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Z^k: A Zettelkablooey

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Sociologist Niklaus Luhmann wrote almost 400 articles and more than 70 books over his career. He also pioneered Systems Theory, which has come to inform research from social systems to engineering. In “Kommunication mit Zettelkasten” (Communication with Slip-Boxes), the German sociologist revealed the secret to his prolific output: a system of over 90,000 index cards (no batteries included) which he called his “Zettelkasten” (slip-box), meticulously numbered in a branching, interlinked heterarchy which anticipated the hypertext. In recent years, the so-called “Zettelkasten Method” has exploded into a plethora of productivity software (Roam, Obsidian, and’s the Archive to name a few) and captured the fantasies of the Knowledge Management community for its potential in helping to create a “second brain”—the übermensch of productivity culture.

“Z^k: A Zettelkablooey” explores the myths associated with knowledge management (and, of course, surveillance capitalism): the arms race of databases and analytics; the utter optimization and expansion of knowledge and technology without much regard for its purpose—as can be easily seen with the meteoric, largely uncontrolled rise of AI technology. The project is an exploded Zettelkasten—a “Zettelkablooey”—juxtaposing a fragmentary reading of Luhmann’s writings within an influx of content generated by ChatGPT. As the poem reaches towards coherence about what a Zettelkasten truly is—drawing on Luhmann’s insights into systems theory—the ChatGPT text invites alternate readings and chance-based interjections. It is a maze of linked and abbreviated ideas searching for coherence about itself, while that search only multiplies the glitches of the system.

In contrast to an optimized and analyzed database, Luhmann’s original (read: Luddite) Zettelkasten suggests a system built on chaos—an organization of disorganization designed to be lossy and unpredictable, leading to insights the researcher himself could not predict. My project thus emphasizes the original approach of the Zettelkasten—the contingent association of a mess of fragmentary ideas—by counter-working AI technology originally intended to optimize ease of use and coherence. It emphasizes the reality that natural language models (which present themselves as accessible and safe) are a black box, messy and unpredictable.

A guide for reading

The project is an interactive hypertext which invites you to click on links, type in input boxes, and "fix," build upon, and break the system. Please use headphones and read in fullscreen. The work often presents unexpected shifts and surprises, and is intended to be somewhat of a puzzle.

is a multimedia writer/performer and researcher. His work tightropes the boundary between speech and sound, often taking the form of creative/critical hypertexts, performances, and installations. Inspired by posthumanist ideas, his work challenges anthropocentrism, using technology and multimedia to articulate technological, ghostly ways of being.

Reinier attended Oberlin College and Conservatory, where he studied composition and comparative literature. He received Highest Honors for his undergraduate thesis, "Demons of Analogy: The Encounter Between Music and Language After Mallarmé," which investigates how French Symbolist poet Stéphane Mallarmé theorizes a musical poetics, and how music speaks back at this poetics. He has designed and taught four courses in Oberlin's Experimental College which explore experimental literature and posthumanist philosophies. He currently lives and works in New York City.