Wednesday, December 26, 2012


Begin With the Index

Elizabeth Sears, "The Life and Work of William S. Heckscher: Some Petites Perceptions," Zeitschrift für Kunstgeschichte 53.1 (1990) 107-133 (at 132-133, footnotes omitted):
A founding member of the Society of Indexers, organized in 1957, Heckscher is a theorist of indexing whose unusual gifts were recognized in 1987 when he was given the Carey Award for being an »explorer of the frontiers of indexing as an art form«. The classic example of a Heckscherian index is that which accompanies Heckscher's commentary on Camerarius's description of Dürer's Melencolia I. Heckscher later prepared a commentary on this index, »The Unconventional Index and its Merits,« which he published in The Indexer. An index, he argues, should be a self-sufficient entity which »balances« the text: he observes that the text of his article runs to some 40 pages, notes and index (set in small type) to some 27 and 18 pages respectively.

A Heckscherian index is arranged alphabetically, but the last-name-first rule is abandoned: »Heckscher, William Sebastian« is conventional and dull: »William [Bill] Sebastian H e c k s c h e r« is preferable. Entries are information-rich, and are intended to relieve the text of encumbering detail. Cross-references are lavish. The index Heckscher admires is a »child of the imagination«: it may be »so readable that one may begin with the index, deriving from it such pleasure as will stimulate eagerness to turn back to the text, perhaps piecemeal rather than as a continuous whole«.

Heckscher distinguishes this sort of analytical index from »the index that precedes the work-to- come or that may be an end in itself«. His personal indexes, containing entries beyond number, are of the latter type. Here are stored the fruits of his voluminous and patient reading. Extracted passages and engendered thoughts (petites perceptions) are recorded on 3 x 5 cards, given iconographical headings, cross-indexed, and filed along with various kinds of ephemera — postcards, newspaper clippings, papiers trouvés. »Up to a point,« he says, »I have been extremely conscientious in tending to my filing system, which has the following divisions:

1. An English into Latin vocabulary
2. A list, chronologically arranged from B.C. into eternity (I have prophecies for many centuries) in chronological order.
3. An alphabetical listing of everything under the sun which sometimes yields astonishing treasures».
Here is a photograph of Heckscher's workroom, from Charlotte Schoell-Glass and Elizabeth Sears, Verzetteln als Methode: Der humanistische Ikonologe William S. Heckscher (1904-1999) (Berlin: Akademie Verlag, 2008 = Hamburger Forschungen zur Kunstgeschichte, VI), p. 111 (thanks to Ian Jackson for sending this):

Arthur Stanley Pease, quoted in J.P. Elder et al., "Arthur Stanley Pease 1881-1964," Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 69 (1965) ix:
I will confess that I am by nature a collector, that I began with marbles and horse-chestnuts, advanced to postage stamps, continued with botany and books, and at all times have gathered facts and occasionally ideas.

These two latter items, in lack of sufficient cranial space for dead storage, I enter methodically on 3 x 5 slips of paper. When enough of a kind are amassed, they are outspread, classified, digested, written down, dehydrated, and lo! an article, or more rarely a book, to be perused by some lone watcher in Czechoslovakia or beside the Bay of Biscay.

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