A meta-thought concerning scale & zettelkasten: a popular thing to do with zettelkasten is to visualise its nodes and connections in a graph, and to look at the "clusters" that emerge out of this ever-changing edifice. (My poor-man's approximation is the list of tags sorted by number of items.) But this visual, numerical representation forces you to pay attention first and foremost to those clusters that are largest and hence most obviously structure the zettelkasten at that point.

But how is one to say that the more zettel one has in one particular area, the more important it is? The sense of what should be taken as important on such a node graph is imposed by the visualisation, as well as by cultural norms: bigger cluster = more important. But what about those zettel that are possibly isolated from others because not much is known about them, written about ideas that are too novel to have been fully articulated, left out in the cold, even though these disparate, wholly new notes are where new ideas get introduced into the whole collection?

Even if one manages to draw their eyes out of the gravity wells of the big clusters, and towards the more sparsely populated areas, this visual inspection remains exploration of the map, not the exploration of the territory (and the map is not the territory map-territory-relation); a wonderment at a reductive representation of knowledge, a gaze that accords importance only to the presence of a countable link, and not the context, the significance, or the quality of the identified connection.

The appeal of the network view of the zettelkasten, I think, comes from some very culturally specific obsessions of our age. It's the appeal of the big cities over the far-flung, dispersed countryside, the gravitational pull of the centres of the known, the instinct to reproduce popular forms. Bigger is better, more, more, more; more—MORE OF THE SAME. The satellite eye's view is the default operating position; nothing counts if it can't be seen from space. Civilised culture exercises its civilised aesthetic on the civilised mind.


map-territory-relation Contributors of Wikipedia. 2021. “Map–territory Relation”. Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. ↩︎ 1