Peirce’s Pictorial Thinking
“I do not think I ever reflect in words.”
Charles Sanders Peirce (Peirce Papers; Ms. 619:8, 1909)
March 21 and 22 this year I took part in a scholarly event quite out of the ordinary. The focal point of this event was a tableau of drawings made by the American philosopher Charles Sanders Peirce (1839-1914), exhibited here, in the premises of the Collegium for the Advanced Study of Picture Act and Embodiment (Humboldt University, Berlin), for the first time in history. As it turns out, Peirce drew incessantly throughout his life, quite literally sketching out his philosophical ideas. The Peirce Papers in the Houghton Library at Harvard, therefore, contain thousands and thousands of drawings, ranging from meticulous and bizarre notation systems and variational sequences of Kandinsky-like line drawings, via intricate labyrinths and physiognomies, to idle doodles and mere scribbles. With a view to the sheer amount of drawings Peirce left behind, and, not the least, with a view to the nature of his thinking (accentuating as it does the iconic or visual aspects of cognition), it is surprising that, until now, there has been made no attempts at systematizing or making sense of these drawings. Even the ambitious Peirce Edition Project has decided to leave out the majority of Peirce’s sketches. John Michael Krois, co-director (together with Horst Bredekamp) of the abovementioned Collegium, initiated this workshop to start rectifying this. Similar attempts are made by the Graduiertenkolleg Schriftbildlichkeit at the Free University of Berlin, directed by Sybille Krämer, where Benjamin Meyer-Krahmer is currently pursuing a postdoctoral project focusing on Peirce’s notation systems.
Speakers at the workshops were: Krois, Meyer-Krahmer, Helmut Pape (Berlin, Bamberg), Frederik Stjernfelt (Berlin, Aarhus), Mark A. Halawa (Duisburg), and Steffen Bogen (Konstanz). The discussants included Krämer, Bredekamp, Elise Bisanz (Lüneburg), Mirjam Wittmann (Wien), and Dieter Mersch (Potsdam).
The tableau of Peirce drawings where put together by Moritz Queisner (Berlin), Franz Engel (Berlin) and Tullio Viola (Berlin).