Zettelkasten Forum


Luhmann's Literatur Note Examples

Hello,

I am trying to understand how Luhmann did his literature notes, which I think are very important for this system to work. At this point, I am just really curious how he did it.

My first language isn't Deutsche, so I am having trouble finding Luhmann's literatur notes from the uni-bielefeld online archive, if there are any on that website. If there are, could our germanisch freunde help find a few examples of Luhmann's literature notes, with links, and perhaps explain what is on them? From Sonke Ahrens presentation, it looked like a shorthand list, which doesn't make sense to me for literature notes. How could he remember or understand what he read? Maybe this system worked for him because he had an eidetic memory?

Sonke Ahrens presents an example of Luhmann's literature note, but doesn't explain what's on it or even how Luhmann went about writing them. To me it looked like a shorthand list of things. It also appeared to be on a piece of paper larger than a note card. It was difficult to tell from the image on Ahren's presentation however. This is where I think Ahren's book falls short.

Seeking help!

Post edited by zettelkastenkampf on

Comments

  • Provide us with the link to the strange looking notes please.

    I am a Zettler

  • @sfast Thank you for the reply.

    A screenshot: https://imgur.com/0O8gUrV.png

    starts around 11:38

    danke

  • I cannot read much of it and I don't see the actual reference. But it seems that Luhmann just wrote some bullet points as inspiration for later. There are several "X as Y" points which seem to remind him of some concept definitions or models.

    I don't know if he has an eidetic memory. But Luhmann was an obsessed workaholic. So, he was a very special cookie.

    I am a Zettler

  • Quote 1

    Luhmann never underlined sentences in the text he read or wrote comments in the margins. All he did was take brief notes about the ideas that caught his attention in a text on a separate piece of paper: “I make a note with the bibliographic details. On the backside I would write ‘on page x is this, on page y is that,’ and then it goes into the bibliographic slip-box where I collect everything I read.” (Hagen, 1997)[13] But before he stored them away, he would read what he noted down during the day, think about its relevance for his own lines of thought and write about it, filling his main slip-box with permanent notes.

    Quote 2

    How extensive the literature notes should be really depends on the text and what we need it for. It also depends on our ability to be concise, the complexity of the text and how difficult it is to understand. As literature notes are also a tool for understanding and grasping the text, more elaborate notes make sense in more challenging cases, while in easier cases it might be sufficient to just jot down some keywords. Luhmann, certainly being on the outer spectrum of expertise, contented himself with pretty short notes and was still able to turn them into valuable slip-box notes without distorting the meaning of the original texts.[27] It is mainly a matter of having an extensive latticework of mental models or theories in our heads that enable us to identify and describe the main ideas quickly (cf. Rickheit and Sichelschmidt, 1999). Whenever we explore a new, unfamiliar subject, our notes will tend to be more extensive, but we shouldn’t get nervous about it, as this is the deliberate practice of understanding we cannot skip. Sometimes it is necessary to slowly work our way through a difficult text and sometimes it is enough to reduce a whole book to a single sentence. The only thing that matters is that these notes provide the best possible support for the next step, the writing of the actual slip-box notes

    @sfast made me think of these two quotes form Ahrens book, so how extensive the intermediary notes are would depend on

    1. How familiar you are with the material you are reading about
    2. How much practice you have had at going from keywords on a paper --> zettels

    I imagine that Luhmann was partially able to do it because of the insane amount of practice he had. I wonder if there was any trend in how elaborate his bibliography notes were going from the start of zettelkasten 1 to end of zettelkasten 2?

  • @Nick To me, it seems that Ahrens is not that familiar with Luhmanns endproducts: Very often Luhmann's references indicated that he took the reference as mere inspiration to put it euphemistically. If you read him in the original you ask yourself quite often how his reference relates to what he wrote.

    I would be open for the idea that Luhmann himself did not just wrote three words and then remembered all the essentials of the important paragraphs he read, but often just was in the flow and wrote what came to mind in reaction to his notes.

    I wouldn't be suprised if the notes shown in the presentation resulted in some odd references.

    I am a Zettler

  • @sfast said:
    @Nick To me, it seems that Ahrens is not that familiar with Luhmanns endproducts: Very often Luhmann's references indicated that he took the reference as mere inspiration to put it euphemistically. If you read him in the original you ask yourself quite often how his reference relates to what he wrote.

    I would be open for the idea that Luhmann himself did not just wrote three words and then remembered all the essentials of the important paragraphs he read, but often just was in the flow and wrote what came to mind in reaction to his notes.

    I wouldn't be suprised if the notes shown in the presentation resulted in some odd references.

    This is exactly why I provided the uni-bielefeld online archive link.

    I was wondering if anyone who understands German adequately to comprehend some of Luhmann's scribblings well enough and decipher their meaning. But, I don't think the link above provides Luhmann's literature notes--correct me if I am wrong.

  • @Nick said:
    Quote 1

    Luhmann never underlined sentences in the text he read or wrote comments in the margins. All he did was take brief notes about the ideas that caught his attention in a text on a separate piece of paper: “I make a note with the bibliographic details. On the backside I would write ‘on page x is this, on page y is that,’ and then it goes into the bibliographic slip-box where I collect everything I read.” (Hagen, 1997)[13] But before he stored them away, he would read what he noted down during the day, think about its relevance for his own lines of thought and write about it, filling his main slip-box with permanent notes.

    Quote 2

    How extensive the literature notes should be really depends on the text and what we need it for. It also depends on our ability to be concise, the complexity of the text and how difficult it is to understand. As literature notes are also a tool for understanding and grasping the text, more elaborate notes make sense in more challenging cases, while in easier cases it might be sufficient to just jot down some keywords. Luhmann, certainly being on the outer spectrum of expertise, contented himself with pretty short notes and was still able to turn them into valuable slip-box notes without distorting the meaning of the original texts.[27] It is mainly a matter of having an extensive latticework of mental models or theories in our heads that enable us to identify and describe the main ideas quickly (cf. Rickheit and Sichelschmidt, 1999). Whenever we explore a new, unfamiliar subject, our notes will tend to be more extensive, but we shouldn’t get nervous about it, as this is the deliberate practice of understanding we cannot skip. Sometimes it is necessary to slowly work our way through a difficult text and sometimes it is enough to reduce a whole book to a single sentence. The only thing that matters is that these notes provide the best possible support for the next step, the writing of the actual slip-box notes

    @sfast made me think of these two quotes form Ahrens book, so how extensive the intermediary notes are would depend on

    1. How familiar you are with the material you are reading about
    2. How much practice you have had at going from keywords on a paper --> zettels

    I imagine that Luhmann was partially able to do it because of the insane amount of practice he had. I wonder if there was any trend in how elaborate his bibliography notes were going from the start of zettelkasten 1 to end of zettelkasten 2?

    Thank you for the quotes.

    It raises an interesting question about a Zettelkasten for someone with average intelligence/expertise in a field: will it be useful to those who are not above average intellect/prerequisite knowledge of a subject matter? or, it could if one adapts Luhmann's literature notes in a way more suitable for someone without requisite knowledge.

  • Addition: Many references in the original work of Luhmann are "creative". At least, one can question if the reference really is referring to a source and not to an inspiration.

    I am a Zettler

  • edited October 2020

    @zettelkastenkampf

    The bibliographical sections of this collection can be found in extracts 15-17 and 18-20 of the ZK II - source

    List of Extract 15 - first note in list says "The transcription of this note is expected to be published in June 2023"

    List of Extract 17 which hasn't been transcribed yet.

    But you can look at the transcribed notes still and it becomes apparent the notes are very brief, such as just a thought and where to find the thought.

    This is somewhat similar to creating an idea index while reading a book.

    Here is an example of a very brief bib entry

    Here is an example of a medium bib entry

    Here is an example of a longer bib entry

    Something of note is that you will also see these long sheets that only end up only having a few links on them, instead of the whole page being filled.

  • @sfast @Nick
    The more I look at the online archive of Luhmann's Zettelkasten, the less I am convinced I understand how the system can work for me. Even his non-bibliographic, non-literature Zettels are rather brief. Though I am using Google translate to try to understand what he's written, so I may be misunderstanding.

    He seems to reference literature quite a bit. It's the literature Zettels I am wondering about. :/

  • edited October 2020

    @zettelkastenkampf yes one of the main points of the system for him is tracking literature he has read and the ideas that come from them because as he puts it "But one cannot remember everything. This would simply be learning by heart".

    Here is a section from his essay on reading and notes

    Beginners, especially beginning students, find that they are first confronted with a mass of words, which are ordered in sentence-form, which they read sentence by sentence, and which they can understand as sentences. But what is important? What must be “learned?” What is important, what is mere adornment? After a few pages of reading, one can hardly remember what one has read. Which recommendations can be offered?

    One possibility is to remember names: Marx, Freud, Giddens, Bourdieu, etc. Obviously most knowledge can also be ordered by names, eventually also by names of theories such as social phenomenology, theory of reception in the literary disciplines, etc. Even introductions to sociology and basic texts are conceived in this way. What one cannot learn from such works, however, are conceptual connections and especially the nature of the problems that these texts try to solve. Still, even candidates in exams at the end of their studies want to be examined on Max Weber or, if that is too much, on Humberto Maturana, and they are prepared to report on what they know about these authors.

    The problem of reading theoretical texts seems to consist in the fact that they do not require just short-term memory but also long-term memory in order to be able to distinguish between what is essential and what is not essential and what is new from what is merely repeated. But one cannot remember everything. This would simply be learning by heart. In other words, one must read very selectively and must be able to extract extensively networked references. One must be able to understand recursions. But how can one learn these skills, if no instructions can be given; or perhaps only about things that are unusual like “recursion” in the previous sentences as opposed to “must”?

    Perhaps the best method would be to take notes—not excerpts, but condensed reformulations of what has been read. The re-description of what has already been described leads almost automatically to a training of paying attention to “frames,” or schemata of observation, or even to noticing conditions which lead the text to offer some descriptions but not others.

  • @zettelkastenkampf said:
    @sfast @Nick
    The more I look at the online archive of Luhmann's Zettelkasten, the less I am convinced I understand how the system can work for me. Even his non-bibliographic, non-literature Zettels are rather brief. Though I am using Google translate to try to understand what he's written, so I may be misunderstanding.

    I am always interested in how other people create and use their ZK, and see if I can learn something from them that I can apply to my own ZK. But in the end, I don't worry very much about if I can get their system to work for me, or even if I understand their system. I just work away on the basics - my Zettels - writing them, connecting them, adding tags, seeing where that takes me, and (rarely) writing a structure note if that seems to make sense, for example if the number of zettels linked together in a line of thinking is starting to get long.

    But I'm not driven by what I write, e.g., by some subject. I write zettels as they pop into my mind, from something I read or hear, from some book or conversation, or just from some simple ponderings of my own. My sense is that other connections and ideas will make themselves manifest and so far I haven't been disappointed.

    This is not to detract from those who have some mission to compete - they are doing research on a topic or working on a book or completing graduate studies in some subject. They are going to be more driven by subject matter while they are in that phase. But there is a lot more to your ZK than just reaching a single goal.

  • @GeoEng51 said:
    I am always interested in how other people create and use their ZK, and see if I can learn something from them that I can apply to my own ZK. But in the end, I don't worry very much about if I can get their system to work for me, or even if I understand their system. I just work away on the basics - my Zettels - writing them, connecting them, adding tags, seeing where that takes me, and (rarely) writing a structure note if that seems to make sense, for example if the number of zettels linked together in a line of thinking is starting to get long.

    That is good advice. No one should prioritize getting a system right over just taking down some notes, or doing vs. contemplating--as in other aspects of life!

  • @Nick said:
    @zettelkastenkampf yes one of the main points of the system for him is tracking literature he has read and the ideas that come from them because as he puts it "But one cannot remember everything. This would simply be learning by heart".

    It's so true! You can never dream of remembering it all. But, still, I'd like to see his Literatur Zettelkasten.

  • @zettelkastenkampf what do you mean by his literature zettelkasten? The links I posted earlier were literally his literature zettelkasten.

  • @Nick I thought bibliographical notes are separate and distinct from literature notes. How I understood... Literature notes are your notes from your literature readings, while bibliographical notes are for keeping track of different works in list form (not substantive notes regarding the content of the literature one reads).

  • @zettelkastenkampf Regarding Luhmann, there seem to have been just two boxes: one for tracking his bibliography, and one for the "actual" notes. The pictures posted by @Nick are of the bibliography.

    A relatively important point, based on Luhmann's Communicating with slip boxes, is that he wanted to access his notes from two sides: 1) through the index, following through subsequent links, etc.; 2) through his bibliography. (Especially when working with scientific texts, you tend to build a memory by authorship.) That's the reason why those bib-notes can contain so many links (and, of course, it also helps referencing during writing).

    Recreating this functionality in a digital slip box is easy: create a (#bib) structure note of the piece of literature you're reading, and collect note links there and on respective (topic) structure notes.

  • 2) through his bibliography. (Especially when working with scientific texts, you tend to build a memory by authorship.)

    @average yes that’d make sense, going along the earlier quotes I posted

    One possibility is to remember names: Marx, Freud, Giddens, Bourdieu, etc. Obviously most knowledge can also be ordered by names, eventually also by names of theories such as social phenomenology, theory of reception in the literary disciplines, etc

    extract extensively networked reference

  • I am an average researcher with normal capabilities and a novice in the ZK method. This is what I do about Lit Notes:
    1) I make a Map of the source (article or chapter). That is, I make a list of ideas and keywords on a card, with page numbers, for further reference. Like Luhmann's "long" biblio note, I just call it a "map." This goes into my Biblio box.
    2) If the source is complex, I take more copious notes in Citavi. Because I may need details of that argument later.
    3) The ideas (pertinent to my present interest) that I get from the reading will go, in my own words, to Permanent Notes. If I paraphrase the author, I indicate that this is a paraphrase, and specify the page number.
    4) Exact quotes from the critical Lit (no more than 1 or 2 by source) also go into Permanent. This is because I write literary criticism and (Alas!) I am not building a theoretical oeuvre like Luhmann. When I want to quote other critics I need not jump boxes.
    5) I also have a smaller Project Box with odds and ends, AND useful Zetteln from the Permanent box that are temporarily in the Project box and will be returned there. When I finish the project, I fish out ideas and paraphrases and (a limited number of) quotes that I may need later, and these will also go into the Permanent box. The odds and ends are archived in the loft. I will throw them out one day, before I die.
    6) The Permanent Zetteln have identification, while the Project Zetteln do not. This is how I can tell them apart. Project Zetteln get identification if transferred to Permanent.
    Basically this is it. The Maps in my Lit Notes box are for productive daydreaming, and for looking up things that I vaguely remember having read. Projects profit from the Permanent box and the other way round.

  • @zettelkastenkampf My comment is above. Sorry, I stimes forget the essentials.

  • @Gabi said:
    I am an average researcher with normal capabilities and a novice in the ZK method. This is what I do about Lit Notes:
    1) I make a Map of the source (article or chapter). That is, I make a list of ideas and keywords on a card, with page numbers, for further reference. Like Luhmann's "long" biblio note, I just call it a "map." This goes into my Biblio box.
    2) If the source is complex, I take more copious notes in Citavi. Because I may need details of that argument later.
    3) The ideas (pertinent to my present interest) that I get from the reading will go, in my own words, to Permanent Notes. If I paraphrase the author, I indicate that this is a paraphrase, and specify the page number.
    4) Exact quotes from the critical Lit (no more than 1 or 2 by source) also go into Permanent. This is because I write literary criticism and (Alas!) I am not building a theoretical oeuvre like Luhmann. When I want to quote other critics I need not jump boxes.

    It's interesting that you take your more complicated arguments to an external program, Citavi.

    BTW, what a cool job you have!

    Thanks!

  • @Gabi seems to have nailed it as far as I can tell. I too struggled with understanding the original workflow of the Bibliographical Slip Box and therefore reread certain sections of Ahrens' book a whole bunch of times until it finally all made sense to me. Oh, and the pictures of Luhmann's Literature Notes reviewed have helped tremendously. This is the biggest weakness of the Ahrens book. I hope if he ever revises it, he cleans up this element. (And flips the darn spine text for the English-speaking world; I digress.)

    I have a similar disclaimer: This is my interpretation (but I think I am close), I am not brilliant (but I am a good student of the world), and I am also new-ish to this whole ZK thing.

    Luhmanns read a book, took notes as he went and never referenced the book again. At least that is the claim. That means he was super-human, but whatever. From what I can tell, his permanent notes (i.e., the Literature Notes and the Main Notes) were all that he retained indefinitely (hence the description of 'permanent'). Literature Notes were filed into his Bibliographical Slip Box and his Main Notes into his Main Slip Box (many boxes actually, of course since he had a zillion notes). His 'cards' were more paper than card and were approximately A6 in size. Some of his Lit-Notes seem to have been written portrait-oriented rather than landscape and his Main Notes seem to all have been composed landscape. But, they're all written in German (I'm a 'Murican English-only person) and I didn't look at a ton of his cards, so maybe he varied it. 40 years is a long time, I am sure his methodologies evolved.

    So, with that:

    • I am sure he sometimes took notes elsewhere before creating the cards, but after decades of doing this, I would not doubt if he more often just wrote straight to cards.
    • It seems his Lit-Notes came in several forms

      • Side one: brief comments + page numbers and some short citation style (author-date and perhaps a short title). Side two: Full citation. (Note that I can't see the back sides of these cards, but Ahrens quoted someone saying this is what he did.)
      • Side one: full citation . . . and a few comments or no comments. Backside: ???
    • He often wrote multiple Lit-Note cards for one work

    • Sometimes I see links to a Main Note on a Literature Note, but more often not.
    • I see no identifiers on the Lit-Notes. The short citation seems to be the identifier.
    • They seem to be alphabetized by author's last name.
    • Filed in the Bibliographical Slip Box

    What I am currently doing (my adaptation):

    • I read and take copious notes (far too detailed, especially if the topic is unfamiliar; yes, it's a problem—suboptimal, but thorough). Usually pen-and-paper. I call this my Reading Summary Draft. I usually only do this for longer (or more complicated) works. Always in my own words. I will often quote the author, but then immediately rewrite it in my own words beneath the quote.
    • I rewrite the summary draft a bit more sensibly and digitally. I also remove lots of cruft in the process. I call this my Reading Summary. It's my Cliff Notes of the work. I have years and years of Reading Summaries.
    • I then create Literature Notes from that and file them away, alphabetically by author's last name, in my Bibliographical Slip Box (yes, I use paper). Actually, I more often call them Reference Notes, but that's just me ("literature" in my brain implies "fiction").

      • Card #1 — side one: Full Bibliographical info — side two: a summary of the reading
      • Cards #2, 3, 4 (if I create them at all) — side one: short citation (author-date) and a bunch of brief notes and page-numbers/location-info — side two: blank
    • I create Main Notes (also simply called Notes) as I go and file them away in the Main Slip Box.

    • Main Notes that were generated from reading have a short citation on the card (the link to the reference Biblio Slip Box).
    • I archive my Reading Summary for that work and probably never review it again. Well, that's not true. Sometimes I do. I've been tempted to create a full page-sized box for hard copied Reading Summaries, but that would be . . . obsessive. :) But it would be "complete" (Collector's Fallacy Alert!!!), so we'll see if I can stave off that temptation. You call "get me" I am certain.

    I hope this helps or is interesting to someone. Feel free to critique and criticize. In the end, do what works for you and try to be consistent.

    I am a Zettler.

  • edited April 24

    @todd

    Registered to say your post is very helpful. I do lengthy hand-written note taking of books and want to generate ideas for the future. I wasn't sure how to approach lit notes.

    I'm going to use your method but skip writing summaries, (any book summary is now a google search away) and will just distill my copious hand-written notes into a single tight digital literature note, then create main notes while keeping in mind that

    Main Notes that were generated from reading have a short citation to the reference

    thanks!

  • @anth said:
    @todd

    I'm going to use your method but skip writing summaries, (any book summary is now a google search away)

    For what it’s worth, I think the value in writing summaries is not in the written product but rather the benefit gained from exercising one’s mental faculties to produce them.

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