Writing notes is an essential component of academic life, a ritual that is performed with as many handwritings as there are individuals. In her essay, Pamela M. Lee addresses the phenomenon of illegibility within notes: of what use are notes if they cannot be deciphered at a later time? Lee develops her semiotics of illegibility with reference to the extensive archive of notes written by the prominent American art historian Meyer Schapiro. In Lee's view, the illegibility of Schapiro's script stands in especially stark contrast to the clarity of his texts. Incorporating psychoanalysis and literary criticism, Lee's study draws from Schapiro's own unique approaches to the theory of signs, and in particular from his canonical paper On Some Problems in the Semiotics of Visual Art: Field and Vehicle in Image-Signs, which can be traced back to notes, excerpts of which are reproduced in this publication.
Art historian and cultural critic Pamela M. Lee (*1967) is Professor in the Department of Art and Art History at Stanford University, Palo Alto, California.