permission" to just do as you please aka being a "bad reader".
    2. People who ask the question: Can I use the Zettelkasten to write or at least assist my fiction writing.

    Neither of them, I claim, get the most benefit by adhering to conventions of literary studies on how to approach fiction.

    What is a bad reader?

    Die schlechtesten Leser sind die, welche wie plündernde Soldaten verfahren: Sie nehmen sich einiges, was sie brauchen können, heraus, beschmutzen und verwirren das übrige und lästern auf das Ganze. -- Nietzsche Nietzsche, Menschliches, Allzumenschliches. Ein Buch für freie Geister, 1878

    Translation: The worst readers are those who act like plundering soldiers. They take out some things that they might use, cover the rest with filth and confusion, and slander the whole.

    The context of Nietzsches quote is the treatment of his own work and the dishonest approach of the critics towards his work. One could argue that I commit a similar atrocity towards Puzo. But the main difference is that I don't criticise Puzo in anyway. The only thing that might be harmed are the personas of some (obviously not yours) literary theoreticians.

    What sank my soul, though, was Sascha’s facetious dismissal of style (which he says is “not important to the story itself”) as the use of “lots of different synonyms” or the indulgence of an “alliteration addiction”.

    I feel you. Sometimes, I get a similar feeling when people don't appreciate the depth I dedicated myself to. It feels like a orcish barbarian spits on your elvish lute and rather listens to primitive drum beats because there is no harmony just the beating heart of war.

    I suppose that “style” is what I’ve spent my years in comparative literature studying, although I’d call it by a different name and tend to think there’s more to it than use of synonyms and alliteration, and perhaps more to be learned from “style” than from “story” (scare quotes because I don’t think these elements can or should be separated). Sascha, I actually think you would agree, and I hope that you eventually loosen your exclusionary approach to fiction.

    I don't have any exclusionary approach. :) But I disagree based on my experience of both sides of the coin. Some of my claims are:

    1. Style and story can and even should be separated, though for a thorough literary analysis of a story both are important, of course.
    2. What I call style is the mastery of the medium. Of course, it is very important. But story can and even should be separated from its medium. Take the tale Beauty and the Beast. Some think it is a live action movie. Others think it is a family of adaptations. It could be even a story as old as 6000 years. But if you look closer it might even be 350 Million years old or more. The story of Beauty and the Beast can be sung, written, played or even played out in mating rituals of various species including the human one. Each of the medium needs to be mastered if you want to tell the story. But the story remains eternally stored in our collective unconsciousness.

    So, my approach is not exclusionary. But rather working class instead of academic. :)

    Although I’ve already gone on too long, I feel the need to address one of the wildest forum exchanges I’ve ever seen, between Sascha and “Removed202201121”. Rather than fully wading into whatever happened there, I’ll just try briefly to unravel some of the contorted sarcasm of that Jan 5 comment. I don’t know that user, and I could be wrong about what I think they probably meant. But in any case, I’ll foolhardily attempt to guess the intentions behind a few of their points:

    I think I can put myself into the shoes of someone who studied literary and is in the academic-theoretician camp. At least, I get why my approach can be even categorised as crude and rugged. Even abysmally incompetent. So, after deciphering the sarcasm which I didn't get at all until Removed123 lifted the curtain, I brushed his emotional reaction off as burgois contempt for someone with no "culture" which I quite regularly encountered before the Covid-Lockdowns with my more academic peers (and could visit some art galleries and have discussions with that everpresent slightly condescending tone because of my working class views and manners). :)

    • When the user commended Sascha’s “example of processing fiction that doesn't lose time with questions on how a sentence is embedded in plot, character or narrative structure, but directly focuses on its unadulterated meaning”, they probably meant that those “question” can never be elided, and that it is foolish to think one can determine a sentence’s “unadulterated meaning”.

    If you make your argument I can formulate a response. Perhaps, with a question so I can add it to the Q&A-Part that is planned to unfold some of the nuances that I left out for, for example, didactic reasons.

    • When the user claimed to be sorting Joyce’s Ulysses into “a) quotes that make straightforward claims on how the world is or how to act in it and b) quotes with a more hidden meaning”, they were probably suggesting that this is an absurd and impossible thing to attempt.

    Now, I see the point. Before I was educated about sarcasm, I just thought that it was crazy or I didn't understood it correctly. But Ulysses will be one of the last books I will read, so not important. :)

    They also made no real attempt to understand or acknowledge Sascha’s points. But, @sfast , I also think that in your blog posts you presented your conclusions in a way that did not leave much room for other ways to approach and analyze fiction. ... I realize that I haven't explained what these "other ways" actually are, but I hope that this comment encourages you to more clearly allow for the possibility that they might exist.

    I thought about that quite some time and talked with Christian about the same matter. To me, the emboldened claim is not correct. It is not that I can't understand why you might feel that way. But I disagree.

    I don't leave rhethorical hints like they "My conclusion at this point in time is" (making my opinion relativ to time) or "given my line of argument my conclusion is" (making my opinion relativ to the logical form of my thinking) or "this is my approach but there are others" (making my opinion relative to me). I don't leave them because all of these are given. Even if I presented some math calculus, perhaps the most "objective" thing out there, all of these hints would state something true. Those are always true.

    But even I wrote:

    Style is excluded for didactic reasons.

    And:

    This is my framework when I analyse stories.

    I am a Zettler

  • edited January 21

    I did not find Removed202201121's points "stunningly obscure"--they were ironic and, at the risk of becoming Removed202201211 or later, very funny. When I was a little boy, my parents took me with them to play and poetry readings in lower Manhattan, where I met drunken, chain-smoking poets and actors. I was jaded by about 9 years old.

    Having grown up with writers, I have to agree with @sfast when he writes:

    I attended to a couple of classes in literary studies. When I started to learn about stories I was struck by the difference of people who teach to write stories and and my experience in literary studies.

    Against the reasonable and to my mind unimaginative objection that one might be an academic at one time and an artist at another, consider the canonical Western literature.

    And a third kind of possession and madness comes from the Muses. This takes hold upon a gentle and pure soul, arouses it and inspires it to songs and other poetry, and thus by adorning countless deeds of the ancients educates later generations. But he who without the divine madness comes to the doors of the Muses, confident that he will be a good poet by art, meets with no success, and the poetry of the sane man vanishes into nothingness before that of the inspired madmen.

    – Plato, Phaedrus [245a].

    The gentle and pure soul in this case is the cautious, non-Nietzschean academic. True, there are exceptions, such as George Saunders or Kay Ryan, but they really are exceptional. How exceptional? Leave it to The Chronicle of Higher Education to pull the rug out from under its readership.

    People go [to graduate school] on a whim, or to get a promotion. Again and again the decision is invoked in terms of escape … It’s the last resort for the person who is ‘generally artistic and literary,’ but not a writer or an artist.

    — Jacob Mikanowski, The Secret Scandal of Grad School, Chronicle of Higher Education, May 27, 2014.

    What artist or writer would want to be considered "'generally artistic or literary' but not a writer or an artist"? The suggestion is that "either artist or academic" is not a false dichotomy. Perhaps there is enough truth in this to be genuinely irritating.

    Erdös #2. ZK software components.~~~~ “If you’re thinking without writing, you only think you’re thinking.” -- Leslie Lamport.

  • edited January 21

    @ZettelDistraction said:
    The gentle and pure soul in this case is the cautious, non-Nietzschean academic. True, there are exceptions, such as George Saunders or Kay Ryan, but they really are exceptional. How exceptional? Leave it to The Chronicle of Higher Education to pull the rug out from under its readership.

    Correction: I should not be posting half-asleep at 1:26 AM EST (or writing at any other time, for that matter). It is the cautious, well-caveated academic, "...who without the divine madness comes to the doors of the Muses... ." Being friend-zoned by the Muses is among the likely opportunity costs of "... access to the resources of scholarship and to the networks of scholars that circulate their work around the world." (Louis Menand, The Ph.D. Problem).

    In a syllogism attributed to the obscure Greco-Roman poet Testiclies:

    Life is cruel
    I am alive
    -------------
    ∴ I am cruel

    This fallacy of equivocation is often persuasive on account of its inductive force.

    As for Bourgeois contempt toward the Proletariat, @sfast is correct. Keats is an example. In the United States, the elite/working class political division is another example. This divide frustrates efforts to address climate change in the United States.

    Post edited by ZettelDistraction on

    Erdös #2. ZK software components.~~~~ “If you’re thinking without writing, you only think you’re thinking.” -- Leslie Lamport.

  • Dear Sascha --

    Thank you for your detailed and thoughtful reply, and sorry to take so long to write back!

    @sfast said:
    I don't have any exclusionary approach. ... I don't leave rhethorical hints [making my opinion relative to time, logic, self] ... because all of these are given.

    Truth is, I knew this to be true. I knew it based on your other writing, your open-minded approach to learning, and everything you've given to this community over the years. I think what inclined me at the time to pay more attention to the "Style is excluded" rather than the "for didactic reasons" part of this quote ...

    Style is excluded for didactic reasons.

    ... was what I called the "facetious dismissal of style" in the Disclaimer of Part II. To me, that read like a "rhetorical hint" indicating that style is worthless. But probably it was more of just a joke. So I was grateful (but not surprised) to read your kind and nuanced reply above.

    Regarding the style/story discussion: my response is largely one of agreement, based on my belief that there are many ways to read a text, and many ways to make an argument about a text. I don't think it's possible to judge how a person reads a text without knowing what their goals are. It seems that you have defined your goals well when approaching fiction, and have designed your system to serve these goals.

    I think our main differences may be these:

    1. I prefer to find the evidence for my arguments in the text itself, whereas you recommend: "do not care about the source".
    2. I prefer to pay more attention to "the text", whereas you prioritize "the story"

    To address difference #1: In Part I of the series, you take a quote from The Godfather and "process" it, which involves various steps: reformulation, establishing truth, establishing relevance, etc. You make interesting connections and I don't discount that work. But you divorce the quote from its source, and never refer back to it while processing the quote. Whereas the questions I would rather be asking mostly do refer back to the source. Again, this is not to say there is no worth in your approach: I think there is, and in fact I also sometimes "plunder" a text! And, like you, I do feel that what I learn from a piece of fiction can mean something outside of that work, too.

    To address difference #2: In Parts II and III of the series, you actually do pay attention to the source, looking to it for elements related to plot, character, themes, symbols, and so on. You also show us how you analyze fiction using your toolbox for stories, which seems to lead you to think in terms of structures/models of narratives/characters. I like all this. But in my approach, I tend to look more at "the text", by which I mean the words on the page: how they are arranged and what effect I think that has. "The story", in my mind, is secondary to that, as are any external tools which might tell me what forms to expect in a narrative, or what qualities to look for in a character.

    Thank you for initiating these discussions! I will keep an eye out for more talk about fiction and literary studies on the blog and in the forum.

  • edited February 26

    @dgbeecher said:

    @sfast said:
    I don't have any exclusionary approach. ... I don't leave rhethorical hints [making my opinion relative to time, logic, self] ... because all of these are given.

    Truth is, I knew this to be true. I knew it based on your other writing, your open-minded approach to learning, and everything you've given to this community over the years. I think what inclined me at the time to pay more attention to the "Style is excluded" rather than the "for didactic reasons" part of this quote ...

    Style is excluded for didactic reasons.

    ... was what I called the "facetious dismissal of style" in the Disclaimer of Part II. To me, that read like a "rhetorical hint" indicating that style is worthless. But probably it was more of just a joke. So I was grateful (but not surprised) to read your kind and nuanced reply above.

    It's perfectly understandable to feel a bit repelled if you have a background in literary studies. :)

    But actually it is not even a joke. Style, the craft of making art out of words, is far more complicated and it would have get in the way of explaining some basics of how you can use the Zettelkasten for Fiction (either understanding or writing).

    Regarding the style/story discussion: my response is largely one of agreement, based on my belief that there are many ways to read a text, and many ways to make an argument about a text. I don't think it's possible to judge how a person reads a text without knowing what their goals are. It seems that you have defined your goals well when approaching fiction, and have designed your system to serve these goals.

    Exactly. There will be a dedicated page "Zettelkasten for Fiction" and I think I need to do better job to explicate exactly this: The actual goal that is achievable with these tools.

    I think our main differences may be these:

    1. I prefer to find the evidence for my arguments in the text itself, whereas you recommend: "do not care about the source".
    2. I prefer to pay more attention to "the text", whereas you prioritize "the story"

    I think this is precisely not only the difference between our approaches but is also the difference between the two camps I described above.

    One of my "secret" projects is to marry both worlds because this divide mirrors my grudge towards the contemporary philosophy. It is hiding in the ivory tower because philosophers today treat themselves like beaurocrats. I view philosophy as an awesome base education in thinking and should be coupled with art and history as one branche of Bildung (the other are sports, craftsmanship and science).

    For example: A listener of a podcast I co-host (German and yet small in scope) wrote a long answer. To me, I immediately could recognise typical topics, arguments and fallacies (general scepticism, what is a moral value etc.). I don't have to bother a lot with decivering and understanding since I practiced this a couple of times specifically. A academic philosopher might do a (way) better job but ends where his actual job begins: Providing guidance and help the person who does not have developed the skills (yet) to translate thinking into action.

    When I worked as a trainer in a big commercial gym, this was exactly was my unique selling point. I wasn't just a meathead who packed enough flesh on his bones to invoke enough respect in those scrawny blokes that they actually listened to them. I amassed quite some authority because I used philosophical and rhetorical skills to actually explain people why training in a certain way is connected to what they actually are searching for (nobody wants to change the amount of flesh and fat on their bones; there is always a way more deeper motive that needs to be uncovered).

    Putting both points together: Contempory philosophy fails because the academics reduce themselves to beaurocrats that are not competent in the real world. This is a real shame because the rest of the world is missing out on philosophy. The solution is to learn white-collar skills and apply them as if you are a blue-collar worker. (And, I might add, to develop a healthy relationship to a bunch of blue-collar worker since it is not healthy to have sterilise your social circle from everything that is not like you)

    The same pattern is true regarding fiction in my view. One can find awesome tools and knowldge in literary studies. And similar to philosophy, there is a case to be made for specialists that push the skills as far as possible. But for the majority of people, those ivory tower skills are just as valuable as the grounding in the real world.

    To address difference #1: In Part I of the series, you take a quote from The Godfather and "process" it, which involves various steps: reformulation, establishing truth, establishing relevance, etc. You make interesting connections and I don't discount that work. But you divorce the quote from its source, and never refer back to it while processing the quote. Whereas the questions I would rather be asking mostly do refer back to the source. Again, this is not to say there is no worth in your approach: I think there is, and in fact I also sometimes "plunder" a text! And, like you, I do feel that what I learn from a piece of fiction can mean something outside of that work, too.

    I am asking myself if it was a good idea to have started the series with this article.

    A well-justified critique from the literary world might be:

    The Literary says:
    At this point, you are reading something into the text that might not be there. Even if you want to use this claim in the way you are using it, you should make sure that you understand the full scope of the message. Imagine taking an isolated quote like this:

    There are truths that are so obvious that they are not seen or at least not recognised by the ordinary world. It passes by those truisms and is amazed if suddenly somebody discovers what everybody should have known already. Eggs of Columbus lie around in the hundred thousands, just the Columbi are rarer to find.

    This is a quote of Mein Kampf by Hitler. I think it is obvious that you can't just "divorce the quote from the text" at least in this case.

    I think this hightlights at least a didactic mistake of mine in this series. Methodologically, I think divorcing the quote from the source would be still correct as the aim is to understand the world and produce knowledge and not to understand the text. Morally, however I would've been very wrong. (This is an actual issue I am tackling myself since I have a long-term writing project on the nature of evil. The question is how to deal with the fact that evil people can not only have knowledge but even wisdom. Ken Wilber has some deep thoughts on this: According to him many of the Nazis were enlightened and yet evil)

    But I missed to provide proper context. So, without knowing what we discussed in this thread post-publishing scepticism is well-justified.

    To address difference #2: In Parts II and III of the series, you actually do pay attention to the source, looking to it for elements related to plot, character, themes, symbols, and so on. You also show us how you analyze fiction using your toolbox for stories, which seems to lead you to think in terms of structures/models of narratives/characters. I like all this. But in my approach, I tend to look more at "the text", by which I mean the words on the page: how they are arranged and what effect I think that has. "The story", in my mind, is secondary to that, as are any external tools which might tell me what forms to expect in a narrative, or what qualities to look for in a character.

    I agree 100%. This reminds me of a note I took on Quentin Tarantino:

    My note says:

    My hypothesis is that you are not a master in story telling but a master in movie creation. I mean that to fully understand your work one need to assume that you use everything in service of the movie while others use everything even the movie they are making to tell a story.

    • George Lukas, for example, used the movies as tools to tell a story that follows the hero's journey very tightly. The movie is actually the tool and the story the aim.
    • You in your work, so my impression is, that you want to make a movie and use plot and even the whole story as a tool to make a good movie.

    Thank you for initiating these discussions! I will keep an eye out for more talk about fiction and literary studies on the blog and in the forum.

    Thanks back to you. You have made great points and improved my understanding of the nature of the two camps of fiction. Also, you highlighted the mistake I made by starting the series with the "divorce source from the quote"-part.

    Best of luck and great health to you and your loved ones.

    I am a Zettler

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