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Scrips and Scribbles

Author(s): Hans-Jörg Rheinberger


Source: MLN, Vol. 118, No. 3, German Issue (Apr., 2003), pp. 622-636
Published by: The Johns Hopkins University Press
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3251938
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Scrips and Scribbles'

Hans-Jorg Rheinberger

1. Introduction
Over the past thirty years, scientific writing and publishing has
received substantial coverage from the history of science and related
literary studies. A great deal of attention has thereby been devoted to
literary technologies, especially the different forms and tools of
rhetorical enhancement, persuasion, and dissimulation.2 This paper
addresses another aspect of scientific writing. It is concerned with the
scrips and scribbles of the laboratory, that research place where
scientific knowledge is made to emerge and can be grasped in its
emergence. An increasing amount of literature in the history of
science, especially from historians of science and technology con-
cerned with micro-historical reconstructions, has been devoted to
laboratory notebooks and other forms of laboratory and research
inscription.3 With few exceptions, however, the epistemic function of
such notes in the overall order of knowledge production has been

I thank Colin Milburn for editing this text and improving its readability.
2
See, for example, Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer, Leviathan and the Air-Pump:
Hobbes,Boyle, and the ExperimentalLife (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1985);
Charles Bazerman, Shaping WrittenKnowledge.The Genreand Activityof the Experimental
Article in Science(Madison: University of Wisconsin Press 1988); Greg Myers, Writing
Biology.Textsin the Social Constructionof ScientificKnowledge(Madison: The University of
Wisconsin Press 1990); Timothy Lenoir (ed.), InscribingScience.ScientificTextsand the
Materialityof Communication(Stanford: Stanford University Press 1998).
3From a science study perspective, see Karin Knorr Cetina, The Manufactureof
Knowledge.An Essay on the Constructivistand Contextual Nature of Science (Oxford:
Pergamon Press 1981); Bruno Latour and Steve Woolgar, LaboratoryLife. The Construc-
tion of ScientificFacts (Princeton: Princeton University Press 1986); for an overview from

MLN118 (2003): 622-636 ? 2003 by TheJohns Hopkins University Press


MLN 623

widely neglected.4 In what follows, I cannot claim to compensate for


this neglect, but I would like at least to highlight some facets of the
productive function of particular forms of laboratory writing in the
process of knowledge acquisition. In other words, I would like to
consider laboratory writing in its epistemic positivity.

2. Laboratory Writing
Elsewhere I have given a detailed description of experimental systems
as the material arrangements within which I see the game of modern
scientific knowledge production taking place.5 The following brief
rehearsal shall serve as a starting point from which to develop the
argument of this paper. I have characterized experimental systems as
the smallest working units of science in the making, as systems of
epistemic manipulation designed to give yet unknown answers to
questions which themselves are not yet clear. As such, and as the
French molecular biologist Francois Jacob once marvelously put it,
they are systems "for concocting expectation," or "machines for
making the future."6 Experimental systems inextricably co-generate
phenomena and the corresponding concepts that these phenomena
come to embody in the process of their techno-epistemic constitu-
tion. I have addressed these noumenal-phenomenal entities, manipu-
lated within experimental systems, as epistemic things. Epistemic
things thus are shaped in and occupy an opaque intermediary space:
they lie, so to speak, at the interface between the material and the
conceptual side of science. To stress this hybridity, I have therefore
also characterized them as graphematic entities.7 That means they are
scripturally configured in the broad sense that Jacques Derrida has
conveyed to this notion and to which I will come back at the very end
of this paper. In the realm of graphematicity, the objects of research

the perspective of history of science, see Frederic L. Holmes, Jiirgen Renn, and Hans-
J6rg Rheinberger (eds.), Reworkingthe Bench. ResearchNotebooksin the History of Science
(Dordrecht: Kluwer, in press).
4 An exception is Christoph Hoffmann and Peter Berz (eds.), UberSchall.ErnstMachs
und PeterSalchersGeschoflfotografien (Gottingen: Wallstein 2001).
5
Hans-J6rg Rheinberger, Towarda History of EpistemicThings. SynthesizingProteinsin
the TestTube(Stanford: Stanford University Press 1997).
6 Francois Jacob, La statue intrieure (Paris: Editions Odile Jacob 1987), 13.
7 Hans-J6rg Rheinberger, "Experimental Systems-Graphematic Spaces" in: Timo-
thy Lenoir and Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht (eds.), InscribingScience:ScientificTextsand the
Materialityof Communication(Stanford: Stanford University Press 1998), 285-303.
624 HANS-JORGRHEINBERGER

have not yet definitely become paper, and the paper-the scrip, the
scribble-is still part and parcel of a materially mediated experimen-
tal engagement. It still belongs fully to the knowledge regime of the
laboratory.
A closer look into these spaces reveals an immense variety of
primary written research traces and marks ready for historical analy-
sis. These traces reach from excerpts of research papers to notes of
fragmentary ideas or preliminary conjectures, from sketches of
experimental setups to records and arrangements of data deriving
from these experiments, from tentative interpretations of experimen-
tal results to calculations, from the calibration of existing instrumen-
tation to the design of new apparatus. All these and many more
comparable activities circumscribe a space, and at the same time are
inscribed into a space that lies betweenthe materialities of the
experimental systems and the spirituality of the final written commu-
nications that are eventually, at a later date, released to the scientific
community.
The primary forms of 'write-ups' in the laboratory have long been
regarded as simple records of data. These data in turn have been seen
as ideally resulting from some 'pencil of nature' and thus transparent
with respect to the matter whose contours they were taken to render
intelligible. Forms of tracing such as the 'method of curves' in
nineteenth century physiology or microphotography in bacteriology
at the end of the nineteenth century have been praised as instances of
such transparent renderings. But being the result of data collection-
which usually itself already derives from a sophisticated experimental
constellation-is only one part of these graphic assessments: they are
always already part of a broader laboratory discursivity.8They are not
the inert and extrinsic starting point for a genuinely 'intellectual'
process of subsequent knowledge generation, for they are themselves
an integral part of this process, deriving from and connecting the
process to its epistemic objects. The epistemically productive function
of these tracts, tracks, and traces of an experimental system is that
they always already display and exhibit a tentative texturalization that
can be addressed as an intrinsic aspect of any epistemic thing.

8
Soraya de Chadarevian, "Graphical Method and Discipline: Self-Recording Instru-
ments in Nineteenth-Century Physiology"in Studiesin Historyand Philosophyof Science24
Fotografiein Wissenschaft,
(1993), 267-291. Peter Geimer (ed.), OrdnungenderSichtbarkeit.
Kunst und Technologie(Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp 2001).
M LN 625

One of the eminent functions of the tracing and writing process at


the laboratory bench is what I would like to call the 'redimension-
alization' of the experimental arrangement. In the most trivial sense,
this means that the temporal and spatial arrangement of the experi-
ment with its corresponding data scattered in four dimensions is
essentially plated and pasted onto a two-dimensional surface. Sur-
faces force and enable one to explore new options of ordering and
arrangement. Sequential events can be displayed in simultaneity,
temporal relations rendered as spatial relations. In a more sophisti-
cated sense, however, a laboratory protocol produces what I would
like to call effects of condensation. Such condensation can extend
over several stages of reduction, where at each stage, new patterns
may become perceivable according to the order and the amount of
data compression. It is essential for a well-conducted laboratory
protocol that such reduction processes be kept reversible. Their
epistemic productivity lies exactly in the possibility to walk transversally
along the chain of transformations in both ways, to travel back and
eventually turn the compression in another direction.9
In a sense, therefore, laboratory protocols represent the integrated
memory of whole series of experiments, a memory that makes the
retrieval of data easier and possible at any time. Reducing the size of
the memory and transforming it from a chronology into a flexible
patchwork of signs-icons, symbols, indices-have more than a
quantitative function. The ensuing redimensionalization brings the
laboratory, so to speak, into a manageable and transportable form,
thereby creating novel forms of dislocation and disposition.10 In
doing so, laboratory protocols transform sources and sediments into
resources and materials that can be played with and from which new
questions may spring. Driven by the forces of compression, they set
free the inadvertent powers of synopsis inherent in their patch
condition.
In what we might call the space of primary scientific writing, the
idiosyncrasies of the scientist can develop and play out their potentials.
It is here that the individual style of scientific novelty production is
exerted and exercised. On this level, we gain a thoroughly different

9 For a nice
example of such reversibility, see Bruno Latour, "Le pedofil de Boa
Vista" in La clef de Berlin (Paris: La Decouverte 1993), 171-225.
10
Christoph Hoffmann and Peter Berz, "Machs Notizbuch" in UberSchall, 91-141.
626 HANS-JORGRHEINBERGER

idea of science in the making than on the level of texts and the
possibilities of analysis they suggest. Here we find ourselves largely in
the space of the pre-normative, where the opportunistic character of
knowledge acquisition shows itself unhindered, in the space of the
'assay' in the deeper sense of this notion, a sense that is constitutive
for the making of science. An assay is not a trial. It is an exploratory
leap whose tentativity is not yet bound to scrutiny. Thus, the explor-
atory potential of experimental systems is carried over into the
exploratory space of notetaking with its enhanced freedom of combi-
nation, unrestricted by narrow compatibility considerations.
As Francois Jacob has recently remarked, scientists, when going
public, "describe their own activity as a well-ordered series of ideas
and experiments linked in strict logical sequence. In scientific
articles, reason proceeds along a high road that leads from darkness
to light with not the slightest error, not a hint of a bad decision, no
confusion, nothing but perfect reasoning. Flawless.""1 Research notes,
on the other hand, are the documentary residues, the products of
whatJacob, in contrast to the well-ordered "day science," has charac-
terized as the agitations of a "night science." "By contrast, night
science wanders blind. It hesitates, stumbles, recoils, sweats, wakes
with a start. Doubting everything, it is forever trying to find itself,
question itself, pull itself back together. Night science is a sort of
workshop of the possible where what will become the building
material of science is worked out. Where hypotheses remain in the
form of vague presentiments and woolly impressions. Where phe-
nomena are still no more than solitary events with no link between
them. Where the design of experiments has barely taken shape.
Where thought makes its way along meandering paths and twisting
lanes, most often leading nowhere."'2 In this contact zone halfway
between experiment and paper, where the shuffling and reshuffling
of research notes is executed, the individual artistic potential of the
research scientist finds its primary playground.

IIFrancoisJacob, OfFlies, Mice, & Men (Cambridge: Harvard University Press 1998),
125.
12
Ibid, 126.
M LN 627

3. The Research Notes of Carl Correns


Let me illustrate these considerations with an example taken from
the early history of genetics. In the spring of 1896, the German
botanist Carl Correns started a series of crossing experiments with
pea varieties in the small botanical garden of the University of
Tuibingen. Since 1894, he had been searching for a solution to the
xenia question: Can pollen of a different variety have a direct
influence on the characteristics of the fruit and seed of the mother
plant? Correns had been screening the literature for reports of plants
on which to demonstrate the phenomenon that had already puzzled
Darwin. Zea maysand Pisum sativumwere among the plants reported
to show xenia. Correns hoped to be able, first, to produce a clear-cut
and indisputable example of the phenomenon by experiment. Sec-
ond, he wanted to solve the riddle by a physiological-histological
examination of the fructification process.
The protocols of Correns' experiments with Pisum and with corn
have been preserved.'3 They allow us to retrace the gradual process by
which the original research question was substituted by the observa-
tion and explanation of regularities in the character distribution of
the hybrid progeny, which had already been described by Gregor
Mendel in a paper published in the Verhandlungen des Naturforschenden
Vereinsin Briinn in 1866.14This paper had scarcely been noticed by the
contemporaries of Mendel and in fact did not gain a wider recogni-
tion until around 1900, the year marked in the annals of the history
of genetics for the 'rediscovery' of Mendel's laws. The publication of
Correns' results in the spring of 1900 was precipitated by a paper by
Hugo de Vries from Amsterdam reporting on the same phenomenon.15
In the years between 1894 and 1899, Correns had accumulated a
growing repository of observations that concentrated on the charac-
teristics of the hybrid seeds of his two experimental plants and their
varieties. Elsewhere I have followed Correns' experimental pathway

13 Archive for the History of the Max-Planck-Society,Berlin, III. Abt., Rep. 17.
14 Gregor Mendel, "Versuche fiber Pflanzen-Hybriden" in Verhandlungendes Natur-
forschendenVereinsin Brunn 4 (1866), 3-47.
15
Hugo de Vries, "Sur la loi de disjonction des hybrides" in Comptesrendus de
lAcademiedes Sciencesde Paris 130 (1900), 845-847; Carl Correns, "G. Mendel's Regel
fiber das Verhalten der Nachkommenschaft der Rassenbastarde"in BerichtederDeutschen
BotanischenGesellschaft18 (1900), 158-168.
628 HANS-JORGRHEINBERGER

in detail and from year to year.16Here I would like to focus in


particular on some characteristics of his way of notetaking. It is
obvious that at the beginning, Correns' attention was fully devoted to
the xenia question. He experimented with a considerable number of
maize and pea varieties that he had selected according to the
characters of their fruits. His aim was obviously to produce a broad
spectrum of hybrid fruits through which to observe and study
potential xenia. From the reciprocal crosses of these varieties he
raised, in each case, a very limited number of hybrid plants which he
then carried on into the second and third generation, accompanied
by a corresponding number of control plants and backcrosses where
necessary. Accordingly, he drew up protocols that contained detailed
descriptions for each cross of the color and structure of the seeds as
well as the embryos within them. Since he pursued these experiments
over a period of six years, the accumulated details are immense. The
historian looking at these details tends to become lost. But from this
immensity, an impression of the experimenter's involvement with the
minutiae of his work emerges, and it becomes clear that these notes
kept the arrangement of the experimental garden and the fruits of
the experimenter's labor present from year to year in an almost one-
to-one manner, albeit ready and arranged for condensation, as will
become clear from what follows.
It is worth mentioning that Correns drafted his protocols in such a
way that he later was able at any time to trace back each individual
seed and the plants raised from it to the respective plants and the
seeds of the preceding generation. He thus kept a virtually complete
record of individual seed lineages on paper that he could follow
forward and backward. These paper tracks were complemented by
the seeds themselves, stored in boxes and on shelves: a corresponding
material repository. This observation is very much in line with the
assumption that Correns by no means designed the starting point of
his Pisum experiments to corroborate a statistical regularity-as we
might expect if he had derived such an idea from his first docu-
mented reading of Mendel's paper in 189617-but rather, he was
looking for surprising seed characteristics that he expected to emerge
within this broadly conceived set of crossings.

6
Hans-J6rg Rheinberger, "Carl Correns' Experimente mit Pisum, 1896-1899" in
Historyand Philosophyof the Life Sciences22 (2000), 187-218.
17
Hans-Jorg Rheinberger, "When did Carl Correns read Gregor Mendel's paper? A
research note" in Isis 86 (1995), 612-616.
M LN 629

Despite their appearance as a faithful duplication of the order of


the garden and its products on paper, the protocols were thus not
mere inert records of data. Their very design and structure related to
and also translated the original object of investigation. In addition,
the design of the protocols focused attention on certain aspects of the
object. On the other hand, the notes were drafted in such a way that
enough redundancy and excess of possible information existed in
both retrospective and prospective directions so as to allow for
reorientation of the experimenter's gaze at a later stage. Consider the
following example.

Fig. 1. "Hybrid gr + p $ Al (yellow)." Archive for the History of the Max Planck
Society, Berlin, III. Abt., Rep. 17, Folder "Pisum Results 1897." Reprinted with
permission of the Archive for the History of the Max Planck Society, Berlin.
630 HANS-JORGRHEINBERGER

On this protocol sheet of 1897, we clearly see the individualizing


notation that reaches from the numbering of the plants to the
numbering of the pods to the numbering and detailed description of
the peas contained in them. We also see that the very outline of the
page leaves a blank space to the left, a space that eventually came to
be filled with a peculiar form of additional remarks at a later stage.
From all the indications that can be gathered from the written record
and which cannot be displayed here in detail, the overwriting of the
primary protocol must have taken place over the course of the year
1899. The first of these remarks reads: "E was 22 and is 22. From these
seeds therefore none has been sowed. 18 with yellow germ, 77,8%, 4
with green [germ] 22,2%."
From the right to the left of this protocol, we can follow the switch
from the descriptive and individualizing xenia-regime to the numeri-
cal and statistical Mendel-regime. This difference could not be more
drastic. At some point in the course of his experiments, in all
probability while contemplating the results of some odd corn crosses
of the fall of 1897 which proved to be inadvertent backcrosses with
unrecognized hybrids, Correns must have come to suspect that
something else was going on in his experiments, something to which
he had so far not paid attention. It is also reasonable to assume that,
at this point in the course of his experiments, his earlier reading of
Mendel's paper took on a new meaning for him. When he had read
the paper for the first time in the spring of 1896, he had only looked
at it with the prospect of obtaining possible clues to the xenia
question. Now his reading amalgamated with the results of his
experiments that surreptitiously had come to fill the pages of his
notebooks and the boxes of his experimental barn without explicit
recognition. Only now did he realize that, whereas his peas persis-
tently refused to exhibit any obvious xenia, the proliferating hybrids
of Pisum and, in a less clear-cut manner, also those of his corn breeds,
showed clear segregation with respect to the seed characters on which
he had focused his attention. One character appeared to be domi-
nant over its complement in that it swept throughout the first
generation of hybrids. However, in the second generation, the
dominant character appeared to rule in only about three quarters of
the offspring, while in the remaining quarter, as we have seen in the
above quotation, the suppressed character reappeared unaltered.
Correns could now browse through the whole record of his
protocols under a completely different perspective without having to
start experimentation all over again. He could concentrate on just
MLN 631

one character pair, namely the color of the germ (cotyledons), and
neglect the form of the seed as well as the color of the seed coat to
which he had paid considerable attention in his earlier descriptions.
He could retrace which seeds he had used to raise the successive
generations of hybrid plants, and add them to the remaining ones to
yield a virtually complete record. In so doing, and in summing over
all the individual plants and their yield of seeds, he could arrive at
substantial numbers that allowed him, in contrast to what he had set
out to do at the beginning, to perform a thorough statistical
evaluation of his numbers. The "experiment" in his publication of
1900, which in fact is a composite of all the crosses he had been doing
with these two pea varieties between 1896 and 1899, now added up to
several hundreds of peas in each of the successive generations for the
particular character pair under review. The research notes assumed
the positive function of a repository and of a tool to reorient the
experimental gaze in a direction that had been unthinkable for
Correns at the beginning of the experiments.
It can be seen as a fortunate byproduct of the starting point of the
experiments that Correns concentrated on characters that he ex-
pected to become visible on the seeds. Paradoxically speaking, we
could say that the xeniaboth prevented him from an early recognition
of the transmission ratios observed later and enabled him to do just
that after all. For in addition to the protocols-that is, the paper
record-the seeds themselves acted in his system as a kind of
naturally digitalized material protocol of green cotyledons and yellow
cotyledons. This repository existed because Correns had to collect
and keep the seeds for sowing the next generation in the following
years. Correns could also come back to this material protocol-
namely, his boxes filled with peas-at any time, even after a year or
two, and he could use them additionally as a check for his notes. Not
until Correns had worked himself deeply into the breeding system of
Zea mays and Pisum for about four years did this character of the
system become relevant for him, at a time when he realized that his
results were heading in a different direction. It appears to me that
this is a particular juncture of an experimental paper trail with the
material characteristics of an experimental system, creating the
possibility of recurrent moves of interpretation, which possibly repre-
sent a generalizable feature of experimental exploration. In any case,
it is a good example of the epistemic and potentially knowledge-
producing function of scientific notetaking.
632 HANS-JORG RHEINBERGER

4. Collective Forms of Laboratory Writing18


Let me now go one step further and ask whether there are 'collective'
equivalents to the individual, more or less 'private' forms of scientific
notetaking, such as we have encountered in the case of Correns. The
question amounts to an exploration of a kind of graphism that can no
longer be seen as a simple protocol, but which is not yet a definite
form of argument. There are intermediate forms of representation in
science located in the space between the laboratory bench and the
organized public discourse of the scientific community. With Michel
Foucault, we could talk about an exploration of the "discourse-
objects" of a laboratory archaeology.19 We could talk about the
laboratory itself in its scriptural organization. In this intermediate
realm we find different categories of writing, of preserving traces and
marks worth being explored in their general characteristics for their
own sake.
One of these categories comprises lists, tables, and other forms of
what could be called scientific bookkeeping. We could call them
technologies of numeracy.20 In the research process, they serve as
registers from which to retrieve the bits of information, data, or
figures that are necessary for assembling an experimental setup, or
that have to be chosen in a particular experimental situation. In this
function, they are systems of retrieval, an archive that is integrated
into the laboratory itself. In addition, they serve as the databases into
which research results can be entered and thus made available for the
collective work of a particular laboratory, or even a network of
collaborating laboratories. They serve as media and mediators for the
exchange of primary data. Today, these technologies of numeracy
have largely taken on electronic forms of data storage, retrieval,
display, and communication. Prominent examples are the DNA
sequence databases on which molecular geneticists and gene tech-
nologists rely in constructing their probes and comparing their
results, and into which they in turn feed their sequencing products.

18
This part of the paper is based on a section of Hans-Jorg Rheinberger, "Discourses
of Circumstance. A Note on the Author in Science" in Peter Galison and Mario Biagioli
(eds.), ScientificAuthorship(London: Routledge 2003), 309-323.
19Michel Foucault, TheArchaeologyof Knowledge(New York: Pantheon Books 1972),
140.
20
Special kinds of such technologies are to be found in different scientific disci-
plines. For chemistry, see Ursula Klein, "Paper Tools in Experimental Cultures" in
Studiesin Historyand Philosophyof Science32A (2001), 265-302.
M LN 633

The items that compose these pools of information constitute a first


form of the collectivization of the research process. As such they
represent a new source from which new questions can spring,
resulting from comparison and synopsis.
Another category in this realm comprises semi-standardized proto-
cols and laboratory manuals. They could be addressed as technolo-
gies of literacyin a very specific sense. This category consists of written
procedures that have proven robust and reliable enough to be
applied, at least by those initiated, in a more or less routine form.
These protocols have left the realm of an individual researcher's
idiosyncrasy,but they usually remain marked by the collective idiosyn-
crasy of a local laboratory community. They preserve in an incremen-
tal manner, sometimes even over generations of experimenters, those
elements of laboratory practice that have proven to be successful.
They are also-and this is not the least of their function-the
scriptural forms of laboratory life into which newcomers are social-
ized. As such, they constitute a particular laboratory identity.
It is very tempting to perceive the 'laboratory' itself emerging as a
scientific writing collective in these conserved, written, mimeographed,
and chronically overwritten forms and formats. The writing collective
preserves a particular laboratory tradition, an identifiable way and
style of doing experiments that is reiterated precisely because of these
protocol-related reifications. It displays the laboratory function as a
collective author representing more than the mere fact that a group
of people have collaborated in order to arrive at a particular result. It
is rather the choreography needed to arrive at results, the collective
form of an epistemic subject, the way in which 'personality' and 'style'
in science begin to take on the form of interpersonal work, in the
competitive as well as the collaborative mode. Such a laboratory-
function is at the base of what has been discussed for a long time
already in science studies and the history of science as research
traditions or research schools.2 Instead of concentrating on the
sociological features of these schools or traditions, such as the strong
leader, the special opportunities of a local institution, or the disciplin-
ary junctures in a particular laboratory, I would like to claim that it
will be worth investigating in more detail the material circumstances

21 For a
comprehensive overview, see Gerald L. Geison and Frederic L. Holmes
(eds.), ResearchSchools:HistoricalReappraisals(Chicago: The University of Chicago Press
1993, Osiris 8).
634 HANS-JORGRHEINBERGER

and the embodied gestural repertoire of the epistemic foundation of


these phenomena. My guess is that particular technologies of numeracy
and literacy such as those mentioned play a major role in shaping
these traditions. Research traditions emerge from a process of
material reproduction, in which the scripturally reified idiosyncrasies
of the laboratory, such as recipes, procedural advices, log sheets,
standardized experimental designs, and adapted software, are irre-
placeable bits and pieces of a local research culture.
Within this medial realm between semi-matter and semi-print,
forms of scientific numeracy and literacy exist that, though they are
not yet of the order of texts released into the public, also no longer
pertain to the private diary of the individual researcher. They take
their shape from a sort of collectively accumulating memory and
communalized experience, and in turn shape this memory and
experience, from one laboratory generation to the next. The ques-
tion is what precisely these forms can tell us about that strange but
epistemically crucial form of half-authorized subjectivity and half-
private objectivity, something that is different from 'signature' writ-
ing. What does it take epistemically to make a researcher part of a
knowledge-gaining collective? As what kind of figure and in precisely
what kind of function does the researcher act at the bench? Who
speaks to whom and especially through which kind of written media
in the process of research? How can we characterize that space and
time where epistemic things are no longer private dreams but not yet
sanctioned facts, that semi-public realm where capillary communion
overrides official communication? The mechanisms of reinforcement
that hold a knowledge-producing community such as a laboratory
together, in both the synchronic and the diachronic axis, are materi-
alized in a special kind of laboratory discourse with its unique
laboratory scripts somewhere between the dense and impenetrable
experimental arrangement on the one hand and the articulated
concept on the other, between the scientist at the bench and the
scientist as the author of a scientific paper. Just as languages of art, in
their capacity as systems of symbols, oscillate between density and
articulation, between picture and text,22this laboratory relation can
assume all kinds of hybrid forms, mixtures, and blends between the
seamless plenitude of an acting subject and the punctuated detach-
ment of a signature, between the jargon of a recipe with its

22 Nelson
Goodman, Languagesof Art (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill 1968).
M LN 635

performative, almost private language and object-signs barely intelli-


gible for the non-initiated on the one hand, and the codified and
punctuated argumentation of a research paper on the other.
In this short essay, my concern has been with forms of data
collection and writing as they occur in the laboratory. I have tried to
convey a sense of the fact that the process of graphematic tracing and
the forms in which it takes place at the work bench are not in
themselves passive data recording procedures. On the contrary, the
primary traces, prints, and indices of the experimental setup make
part of a textured entanglement which scientists address and experi-
ence through their efforts of 'making sense of data. It is on this plane
that the process of knowledge generation takes form. It is the
privileged plane of epistemic tinkering. It is the plane where scientific
representations take shape. Tinkering here is meant in exactly the
same way as it is defined by Claude Levi-Strauss: namely, that "the
signifieschange themselves into signifiants, and inversely."23Speaking
with Levi-Strauss,in tinkering, the traces have still the opacity of signs,
they have not yet assumed the transparency of concepts.
As shown in the example of Correns, the microhistorical gaze
through the magnifying glasses of research notes can reveal the kinds
of delays that appear to be constitutive for empirically-driven thinking
in general, the sorts of "slownesses and troubles that appear, in the
very act of knowing, intimately, in a kind of functional necessity," of
which Gaston Bachelard has spoken in his psychoanalysis of the
scientific spirit.24The research notes of Correns help not only to
make this point in a particularly clear manner, but they also display
some of the intricacies and peculiarities characterizing the process of
note-taking in the positivity of its recursive potentials. They practically
show what iterativity means for the generation of knowledge. In his
MarginsofPhilosophy,Jacques Derrida has proposed a generalized view
of writing as the exemplar of a process of "iteration."25According to
Derrida, writing is characterized by the structural possibility of
becoming weaned either from its putative originary referent, from
that to which the writing refers and is derived from, or from its
putative origin, from the one who writes. The first possibility has been

23 Claude
Levi-Strauss,La penseesauvage (Paris: Plon 1962), 31.
24 Gaston Bachelard, La formation de l'espritscientifique(6th ed. Paris: Vrin 1969), 13.
25JacquesDerrida, "Signature evenement contexte" in Margesde la philosophie(Paris:
Editions de Minuit 1972), 365-393.
636 HANS-JORGRHEINBERGER

exposed in the section on laboratory writing and explored through


an example in the section on Correns. The second has been the
subject of the last section on generalized forms of laboratory writing.
The historical productivity of scrips and scribbles, of inscription and
transcription, resides exactly in the possible incidence of such a
double loss in the process of gaining knowledge.
Max Planck Institutefor the Historyof Science,Berlin

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