I think most ILB-ers would agree that literary biographies aren't much fun. I certainly don't feel very inclined toward the life as told by others. It seems a thankless task to try and speculate between the life as has been led and the fiction churned out. But I haven't bothered enough to read them to certify this and various other assertions I might have.
But what about collection of diaries, seeing the author take the mask off, knowing that it will probably get published (if at all) posthumously (or, as a side question, do they take the mask off, knowing that it will get published?) This seems more appealing but I haven't read any myself. Any good ones out there, or ones out-of-print that ought to come back into circulation?
― xyzzzz__, Saturday, 7 November 2009 12:41 (nine years ago) Permalink
Anais Nin's are terrific I think, really consistent and interesting and characteristic.
― Gravel Puzzleworth, Saturday, 7 November 2009 12:42 (nine years ago) Permalink
I have this edition: http://cn1.kaboodle.com/hi/img/c/0/0/68/c/AAAADOR_GekAAAAAAGjBSQ.jpg - recommend wholeheartedly!
― Gravel Puzzleworth, Saturday, 7 November 2009 12:43 (nine years ago) Permalink
I think biographies have undergone this dreadful transition from artfully arranged impressions of author's lives to books that fear to leave out anything and become shapeless, disproportionately concerned with minutiae and toiling chronologically through the subject's life.
Well, at least, the Zachary Leader biography of Kingsley Amis was like that. But then Jenny Uglow's Life of Hogarth, although long, moved along nicely enough.
But I much prefer the older sort, arranging the life to provide an aesthetic impression of the author's understanding of the life.
Chesterton's of Browning is excellent in this vein.
― 'virgin' should be 'wizard' (GamalielRatsey), Saturday, 7 November 2009 13:24 (nine years ago) Permalink
The Antaeus issue (published subsequently as as book) "Journals, Notebooks, Diaries" from '88 has Oliver Sacks, Bill Clinton, Annie Dillard, Robert Frost, Lawrence Durrell, Norman Mailer, Gail Godwin, Roy Blount, and a few dozen others. Can find it for a song online.
― Action Orientation (Eazy), Saturday, 7 November 2009 15:32 (nine years ago) Permalink
If you like Denton Welch, xyzzzz__, then his diaries are very enjoyable.
Pepys is genuinely great - rorty and conversationally entertaining.
― 'virgin' should be 'wizard' (GamalielRatsey), Saturday, 7 November 2009 16:06 (nine years ago) Permalink
I very much like Denton Welch! I do look out for those when I'm out and about...think this is out-of-print(?) His diaries are probably even more interesting, since he based so much of the fiction on himself. An even deeper connection.
Same goes for Gide's journals.
― xyzzzz__, Saturday, 7 November 2009 17:24 (nine years ago) Permalink
She worked hard on those diaries. She kept a "lie box" to keep her stories straight.
Larkin's companion burned all his journals at his request, but his letters are fun. A great moment in literature was when Anthony Powell reviewed Larkin's collected letters, in which Larkin and Amis both referred to Powell as "Horse-Faced Dwarf." I'm not sure, but I think a later edition of the letters came out with certain bits removed.
― alimosina, Saturday, 7 November 2009 18:49 (nine years ago) Permalink
Amis's early letters to Larkin are also AMAZING. Seriously funny. Have them side by side - there's an argument for saying that Amis didn't write anything funnier, certainly never anything as experimental, so to speak. Playful's a better word obviously.
― 'virgin' should be 'wizard' (GamalielRatsey), Saturday, 7 November 2009 19:51 (nine years ago) Permalink
I can believe it. The title character of Lucky Jim is said to be based on Larkin.
― alimosina, Saturday, 7 November 2009 19:58 (nine years ago) Permalink
Christopher Isherwood's Diaries: 1939–1960 is about the best of the best of the best. It includes his meeting of Don Bacardy, and friendships with Chaplin, Stravinsky, Garbo (dumb!), Gish, Fairbanks & Pickford, Marxes, Huxley, Vidal, Auden, Laughton, Maugham, Bowles, and a billion of others. If read w/ his earlier semi-fictional stuff, it can form a continuous narrative from his childhood at boarding school until near his death. It's never less then thrilling, brilliantly written, wry, and hilarious. A+++++
― as they say in Finnish: "lihaperäpukamat (remy bean), Saturday, 7 November 2009 20:18 (nine years ago) Permalink
Peter Handke's The Weight Of The World pwns this thread.
― Run-WmC (James Redd and the Blecchs), Sunday, 8 November 2009 04:00 (nine years ago) Permalink
Musil's diaries are pretty worthwile
― nice email (uh oh I'm having a fantasy), Tuesday, 10 November 2009 00:16 (nine years ago) Permalink
tennessee williams notebooks are a giant pretty mess
― Nanobots: HOOSTEEND (BIG HOOS aka the steendriver), Tuesday, 10 November 2009 03:35 (nine years ago) Permalink
What is the content of Musil's diaries like? Does he jot any further ideas to the Man Without Qualities?
I'll try and get a 'Letters' thread going later (if anyone wants to do it be my guest). To me that's a seaparate category.
― xyzzzz__, Tuesday, 10 November 2009 10:16 (nine years ago) Permalink
Brecht's Journals 1934-55 are pretty great, probably my favourite thing in this line. He's thinking about Nazism and the War, getting his head round America in particular, meeting and talking to the other German exiles, and staging and writing stuff all the time. So busy. Also lots of pictures he's pasted in and captioned.
Though they're not really authors (I mean they are, but who cares) the Goncourt journals are pretty great for an account of literary life in mid-c.19th Paris. Everyone turns up to the party!
The Isherwood sounds v good, I will take a look at that.
Has anyone read the Cheever diaries? He's not someone who's ever interested me, but the big Colm Tóibín article in the LRB made them sound interesting (though maybe the article told me everything I need to know. Can't see myself reading them I guess.)
― woofwoofwoof, Tuesday, 10 November 2009 10:37 (nine years ago) Permalink
Oh, there's also Jonathan Swift's Journal to Stella, which is something between a journal and letters. It's dense, but a great account of Swift's life in London for a couple of years. (But if you want Swift with his guard down, his marginalia are great - just him scribbling 'lies lies lies' and 'scotch dog' and 'scotch liar' over books that make him angry.)
― woofwoofwoof, Tuesday, 10 November 2009 12:04 (nine years ago) Permalink
from what I remember musil lays a lot of ideas out that build the foundation of the man without qualities, if indirectly. Not that man without qualities really needs any more content. The diaries have great accounts of little day to day moments plus thoughts on writing in general. Also it's really interesting to see what war does to his head.
― nice email (uh oh I'm having a fantasy), Tuesday, 10 November 2009 17:45 (nine years ago) Permalink
hunter thompson's letters/job applications/etc. are as anything else he wrote
― Ømår Littel (Jordan), Tuesday, 10 November 2009 17:56 (nine years ago) Permalink
D.J. Enright's Injury Time: a Memoir. He wrote it while dying of cancer, but that comes in only in occasional satiric hospital anecdotes. Incredibly calm and sane. With respect to dying, the anti-Larkin.
― alimosina, Wednesday, 11 November 2009 15:22 (nine years ago) Permalink
Completely forgot Gerard Manley Hopkins' Journals. One of the best records of a poet looking at the world and trying to stretch language to the looking.
― woofwoofwoof, Wednesday, 11 November 2009 16:44 (nine years ago) Permalink
And Kafka. Given that Musil stirs interest here, Kafka's diaries are a big omission. I'm going back to them tonight. Thanks for making me think of them thread.
― woofwoofwoof, Wednesday, 11 November 2009 19:26 (nine years ago) Permalink
I'd forgotten about 'Injury Time'--that was a great book.
― When two tribes go to war, he always gets picked last (James Morrison), Wednesday, 11 November 2009 22:12 (nine years ago) Permalink
Has anyone read the Cheever diaries? He's not someone who's ever interested me, but the big Colm Tóibín article in the LRB made them sound interesting (though maybe the article told me everything I need to know. Can't see myself reading them I guess.)
The 'Colm Tóibín treatment', as I call it, is often so satisfying and fulfilling that I doubt I could ever buy a book that he is reviewing. Can't see myself getting hold of Beckett's letters (which I see you talk about on the Letters thread), although he doesn't consider Beckett to have been a great letter writer. Cheever's diaries do sound great.
― xyzzzz__, Wednesday, 11 November 2009 22:41 (nine years ago) Permalink
cortazar's Around the Day in 80 Worlds isn't really a diary/notebook, but more of an odds and ends collection of his fiction/non-fiction stuff and I really liked that.
― nice email (uh oh I'm having a fantasy), Wednesday, 11 November 2009 22:44 (nine years ago) Permalink
I remember really enjoying Katherine Mansfield's journals, too.
― Attention please, a child has been lost in the tunnel of goats. (James Morrison), Wednesday, 11 November 2009 23:34 (nine years ago) Permalink
They were the unexpurgated version, rather than the cleaned-up version her husband edited.
I wish this http://www.borgesdebioycasares.com.ar./ would come out in English. Anybody heard anything?
― Jeff LeVine, Thursday, 12 November 2009 00:30 (nine years ago) Permalink
I'm reading TE Lawrence's 'The Mint', which definitely falls into this group, and is good and very strange: basically, Lawrence of Arabia finds normal life too difficult in the early 1920s, and joins the RAF at the lowest level under an assumed name, has an appalling time, keeps secret notebook, and is then outed by the press. Three years later, he does it all over again.
― Attention please, a child has been lost in the tunnel of goats. (James Morrison), Monday, 16 November 2009 06:20 (nine years ago) Permalink
Having read a few since 2009 I thought I'd update. What prompts the update was finishing Pla's The Gray Notebook a couple of weeks ago. Its like a cross between Pessoa's The Book of Disquiet and Kafka's Dairies. Pla doesn't provoke as much as Pessoa, and he just isn't Kafka (then again who is?) but it strikes me that the quality I love of a writer's notebook is that you can often see their working the page and learning some kind of craft, whereas in their fictional or poetic work they are letting the words work them in turn, and us. All the reading and craft they internalized pouring out of them.
In Pla this is complicated. He is very much learning - you see a sketch, a description, a character is built, that piece of art is thought over. Its funny because his one bit of fiction I picked up just washed right past me. And his Notebooks are considered his best work - he first compiled them in his late teens early 20s then went back to them he was a novelist he wanted to be.
From the recommends in the thread over the years I picked Welch, Musil (wrt his Notebooks its something stranger still because in MwQ there are passages that are vey notebook-like, its more cut-and-paste w/out any sort of collage effect), The Goncourt Journals.
Love to read Manley Hopkins but anything seems really out-of-print and expensive.
― xyzzzz__, Sunday, 24 February 2019 09:15 (one month ago) Permalink
This is a good thread. Wanting to read the Journals of Kierkegaard trans Dru rn.
― Fizzles, Sunday, 24 February 2019 10:22 (one month ago) Permalink
The drafts of FINNEGANS WAKE can be very informative for understanding sentences and passages in FINNEGANS WAKE.
― the pinefox, Sunday, 24 February 2019 10:42 (one month ago) Permalink
I suppose drafts are different from 'notebooks', but JJ's notebooks are mainly full of phrases that he added the drafts, then crossed out.
― the pinefox, Sunday, 24 February 2019 10:43 (one month ago) Permalink
This thread revive had me going to Gerard Manley Hopkins' Journals today. HIs attempt to delineate, describe, materially and spiritually understand the world around him causes his sentences and word order to bend and stress under that desire. I know in it a sense that shouldn't be surprising, as it's GMH, but seeing it in prose and see him take such pains in a journal gives a sense of the spiritual, linguistic and mental efforts required. Sensory as well - light, size, atmospheric conditions, shape, strange analogies of image and material (water like slack fruit nets, flocks of sheep going through a hedgerow like water droplets on a leaf, inscape, outscape, instress. It's interesting to see how someone of his calibre approaches it, and it also produces a sense of possibility in yourself as you read it. The resources available. The richness of the world.
On a slightly different note, this entire passage, for many several reasons, gave me much amused enjoyment.
The abbot's passage so called is remarkable for the curious astragalus moulding of the interlaced wall-tracery. There is a little Saxon work, like rude turning carpentry, merely barbarous. The building is mostly of tiles taken from the Roman walls of Verulam. It is perhaps worth noticing that the little curled ends of some corbels in the nave are freakishly turned each a different way.Aug. 25. Fine; cold wind.Bridges came up and Rover bit him. After this we went down to town together and talked in Hyde Park. And in Oxford Street saw an Irish lad and woman and *he* had the national light tail coat, knee-breeches, hat, and shillelagh.Aug. 26. Dull.Aug. 27. Fine.Aug. 28. Dull.Aug 29. Fine, I think.
― Fizzles, Saturday, 2 March 2019 17:14 (three weeks ago) Permalink
― mark s, Saturday, 2 March 2019 17:19 (three weeks ago) Permalink
This run is great
Sept. 8. Dull, thick, and with East wind.Sept. 9. Fine.Sept. 10. Fine but dim, as several days about this time.Sept. 11. And so this day.Sept. 12. Dull.Sept. 13. Fine, I think.Sept. 14. Fine.Sept. 15. Blighty.– One of these days there was a solar halo. Remember the solar halo as an illustration.The cedars at the bottom have their flakes so modulated from the horizontal and so taking one another up all along the row that they look like the swaling or *give* of water in a river when you look across it and moonlight, say, picks out the different faces with light and dark.Sept. 16. Blighty, turning to fine.The Long Retreat began.*Sept. 17. Fine. –Chestnuts as bright as coals or spots of vermillion.Sept. 18. Thunderstorm and rain but not all day.Henceforth I keep no regular weather-journal but only notes.Sept. 27. The (clouded) sky at dawn was, I noticed, quite purple. There followed a thunderstorm: I saw one flash of lightning rose-colour. Afterwards wind, rain, and graceful changing clouds.Very early on some of these days the morning mist looked like water quite still and clouded by milk or soda.
― Fizzles, Saturday, 2 March 2019 19:12 (three weeks ago) Permalink
*30 day retreat when novices first work through the Spiritual Exercises of St Ignatius.
― Fizzles, Saturday, 2 March 2019 19:14 (three weeks ago) Permalink
― xyzzzz__, Saturday, 2 March 2019 19:54 (three weeks ago) Permalink
My excerpts from GMH upthread were slightly flippant, but its fascinating reading how he's trying to configure the world around him:
I found one morning the ground in one corner of the garden full of small pieces of potsherd from which there rose up (and not dropped off) long icicles carried on in some way each like a forepitch of the shape of the piece of potsherd it grew on, like a tooth to its root for instance, and most of them bended over and curled like so many tusks or horns or/ best of all and what they looked likest when they first caught my eye/ the first soft root-spurs thrown out from a sprouting chestnut. This bending of the icicle seemed so far as I could see not merely a resultant, where the smaller spars of which it was made were still straight, but to have flushed them too.
There are other excerpts where you can see more easily the violence that his attempt to fix an observation in detail does to language and word order/cognitive expression. I noted this excerpt because of his desire and ability to reach all round the natural world to find the analogy he needs. I don't know enough about GMH, certainly not enough to know the basics of how his exploration of metaphor, image and the poetic imagination generally relates to God, but it's clear his microscopic examination of the world in image and language is in some way undertaken and part of understanding the workings of God. As such it is an extraodinary exploratory fusion of language, image and God (and the nexus of belief, the moral universe and one's own soul that brings with it).
By extension this reminded me of something over which I periodically muse: the nature of the metaphorical universe in a digital age. The natural world has provided the material clothing and analogue for spirit, imaginings and metaphysics for millennia. the richness of that world, its capability of offering up instruments for highly potent self-realisation (both of our inner lives and the cosmos itself) is intrinsic to the arts and especially I would say poetry, where it is realised in logos. This isn't confined to the natural world, though reading hopkins you realise the benefits of a rich knowledge of that world - the different colour blues of different flowers, the names the have, the sensory experience offered up at different times of the day and season and in different atmospheric conditions. After all modernism was in part built out of understanding how new conceptions of the material world had been fashioned by western society might illuminate in the same way as 'Nature'* (with a concurrent drift to spiritual explorations from the East of time and spiritual experience).
In the digital age the presence of sensory analogues for self-realisation seems very complicated. The sensory world of the digital world we explore is increasingly large warehouses of servers in freezing or even submarine spaces, surrounded by pine and padding startled deer. It is the huge piles of broken down consumer electronics in a Japan slum, being picked over for valuable metals by human scavengers slowly poisoning themselves. However, this is only the material constitution of those digital spaces. What is the material sensory aesthetic of those digital spaces? Is it even meaningful to have one? It's why I liked Lockwood's essay-lecture in the LRB. The language of this new space, the minute exploration of it, is not constituted out of that rich sensory world that has afforded all our tools for understanding our entire cosmos historically.
While I recognise this, I also fear it. This may be generational only - the whimper of the old pre-internet guard as as all that is solid melts into digital air. For the moment, reading Hopkins is spiritual and imaginatively enriching. the deep spiritual and imaginative exploration of a momentary cloud seen in the evening, the mechanics of its interplay with the sunset, its inscape as an object, meticulously recorded revivifies the engagement with the 'natural' world (this time natural in its widest sense - not purely fotherington-tomas - there is a question of whether the digital world can be properly understood to be part of nature. i think it must be, but it's complicated).
*Always worth reading CS Lewis' brilliant essay on the history of the word Nature, its variants and its meaning, in his book Studies on Words:
This does not mean that all the poets are talking nonsense. They are expressing a way of looking at things which must arise when towns become very large and the urban way of life very different from the rural. When this happens most people (not all) feel a sense of relief and restoration on getting out to the country; it is a serious emotion and a recurrent one, a proper theme for high poetry. Philosophically, no doubt, it is superficial to say that we have escaped from the works of man to those of *Nature* when in fact, smoking a man-made pipe and swinging a man-made stick, wearing our man-made boots and clothes, we pause on a man-made bridge to look down on the banked, narrowed, and deepened river which man has made out of the original wide, shallow, and swampy mess, and across it, at a landscape which has only its larger geological features in common with that which would have existed if man had never interfered. But we are expressing something we really feel. The wider range of vision has something to do with it; we are seeing *more* of *nature* (in a good many senses) than we could in a street. Again, the *natural* forces which keep the buildings of a town together (all the stresses) are only inferred; the *natural* action of weather and vegetation is visible. And there are fewer men about; therefore, by one of our habitual contrasts, more *nature*. We also feel (most of us) that we are, for the moment, in conditions suited to our own *nature* – to our lungs, nostrils, ears and eyes.
But I need not labour the point. Romantic *nature*, like the popular use of *supernatural*, is not an idle term because it seems at first to stand up badly to logical criticism. People know pretty well what they mean by it and sometimes use it to communicate what would not easily be communicable in other ways. To be sure, they may also use it to say vaguely and flatly (or even ridiculously) what might have been said precisely and freshly if they had had no such tool ready. I once saw a railway poster which advertised Kent as 'Nature's home' ..
I guess the question is whether digital stands in the same relation to irl as the town does to the country here. there is perhaps some reason to suggest it does, but again the separation of the 'natural forces' that holds the internet (undersea cables, nordic datacentres in granite cliffs) together, to its *digital* underpinning presents complications.
An argument I feel fairly strongly from time to time is that the Romantic age has now come substantially to an end (largely a good thing I feel), with concomitant breakdowns of the notions of Self (effectively now highly commoditised and sliced), attachments to deep traditions of inner meaning, "Nature" (religious, Romantic philopsophy, rather than Romantic poetic) as a fundamental concept. As all apocalypses are only predictive descriptions of how the current state of affairs comes to an end, this may be described as an apocalypse, but not necessarily a bad one.
Otoh it may be preferable to describe it in terms of conceptual continuity - analogues with the printing press, data processing/information explosions etc.
― Fizzles, Saturday, 16 March 2019 11:32 (one week ago) Permalink
I haven't thought about this nearly as deeply as you have but a few things strike me:
One, that it's impossible to think of Nature and apocalypse without considering the ecological collapse we're currently on the verge of/immersed in and how this affects our relationship to it. Is this move to a digital landscape indicative of this, a product of it, a contingency or all/none of these?
Two: I'm in an ongoing tussle with the validity or not of the idea of the eerie. I find it simultaneously a load of wooly old bollocks and genuinely productive as a nexus of a bunch of ideas around the occlusion of Nature and the disruption of our relationship to the land and the wild. Your post has me idly wondering if it can be applied here, too - in all its wooly glory.
As for GMH, I think there's a kind of terror in him, a terror of feeling (feeling led him places he simply couldn't face going), a product of which is his invention of the idea of inscape as a way of avoiding the fact that we impute meaning to things through subjective affect. Inscape reintroduces God as if Nature is meaningfully the way it is. In this light, his obsession with detail *is* partly an act of devotion, but could be considered an avoidance tactic.
― Good cop, Babcock (Chinaski), Saturday, 16 March 2019 13:45 (one week ago) Permalink
I wonder if a useful comparison would be RF Langley's journals? They have a similar obsessive 'watching narrowly' aesthetic but Langley's obsessiveness seems Other and in the service of something else. I need to think some about what that is.
― Good cop, Babcock (Chinaski), Saturday, 16 March 2019 13:47 (one week ago) Permalink
Thanks so much re Hopkins Journals, greatly encouraging me to more sensory and other brain exercise (function, even). Long ago, There was a long Voice piece about a virtual reality conference, ending with Brian Eno saying that when he finally got his head out of the most advanced gear, he found that even a (think it was) dead leaf was almost unbearably beautiful. The older I get, the more I value/depend on finally pushing myself away from the screens, going out and walking around---the town is no longer so small, but still has hills and bridges and some deep wooded lots between buildings---but it takes awhile to get away from thinking about what I was thinking about or in a drone about while I was nearer the screens--and sometimes I don't get far enough away, or I go into another (?) drone and later have to dredge for a few details of where I've just walked, poking into cache memory maybe. Still, wouldn't trade these walks for anything, so to speak.
― dow, Saturday, 16 March 2019 20:01 (one week ago) Permalink
xp Yes - Langley feels right comparison to Hopkins. Something uncertain or uncomfortable in Langley's focus - belated or reduced in comparison to Hopkins. More post-scientific maybe (see his descriptions of spiders, maybe, working with and against a precise anatomical vocabulary and textbook-checking), certainly doesn't have a stable Divine to underwrite the observation. Looking becomes an end in itself - there's some anxiety in that. Why is the observer observing? (Is Langley a bit more accommodating to the human? Seems to record rooms, buildings, sculpture, figures in a landscape. But been a little while since I looked at Hopkins' journals)
― woof, Tuesday, 19 March 2019 11:22 (five days ago) Permalink
Just to be clear that's all praise
― woof, Tuesday, 19 March 2019 11:23 (five days ago) Permalink
I just got a fair bit of the way through a long response to Chinaski, and then read it through and thought 'what utter garbage', so have put it somewhere for safe keeping and further thought and revision at a later date.
― Fizzles, Saturday, 23 March 2019 10:46 (yesterday) Permalink
One day I want to read Pepys. Seems to be great but I'm hesitant.
― nathom, Saturday, 23 March 2019 14:08 (yesterday) Permalink
I don’t think I’ve ever managed one of these cover to cover. I recently picked up orton’s diaries tho so might give that a go, looks good
― A funny tinge happened on the way to the forum (wins), Saturday, 23 March 2019 14:13 (yesterday) Permalink