Yesterday, I saw a talk by Hans-Jorg Rheinberger, Director of the MPIWG. The title was “The Economy of the Scribble.” It is worth the footnote that “economy” in its Aristotelian sense, is gaining currency among cultural studies people. On my shelf is Catherine Waldby and Robert Mitchell’s Tissue Economies, by all opinions a really important book. There was no blood in Rheinberger’s talk, it was mostly about paper. With a really nice example from botany, Rheinberger pressed the idea that notes: the material practices of producing and distributing them, are critical to understand knowledge making. His metaphors were still unstable. At times notes were “containers,” at other times “reversible inscriptions,” and there were such things as “constellations.” He added that we can (encore une fois) reconsider scientific research communities in terms of the note taking and sharing.
It is all very sexy, as sexy as history can be. I caught myself lamenting that what I do is so very different from this both grand and detailed scrutiny of the scientist in action. It is odd to confess that I would like to dig into a study of a scientific drawing, a table, a graph, and the scribbled and stained notes that adjusted its creation. Why is it so romantic?