When I’m working on the things that I take most seriously, in various libraries, I carry a pocket-sized black notebook with an elastic clasp and ribbon bookmark, of the type once made in Milan, for recording various passages in books that are completely off-track from what I should be researching, but are nevertheless interesting enough to record. In most cases, I’ll hold the notebook open with my left hand and copy an intriguing footnote, couplet from Andrew Marvell, infinitesimal fragment of Giacomo Leopardi, reference to something I’m afraid I’ll forget, or hasty equation into the ruled sheets. At other times, I’ll absently draw diagrams or polygons, Platonic solids, tiny houseplants or teacups, acorns and stars in the margins, with either a Sakura Micron or the stubby golf pencils which libraries supply in wooden boxes. After several months, the notebooks are usually brimming with crabbed and illegible references, random drawings, and cryptic Library of Congress Classification numbers: things I thought were significant, but which have since slipped into oblivion.
A few of my friends have suggested that I keep a digital notebook of the same sort, of various ideas that occur to me while wandering the labyrinth of digital libraries that have appeared over the past decade, an extension of the bookmarks bar and Notepad note, in no particular order. Although I’ve obviously started this, it’s not really a notebook of any sort. Rather, it is a blog. But personally, I think the word ‘blog’ is one of the very ugliest words in the English language, and I wish that we had collectively stuck with ‘web-log’ instead of devising this horrid portmanteau; I initially thought that Mr. Merholz (or whomever) had named blogs after the Goblin King of the Misty Mountains, but after checking Tolkein, I found that the adjacent metathesis of memory had transposed the letters of Bolg.
And so I shall continue to call this a notebook, something created for my personal use, and written quickly, without much attention, in the unpolished and angular prose-style I typically use for my notes. To be sure, there is little good historiography on the web, but I’m in no position to correct this, and I assure you that mistakes will be made, solecisms will slip past my ultra-quick editorial glance, and that analyses will be superficial. Anything composed over a quick cup of black tea, for no specific reason, amid the noise and clutter of life, will display these qualities. With that in mind, I shall try to do more than simply upload some random engravings by Athanasius Kircher or John Dee to the screen, offering little explanation, and calling things early modern. Sure, I’ll focus on manuscripts and books, on marginalia, annotations, and other signs of use; on diagrams, emblems and illuminations; on matters that were better treated by scholars once affiliated with the Warburg Institute; on the power of the image and moment of recognition;on the history of mathematics and astronomy, and on all things half-forgotten, insignificant, or lost. To accomplish this, I shall use the semicolon in my prose.
Few are likely to read my posts, which are lost in the libro de arena of the internet, in shifting dunes of unread content, Grand Ergs of something better somewhere else. Odd, that I find a degree of consolation in this. Anyway, I’ll try to post something new every several days, to find connections that might be uncovered by clicking the double arrows (which mean older posts), and (unless I become bored) to slowly lead the notebook to modernity, and toward a visual history of information and the many ways in which it was imagined, depicted, and used.