I miss the voices people develop when they use to keep their own notes. The conversation with yourself gives depth – “I have thought about this” – to your conversation with others.
The erosion of collegial structures at universities is worrisome. But what especially concerns me is the notebook culture, which I believe needs to be rediscovered. Without own notebooks, no real education and no real knowledge.
It isn’t about withdrawing to one’s study to write esoteric notes. It is about developing one’s own groundwork in the life with others. It is developed in (temporary) seclusion, in response to life with others. Then you can converse, because you will have something to say, something of your own.
Cultures deepen through the rumination in diaries and notebooks. Without this simple practice, cultures erode and voices sound thinner. We need to carry culture on our own shoulders.
Kafka recorded in one of his notebooks a picture that I often think of. It is the image of messengers rushing around with messages that they received from other messengers. But it turns out that there is no author of these messages. There are only messengers. I see this as an image of a world without notebooks.
Kant spoke of human authority and autonomy. In Kafka’s picture there is no authority and no autonomy, for no one is the author of their own words: just the messengers of words from other messengers. For once being the author, not only the messenger of what other messengers passed on: wouldn’t that be something!
Become the author of your own words by taking notes! The notebook is the origin of all messages worth communicating. I am a notebook individualist.
To think and reflect is not only about having time. It is about using the time to converse with yourself. That conversation is lifelong. When you converse with others, you convey the lifelong conversation with yourself.
Artists have probably more than others retained the practice of using sketchbooks, of regularly practicing music more informally and privately, of making drafts of stories and novels. That practice gives them a basis to create. We have much to learn from the artists. They are the last to maintain culture, through the sketchbooks in which they constantly scribble.
Nothing is more responsible and authoritative than keeping your own notes. The notes don’t have to be brilliant or groundbreaking. Only your own sincere words with yourself. That is originality! Through the notebook you develop the integrity that is worth defending. And that is worth sharing with others, who of course also have notebooks.
I don’t want to read your Facebook updates, but perhaps your notes. You read mine here. So get a notebook if you don’t already have one. It is the most radical thing you can do today.