“Already today, as the current scientific mode of production teaches, the book is already an obsolete mediation between two different card file systems. For everything essential is found in the index box of the researcher who wrote it, and the scholar who studies it assimilates it in his own card file.”

“Und heute schon ist das Buch, wie die aktuelle wissenschaftliche Produktionsweise lehrt, eine veraltete Vermittlung zwischen zwei verschiedenen Kartotheksystemen. Denn alles Wesentliche findet sich im Zettelkasten des Forschers, der’s verfaßte, und der Gelehrte, der darin studiert, assimiliert es seiner eigenen Kartothek."

Walter Benjamin - Attested Auditor of Books, in One Way Street (1928) 💬


Was the book really already obsolete in 1928, as the German cultural theorist Walter Benjamin claimed?

If so, it has nevertheless enjoyed a long and distinguished afterlife. And Benjamin’s sly reference to what ‘the current scientific mode of production’ teaches, may suggest a certain irony in his claim.

But the real irony is that the card index was sooner for obsolescence than the book. During the 1980s and accelerating into the 1990s millions of index cards were thrown out, to be replaced with computer databases. Despite a very niche resurgence of interest in the quaint technologies of the ‘Zettelkasten’ (German for ‘index card box’, there’s no real sign of a come-back. The book, meanwhile, has been assailed mightily by the e-book, but as Monty Python fans would say: “It’s just a flesh wound”.

However, another way of viewing this technological transition would be to say that the card index, in the new form of the electronic database, has utterly triumphed. Now everything is just the front-end of a database, including books.

A cardboard box on the street, containing a set of card index drawers for disposal. An attached hand-written note says: Rubbish - please clear away.


Benjamin, W. (2016[1986]) One Way Street, Trans. E. Jephcott. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. P. 43.

Source: www.heise.de/tp/featur…

Cited in Stop Taking Regular Notes; Use a Zettelkasten Instead - Hacker News

See also: Researching Benjamin Researching