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Posts Tagged ‘diaries’

Diary of a Sycophant, and Other News

July 2, 2015 | by

Goebbels in an American caricature, ca. 1943.

  • Proverbs are perfect examples of poetry’s seductiveness—and, in many cases, of its emptiness. “The brain craves ideas that can be understood and remembered without effort … But what happens when memorable advice is bad? ‘To thine own self be true’ is terrible counsel for many people, as Shakespeare himself realized. “If you want something done right, do it yourself” applies only to those things you are already good at … ‘It’s always darkest before the dawn’ can only have been coined by someone who had never stayed up all night.”
  • Robert Frank’s The Americans, “a photographic survey of the inner life of the country,” is sixty, and guess what? It’s still good. “Among the many qualities that enabled Frank to achieve something so ambitious was his profound ambivalence. He was always that way personally, and it was how he could locate the full spectrum of any given feeling in the inscrutable faces of strangers. Critics like W. S. Di Piero believe his genius for expressing emotional complication came from an artistic innocence, the ability to look at the world as a child does—without the intrusions of experience.”
  • Linda Rosenkrantz’s Talk, mentioned previously on the Daily, “documents what has turned out to be a fleeting historical moment: when it was possible to bring a recording device to the beach and not expect that everyone else has done the same.” But is its mode of self-exposure too transparent?
  • Self-exposure of a very different sort can be found in Goebbels’s diaries, which reveal a servile creature completely dedicated to Hitler: “The thoroughly repellent figure that emerges from the diaries is not simply Goebbels as he was in fact. It is Goebbels as he wanted to be. He actively embraced barbarism as a way out from the chaos of his time, and in this he was at one with multitudes of educated Europeans. Viewing him as the victim of a personality disorder is a way of denying a more chilling fact that his life reveals—the perilous fragility of civilization.”
  • Summer’s a great time to read the classics you’ve neglected for so many years, the forbidding volumes of Melville and Joyce peering at you from your shelves. You can also take this as a time to trumpet the fact that you’ll never read those classics … either way, good on you!

Roger That

May 13, 2015 | by

The complicated sex drive of William Byrd II.

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Hans Hysing’s portrait of Byrd, ca. 1724.

William Byrd II was a colonial Virginia gentleman who, on occasion, was no gentleman at all. Writing about himself in the third person, in 1723, he bemoaned “the combustible manner in his constitution”; he cursed the innate passions that “broke out upon him before his beard,” making him a “swain” before all women. Byrd’s carnal drive underscored the eyebrow-raising vigor of his lust. On a trip to London in 1719, according to his secret diary, he “rogered”—an easy enough euphemism—no fewer than six women in nine days. Of one woman, he (proudly) recorded having “rogered her three times” in a single evening. That same night, Byrd, aged forty-four, noted with a tinge of sadness that he had “neglected my prayers.”

When he wasn’t on a whore-chasing jag in the metropolis, Byrd was back on his Virginia estate, called Westover, with his wife, Lucy. At Westover, his sexual proclivities certainly raged with similar, singleminded intensity—he wrote in his diary about having urgent sex with Lucy on a billiards table—but it was also tempered by a healthy desire to achieve mutual pleasure with her. He was just as inclined to “give my wife a flourish”—bring her to orgasm—as he was to “roger” her, a semantic shift suggesting that Lucy’s response to their sexual union mattered as much to Byrd as his own physical gratification. On April 30, 1711, he noted in his diary that although he discovered his wife in a “melancholy” mood, the “powerful flourish” he delivered filled her with “great ecstasy and refreshment.” He recalled one morning during which “I lay in my wife’s arms” while, during another, his wife “kept me so long in bed” that “I rogered her.” That evening he got around to saying his prayers—before rogering her again. The man could be a virtuous, even tender, Tidewater lover when he wasn’t being a London sleazebag. Read More »

Say Stupid Shit

April 30, 2015 | by

Richard Lindner, Boy with Machine, 1954. According to Guattari and Deleuze, the painting validates one of their theses: “the turgid little boy has already plugged a desiring-machine into a social machine, short-circuiting the parents.”

From The Anti-Oedipus Papers, a set of notes and journal entries by Félix Guattari. When Guattari, born on this day in 1930, cowrote Anti-Oedipus (1972) with Gilles Deleuze, readers and scholars were baffled by their process; Guattari’s extensive diarizing pulls back the curtain on their collaboration.

10/06/1972

I’m strapped to this journal. Grunt. Heave. Impression that the ship is going down. The furniture slides, the table legs wobble …

Writing so that I won’t die. Or so that I die otherwise. Sentences breaking up. Panting like for what. […]

You can explain everything away. I explain myself away. But to whom? You know … The question of the other. The other and time. I’m home kind of fucking around. Listening to my own words. Redundancy. Peepee poopoo. Things are so fucking weird! […] Read More »

Tolstoy’s Insufficient Firmness, and Other News

January 16, 2015 | by

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Tolstoy in 1851, when he just couldn’t seem to do a single damn thing right.

  • Here’s a self-effacing diary entry from March 1851 in which Tolstoy chronicles his flaws, hour by hour—part of a larger project in which he evaluates his own ethics. How many of these peccadilloes have you committed today? “Koloshin (Sergei) came to drink vodka, I did not escort him out (cowardice). At Ozerov’s argued about nothing (habit of arguing) and did not talk about what I should have talked about (cowardice). Did not go to Beklemishev’s (weakness of energy). During gymnastics did not walk the rope (cowardice), and did not do one thing because it hurt (sissiness).—At Gorchakov’s lied (lying). Went to the Novotroitsk tavern (lack of fierté). At home did not study English (insufficient firmness).”
  • Atticus Lish’s Preparation for the Next Life has become an unlikely hit for its publisher, Tyrant Books—but success can come with its own problems. “When the Times review appeared, Ms. Urban [Lish’s agent] asked Mr. DiTrapano [his publisher] how many books were in print. ‘He said 3,500,’ Ms. Urban recalled. ‘I wanted to kill myself.’ ”
  • Art critics—prepare to give notice by the dozens. Now there’s Novice Art Blogger, an algorithm that reviews art and is not altogether terrible at it. “The bot is simply articulating what it interprets; there is something very noble about that, that it is not passing judgment.”
  • Is science fiction our new religion? “We gather in our millions in the darkened cathedrals of multiplex cinemas to silently venerate our superhero gods. All religions have their holy stories, and the immense respect given to SF novels like 1984 and I, Robot by their fans is very close to an act of faith … Let’s not think about L Ron Hubbard.”
  • Paperbacks give publishers a second chance to find an eye-catching cover design, but the results are often confounding. “After spending so much time, effort and money on getting the dust jacket just right, most publishers go back to the drawing board to design the paperback version. That always seems to me like a waste of hard-won brand awareness, but I’m told most books don’t sell well enough to establish any brand awareness.”

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Finding the Question That Hasn’t Been Asked: An Interview with Lynne Tillman

September 11, 2014 | by

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Lynne Tillman, Second Avenue, New York City, 2013. Photograph: Mark Alice Durant.

Writing a short introduction about Lynne Tillman isn’t easy; her singular and visionary writing covers a great deal of territory. The author of twelve books, she is adept at fiction, short and long essays, cultural critique, and interviews. A sampling of just three of her books conveys the scope of her work: her novel American Genius: A Comedy follows the obsessive inner monologue of a single character for almost three hundred pages; This Is Not It is a compendium of twenty years of witty and risky novellas and short stories, some as short as a paragraph; and Bookstore: The Life and Times of Jeannette Watson and Books & Co. weaves together the voices of Susan Sontag, Fran Lebowitz, Paul Auster, Calvin Trillin, and many others to tell not just the story of the rise and fall of the iconic, well-loved Books & Co. but that of the changing landscape of publishing.

Her new book, What Would Lynne Tillman Do?, is a collection of recent essays—on Andy Warhol’s a: A Novel, on the lives and work of Paul and Jane Bowles, and on Edith Wharton and architecture, to name just a few—and interviews with Harry Mathews, Paula Fox, Lebanese-American writer and visual artist Etel Adnan, and German painter Peter Dreher. Each piece, whether essay or interview, is illuminated by Tillman’s wit, intellect, and curiosity. When the book was released earlier this year, Jason Diamond of Flavorwire declared 2014 to be “the year of Lynne Tillman.”

I spoke with Lynne Tillman at the New School, as part of the university’s Summer Writers Colony. Fiction and nonfiction students had spent three days reading What Would Lynne Tillman Do? and the questions I posed reflected their curiosity, as well as my own, regarding the processes and practices that allow her to transition easily between genres. Tillman was eager to answer, and the qualities that characterize her writing shone through in her answers.

In your 2009 essay, “Doing Laps Without a Pool,” you write, “I don’t want to take a position. Not taking a position is a position that acknowledges the inability to know with absolute surety, that says: Writing is like life, there are many ways of doing it, survival depends on flexibility. Anything can be on the page. What isn’t there now?” All those interesting negatives—“not taking a position,” “the inability to know,” “what isn’t there now”—reminded me of Keats’s famous letter in which he used the term negative capability. When you begin to build an essay, do you feel as if you’re exploring what you don’t know, precisely because you don’t know? Or do you begin with a firm idea or a mystery that you want to explore more deeply?

I begin nonfiction essays in a similar way to fiction. I have some questions in my mind, things that I’m interested in writing about, and in fiction I find a voice through which to do that. On the other hand, in an essay, I assay some of what I think I know, and then, as I go along, I realize that I don’t know what I thought I knew. Read More »

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Birthday Suit

August 4, 2014 | by

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Not, here, in his birthday suit. Photo: Bohdan Paczowski

What did Śmieja say about me in the discussion in defense of my diary? “His brutality, egocentrism, and arrogance toward writers of lesser stature may be distressing … ”

But no! He misinterprets me! With me there are no “writers of lesser stature.” This again is a collective viewpoint. It is true that I sometimes demolish, with gusto, in jest, by attacking, writers, but only those who prance around in their epaulets. I have never really taken part in a single duel while clad in my stripes and epaulets; I have never written a single word dressed in anything but my birthday suit.

—Witold Gombrowicz, 1961, Diary

Witold Gombrowicz was born 110 years ago today. In 2012, the Daily published five excerpts from Gombrowicz’s Diary, widely considered his masterpiece. You can read them here.

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