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September 13, 2010 10:41 AM   Subscribe

Historically famous men and their use of pocket notebooks (spread over two pages).
posted by gman (31 comments total) 23 users marked this as a favorite

 
There is too much fetishization of the object here. They used notebooks because they had notebooks; today they would have laptops. The important thing is that they wrote and that they were brilliant. The medium is less than the message.
posted by sonic meat machine at 10:52 AM on September 13, 2010 [12 favorites]


How about a list of douchbags that wish they were famous that also carry a pocket notebook of their "thoughts", but mainly just because they are hoping somebody will ask them about it?
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 10:52 AM on September 13, 2010


Top marks for not mentioning M*******e.
posted by Artw at 10:55 AM on September 13, 2010 [6 favorites]


Also, out of curiosity, why doesn't any modern notebook aficionado ever say that they use these?
posted by sonic meat machine at 11:01 AM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Of course the notebooks were not just for literary purposes-he used them to record expenses, make lists of gifts he wanted to bring back to loved ones from his travels, and even to keep track of his first wife’s menstrual cycles.

Dear Mr Hemingway,

this changes my opinion of you.

I am not sure that I can say precisely how or why...

But it certainly changes my opinion of you.
posted by Ahab at 11:04 AM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


Ask me about my stupidly over-specific notebook needs.
posted by Artw at 11:04 AM on September 13, 2010


I'm wondering...was Oscar Wilde manly?
posted by kozad at 11:05 AM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


He was a man's man!
posted by Artw at 11:08 AM on September 13, 2010 [8 favorites]


When learning kanji, the 2000 Chinese characters utilized in Japanese writing, as well as jukugo, Japanese aphorisms composed of kanji compounds, I filled at least 20 spiral-ring notebooks from Muji (and, later, Daiso). I still have all of these notebooks stored away at my mother-in-law's place in Japan. My handwriting was better back then.

I also still have the purple Dr. Grip mechanical pencil I used to practice kanji about ten years ago. I've passed it down to my son to use as he learns kanji. I also passed down the shitajiki I used when learning and practicing kanji. A shitajiki is a plastic sheet Japanese students use when writing - it helps you write better, and also prevents marks and indentations from being left on the note book. My shitajiki features the Taizokai Mandala from from Toji temple. My son doesn't like it.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:19 AM on September 13, 2010


I'm tempted to agree with sonic meat machine; I wonder whether most of them would still have carried a pocket notebook today, or if they would have used something else instead.

Jefferson's "notebook" -- not really a 'notebook' but actually a series of ivory slivers on a central pivot, used like a dry-erase board -- was probably pretty cutting-edge for its time. (And also very expensive.) Given how he used it, which involved copying his observations down into permanent books at night, I suspect what he really would have liked would have been a pocket voice recorder, something he could have dictated into and then downloaded and transcribed later.

The only person on that list who seems to have really appreciated the notebook as an object as opposed to simply a tool that served a purpose is Hemingway. Darwin seems like he would have preferred something with better editability (there are a lot of crossouts and cramped insertions on the pages shown), and Ben Franklin has a freaking checkbox matrix that's just crying out for a GTD-type task-management application.

That's not to say that there aren't things that paper notebooks do really well, and current technology still does poorly. An all-weather notebook never needs recharging and doesn't get broken if you sit down hard on it. Drawing still leaves a lot to be desired. I've never seen anything for jotting down musical notes that seemed really convenient, although perhaps Beethoven would have been satisfied with a little one-octave keyboard and a software sequencer to record his musical doodles. (I suspect he'd have preferred a modern hearing aid first.)

But the thing I take from this isn't that "famous people used pocket notebooks so if you want to be famous you should go buy a Moleskine right now" but rather "a bunch of famous people had note-taking/organizational systems that used the best-available technology of their day in a way that worked for them, and they weren't too concerned what people thought of them for using it." I suspect people probably thought Jefferson was a huge dork for carrying around those ivory slivers along with the thermometer and miniature globe and everything else, but he gets to have the last laugh, if only from the pages of a history book.
posted by Kadin2048 at 11:20 AM on September 13, 2010 [3 favorites]


kozad: I'm wondering...was Oscar Wilde manly?

Oscar Wilde would probably not have had trouble flattening many a "manly man" in his prime. As Max Beerbohm describes him: "Effeminate, but vitality of twenty men, magnetism -- authority." Some of Wilde's fictional passages suggest that he was well familiar with brawls in encounters with rough trade gone wrong.
posted by blucevalo at 11:23 AM on September 13, 2010


Great men! Such as da Vinci! And Franklin! And Newton! And George Lucas!
posted by DU at 11:24 AM on September 13, 2010 [4 favorites]


Kadin2048: ...although perhaps Beethoven would have been satisfied with a little one-octave keyboard and a software sequencer to record his musical doodles.
He wrote the 9th symphony while completely deaf. I'm going to go out on a limb and suggest he probably didn't need the iPad keyboard to keep track of his musical ideas. That said, holy hell would it have been awesome for guys like Mozart and Beethoven to have a home studio/midi set up where they could get their musical ideas down as fast as they could click or play.

Also, while I'd hazard that Isaac Newton's left nut is considerably smarter than I could ever hope to be... dude looks like he should be lip syncing at Trannyshack, or walking the streets of City of Industry...
posted by hincandenza at 11:33 AM on September 13, 2010


Also, out of curiosity, why doesn't any modern notebook aficionado ever say that they use these?

That's precisely what I used for about six months before I realized I wanted something I could remove/reorder/insert pages in and ended up using a Daytimer planner in a similar size. Plus at 5x8 it's hardly pocket sized.

I tried a handful of gadgets over the years, but found a simple loose leaf notebook still beat them for everything except backing up. It's just more flexible for organizing data on a page.
posted by inthe80s at 11:38 AM on September 13, 2010


It's bizarre that the ability to write something down is looked upon as novel. I've gotten the weirdest looks when I pull out my phone or notepad to write a note or make a list.
posted by meowzilla at 11:39 AM on September 13, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is incidentally why I mourned the ditching of the Microsoft Courier: a potential best of both worlds electronic moleskin.
posted by hincandenza at 11:39 AM on September 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


This is incidentally why I mourned the ditching of the Microsoft Courier: a potential best of both worlds electronic moleskin.

It looked so cool... OneNote doesn't even come close.
posted by KokuRyu at 11:42 AM on September 13, 2010


Re: Beethoven

I suspect he'd go for a full Disklavier which is a concert piano with both MIDI input and output. Beethoven and Mozart are often contrasted for their different writing styles. Mozart's drafts are relatively pristine while Beethoven often worked out his ideas literally with copy and paste. But doubtless he'd have wanted treatment for his progressive deafness.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 11:45 AM on September 13, 2010


But in both cases, the benefit is that they could write them out as fast as they could play them. Beethoven would benefit from being able to experiment and copy/paste, while Mozart- if it is true that by the later years was literally "visualizing" the sheets of music finished in his head- would benefit that playing it out or clicking it out with keyboard or mouse shortcuts should be faster than the pen and ink model.
posted by hincandenza at 11:49 AM on September 13, 2010


I never got all the Microsoft Courier love - that thing seemed like obvious vaporware without a solid workable UI from the start.
posted by Artw at 12:03 PM on September 13, 2010


An imaginary thing always works much better than one already realized. C.f. unicorns, Duke Nukem Forever, God.
posted by breath at 1:24 PM on September 13, 2010 [2 favorites]


I never got all the Microsoft Courier love

I think the concept was what got all the love; a lot of people were skeptical about the implementation from the first day it was announced. And I do think that the concept is still good, and that if anyone could do it right they'd probably move lots of units. But getting it right might be tough and risky ... I think the eventual solution will probably be in the form of an application that runs on a device created for other purposes (like the iPad or Kindle) rather than a dedicated device.

It's bizarre that the ability to write something down is looked upon as novel

Not too long ago, I think someone here on MeFi mentioned that the idea of keeping a diary -- so that you could go back to any particular point in time and have near-perfect recall of what you were doing (provided that you had written it down) -- was pretty revolutionary when it first became common during the Renaissance. I can't find the post now, so maybe I'm misremembering it.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:35 PM on September 13, 2010


"There is too much fetishization of the object here. They used notebooks because they had notebooks; today they would have laptops. The important thing is that they wrote and that they were brilliant. The medium is less than the message."

The important thing is that their lives and life around them were fodder for their genius. There was no separation between their creative selves and their routine as ordinary (extra-ordinary) citizens. It also speaks to their creative process, their obsessions, their fascination with the world around them and the dialogue constantly going on in their heads.

Think they could have accounted for this internal dialectic with a laptop? No... the medium IS the message.
posted by En0rm0 at 1:36 PM on September 13, 2010


Mozart's drafts are relatively pristine while Beethoven often worked out his ideas literally with copy and paste.

Stravinsky actually cut and paste. He would improvise at the piano, and write down fragments, until had had a stack of pages, then cut out the fragments and sort them into related piles, tape those on larger sheets in thematic categories, and use those sheets to inspire his further experiments, and repeat.

Beethoven may have had more trouble with the cutting, since he was known to jot down ideas on the walls of his room (paper was expensive.)
posted by StickyCarpet at 2:07 PM on September 13, 2010


why doesn't any modern notebook aficionado ever say that they use these?

Occasional user, not an aficionado.

One problem is that cardboard covers aren't very resilient to sweat or rain and their spiral binding doesn't take constant bending with heavy loads (if you keep it in your back pocket).
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:33 PM on September 13, 2010


Think they could have accounted for this internal dialectic with a laptop? No... the medium IS the message.

Given the lengths some of these men took to get around the limitations of paper and pencil during their time, probably.
posted by KirkJobSluder at 6:56 PM on September 13, 2010


There is too much fetishization of the object here. They used notebooks because they had notebooks; today they would have laptops. The important thing is that they wrote and that they were brilliant. The medium is less than the message.

Yes, but just imagine how much lower their overall output would have been, what with them checking their email, feeds, MetaFilter and YouTube every 15 minutes!
posted by menschlich at 8:18 AM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


Not to mention the spirit crushing snark they would have endured. Sure a jackass like Beethoven could have brushed it off and moved on, but poor, fragile little Patton and his poetry would have been crushed and we'd all be speaking German now.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 1:11 PM on September 14, 2010 [1 favorite]


The Art of Manliness... The Pocket Notebooks of 20 Famous Men... Manly Tradition of the Pocket Notebook

No pocket notebooks for you, ladies.

The fairer sex evidently have nothing bit idle gossip and pieties to write in their journals.

I mean, except Jane Austen. And, well, you know the rest.
posted by tommorris at 8:11 PM on September 16, 2010


No pocket notebooks for you, ladies.

There is a simple explanation for this discrepency: no pockets.

It's why you don't see a lot of Amish youth on the list either.
posted by The 10th Regiment of Foot at 8:21 AM on September 17, 2010


Science fiction writer Joe Haldeman discusses unplugging to create
posted by Artw at 1:19 PM on September 20, 2010


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