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Written January 28, 2021, last changed January 31, 2021

Curious Visions of Modernity (David L. Martin, 2011) described how the original Renassiance "curiosity cabinets" functioned in contrast to contemporary museums, where instead of being places of strict taxonomy and ordering of things, they were a collection of strange things, the relationships between which emerged through the process of "unpacking" the collection. I really like this, there's a warning in here about systems of organizing making it difficult to see new possibilities.

In the world of computers it's very easy to end up with a huge pile of data that feels basically inert. Like, my Pinboard bookmarks are all nicely "organized" in the sense of being tagged, but because there is no process of "unpacking" I have no real relationship to those bookmarks other than as a task for someday. By maintaining documents, I can annotate, re-organize, build collections, and create links. The process of adding new thoughts or reference material necessitates going through old collections and thinking through the relationships of things.

Every passion borders on the chaotic, but the collector's passion borders on the chaos of memories. [...] For what else is this collection but a disorder to which habit has accommodated itself to such an extent that it can appear as order? [..] These are the very areas in which any order is a balancing act of extreme precariousness.

Even though public collections may be less objectionable socially and more useful academically than private collections, the objects get their due only in the latter. [...] As Hegel put it, only when it is dark does the owl of Minerva begin its flight. Only in extinction is the collector comprehended.
— "Unpacking My Library", Walter Benjamin, tranlated by Harry Zohn, 1955


This site is developed using pseudo-markdown documents which are then run through a tiny custom-built parser and formatter for both HTML and gemini.

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Troubles, Dreams

Working in a text editor reduces the appeal of media. Media links are awkward and won't be auto-detected. This raises the possibility of a custom UI. Trying to do this via the web would be pretty miserable because I hate contenteditables and my brief attempts at working with them really scared me off. The alternative consideration would be an advanced VS Code plugin to render images inline.

What about backlinks? What if I could explore, for instance, every place a specific text is cited? Does that sort of automated linking work against the high-friction process of unpacking or does it encourage further curiosity and exploration?


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