five days five quotes challenge – #4

Today’s writing-related quotation is about notebooks. I have lots of them and I do mainly ethnographic research, so it’s not surprising that this speaks to me. 

( Keeping) the field notebook or diary (is) the making of a fetish: the construction, guarding, cherishing, and the continuous elaboration in writing and drawing that is the notebook itself. This is a most excellent thing, I feel forced to point out, since fetishism has by and large received a lot of bad press, being associated with seedy men in shiny raincoats and old tennis shoes inhabiting the back rows of certain movie houses. Or else it is linked to the celebrated “false consciousness” of capitalist culture, mistaking things for the spirits of commodities. or is the other way around? In any case, endowing things with godlike powers seems to me a nice boost to the imagination required of us to navigate our way through today’s nasty world. It is a boon, therefore, that the fieldworker’s diary achieves fetish status, and does so in no uncertain manner.

Like ivy or some exotic weed, the diary shoots out tendrils and flowers. As the seasons proceed, so new growths form with different colours and shapes creating new patterns superimposed over the decaying leaves and flowers. Not to put too fine a point on it, the notebook becomes not just the guardian of experience but its continuous revision as well, a peculiar and highly specialised organ of consciousness no less than an outrigger of the soul. It becomes an extension of oneself, if not more self than oneself. If a camera is a technical device that more often than not gets in the way – gets between me and people – the diary or fieldwork notebook is a technical device of a very different order and even more magical than the much acclaimed magic of photography.

Michael Taussig (2011) I swear I saw this. Drawings in fieldwork notebooks, namely my own. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press p. 15.


About pat thomson

Pat Thomson is Professor of Education in the School of Education, The University of Nottingham, UK
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2 Responses to five days five quotes challenge – #4

  1. maelorin says:

    I am not an ethnographer. Nevertheless, my notebooks are valiant, essential, hopeful parts of my academic and professional practice – and have been for decades. They have seen me through scientific lab work, computer programming, law-student musings and lawyerly argumentation, nascent class management, and more.

    I have lost many of these friends of mine, over the years. Some thrown out as I moved from one career to another, unknowingly thinking the old writings would be of no further use to me. Others lost as I moved homes, or left relationships, or gave up jobs. A few were left on planes, or trains, or in taxis and buses. Others in coffee shops as I absentmindedly returned to imminent meetings. And that one I left in a library, which has become a reminder to check surfaces for things-I-put-down before I move on.

    Notebooks are the refuge of my wit, my musings, perhaps my wisdom. And also my sketches and scrawlings. They’re like familiar friends when I reopen an old one. Sometimes, they’re like old lovers – reminding me of how things used to be, but also of things I used to care for, care about… and why.

    I try to instil into my students a love for their own written words, their casual sketches, and to make use of pen(cil) and paper. Even, nay, *especially* in this ‘age’ of all things electronic. A notebook works without power. It doesn’t restrict you to the inbuilt tools. you can *literally* cut-n-paste.

    And plan. Planning is the beginning of understanding for the problem-solver. Also, the beginning of the problem for those who believe there is no problem, this can be done in no time … oh! Maybe not?


  2. maelorin says:

    FYI beware the well-spelt wrong word that spell-check won’t flag: dairy for diary in the first and last paragraphs of your quotation,

    (I take many precautions when copying down a quotation, and still I goof these things. Stupid fingers ;p)


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