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.