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Posts Tagged ‘Journals’

Culture Is a Wonderful Fiction

November 23, 2015 | by

From the cover of The Guy Davenport Reader.

From Guy Davenport’s journals, as published in The Guy Davenport Reader (2013), edited by Erik Reece. Davenport was born on this day in 1927; he spent most of his life in Lexington, Kentucky, where he taught at the University of Kentucky. “My notebooks have subjects and information for which I’ve not yet found a workable technique,” he told The Paris Review in 2002, three years before his death. “I think ultimately, as Joyce felt, that we know nothing, and that what we call culture is a wonderful fiction, and that we live inside this fiction, and as long as it’s articulate we’re successful. And we add to it, or subtract from it, but we really don’t know anything else. And I think a hard scientist, the people who are working on consciousness now, would have to admit the same thing. We don’t know what consciousness is, we don’t know why we’re here.” —D. P.

To sit in the sun and read Columella on how to plant a thorn hedge is a pleasure I had to teach myself. No, I was teaching myself something else, and the thorn hedge came, wisely, to take its place. They’re longer lasting than stone walls and have an ecology all their own. Birds nest in them and snails use them for a world. Hedgehogs, rabbits, snakes, spiders. Brier rose, dog thorn. There are some in England still standing from Roman times.


Being ought to have a ground (the earth under our feet) and a source. It seems to have neither. The Big Bang theory is science fiction. It may be that the expanding universe is an illusion born in physics labs in Paris, Copenhagen, and Berkeley. It is also too eerily like Genesis (being in a millisecond) and other creation myths. It is partly medieval, partly Jules Verne. From a human point of view, it has no philosophical or ethical content. It is, as a vision, a devastation, an apocalypse at wrong end of time. It is a drama in which matter and energy usurp roles that once belonged to gods and angels. It is without life: brutally mechanical. It is without even the seeds of life, or the likelihood. Read More »

Got Your Tongue

October 7, 2015 | by

From Louis Wain’s schizophrenic cat drawings.

From the psychiatrist R. D. Laing’s transcripts of his sessions with Edith E., a young woman he took on as a patient in 1954 and later wrote about in The Divided Self. Laing, who was born on this day in 1927 and died in 1989, is remembered for his progressive thinking on sanity and madness. He struggled to make sense of Edith, whose schizophrenia was so abstruse that on paper it amounted to “an intolerable mass of incoherent data.” To draw her out, he tried to react to her comments as spontaneously as possible, sometimes addressing himself to a doll he’d brought in. Edith admitted to hearing voices that instructed her to disrobe or to go to a certain subway station, where she would, one voice said, see someone beaten to a pulp; she talked at length about mouths, tonsils, and sucking, and once claimed that her mother had cut her into pieces and that Laing was her “new, good mother.” The case is discussed in further detail in Alan Beveridge’s Portrait of the Psychiatrist as a Young Man, a study of Laing’s early work from which the following exchange is taken.

EDITH I’ve no tongue. I’ve a tongue but it’s not my actual tongue.

LAING You have a tongue in your mouth anyway.

EDITH Yes, I’ve a tongue in my mouth, but it’s not my actual tongue. I’ve no actual tongue. Read More »

Salton Sea Notes

September 18, 2015 | by

Soda fountains, rest stops, barber shops, motels: Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s California travel journals, 1961.

A drawing by Ferlinghetti.


Sailing, Water Skiing, Swimming, Seaside Dining—

—promotional brochure


October 28, 1961

Henry Miller was right. “Some other breed of man has won out.” Some strange breed has taken over America. I sit in a soda-fountain on the main street of El Centro, California—inexplicably I have ordered & have eaten a Mexican Combination Plate—tacos, enchiladas, and all that. Outside, at the curb, sits the junk of American civilization—cars, cars, cars. On the jukebox inside, a Mexican crooner with a tear in his voice … An hour north of here lies the Salton Sea. I have not figured out what “El Centro” could be the center of. Not the universe. The Salton Sea may offer a clue. The Salton Sea is in America. In California, in fact. Very strange. I still have to get there.
          I have two hours before the bus to that Sea. I go to the public library. It’s Saturday afternoon, and it’s closed. Naturally. People that work during the week naturally have no time to go to the library on their day off. I must think of something else. I go to a barber’s, that should take at least half an hour, maybe more if I divert the barber with witticisms or dirty jokes. No luck. He whips me thru in a little over ten minutes, including a swipe at my eyebrows and sideburns, which I duck. He drops the comb on the greasy floor several times and wipes it off on his pants and continues. In the meantime I listen to him haranguing the other barber (who looks like a local football player) about how to skin a buck & how to remove its horns & how much you can count a full-grown buck coming to in net weight after it’s skinned. The other barber keeps saying “Yeah—yeah” like a little halfhearted football cheer. I have a feeling that if I had got this young football barber instead of the old geezer and had a hunting license to show him, he would have cut my hair for free. As it is, I have to pay for my scalping. (The old geezer keeps nicking me every time he gets to a good part of the description of how to skin a buck.) When I am down to “net weight” he steps back with a sour grin, as if to say it’s a pretty sad carcass. Read More »

False Alarm

May 27, 2015 | by


Cheever, right, with Updike on The Dick Cavett Show in 1981.

From “On the Literary Life,” a series of excerpts from John Cheever’s journals published in our Fall 1993 fortieth-anniversary issue. Cheever, born on this day in 1912, had amassed twenty-eight notebooks by the time he died, in 1982; he wrote the extracts below between 1974 and 1978. “These were workbooks, a place to take notes, to practice and to fume,” Cheever’s son, Benjamin, says in his introduction. “Please remember that this is just one piece of the man. An interesting piece, I think: diverting, instructive, candid, and intimate. But not the whole guy.”

The telephone rings at four. This is CBS. John Updike has been in a fatal automobile accident. Do you care to comment. I am crying. I cannot sleep again. I think of joining Mary in bed but I am afraid she will send me away. I think I am right. When there is a little light I feed the dogs. I hope they don’t expect to be fed this early every morning, she says. I do not point out that John will not die every morning and that in any case it is I who feeds them. The restraint costs me nothing. When I go into the kitchen for another cup of coffee she empties the pot into my cup and says: I was just about to have some myself. When I insist on sharing the coffee I am unsuccessful. I do not say that the pain of death is nothing compared to the pain of sharing a coffee pot with a peevish woman. This costs me nothing. And I see that what she seeks, much more than a cup of coffee—is to gratify a sense of denial and neglect—and that we so often, all of us, put our cranky and our emotional demands so far ahead of our hunger and thirst. 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.


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 »

The Diary Diaries

October 10, 2013 | by

manduka journal book

At the end of last year I returned to England after two years working in West Africa. In my bedroom at my parents’ house in Cambridge I encountered my old diaries. They sat in that ancient space alongside a photograph of my intake at Sandhurst in the year I spent in the army before university, and a first edition of Seven Pillars of Wisdom that my father once gave me. I was twenty-seven and uncertain of what I wanted to do with my life; I hoped reading my written record might give some better idea.

Reading the diaries in public garnered me strange looks on the London Underground. When a woman inquired I emphasized that that the handwriting was my own; I was not perusing another’s journal without permission. The process took about two months.

My oldest journal is a 1992–93 “mid-year” diary manufactured by a firm called Dataday. After a four-year hiatus, a series of page-a-days produced variously by Collins, Dataday, and WH Smith begins in 1996 and runs until 2002. Next come exercise books, one sheathed in a tan leather cover inset with porcupine needles, and a tranche of Moleskines. The final shift in format begins three volumes from the end of the archive. The books become larger; eight by eleven inches. They are bound in quarter leather and the covers are marbled. The first bears in gilt script Simon Akam and سيمون أكم , which is a rough transliteration of my name is Arabic. New York 2008 appears further down. In short, a slightly embarrassing trajectory of increasing literary pretension.

I first kept a diary in the summer of 1992, when I was six years old. I imagine it was a school project, a record-of-your-holiday-please, which in our familial case was to Brittany in northern France. My writing at this stage is wholly descriptive.

Thursday 16 July 1992

at school in the morning I did a jigsaw and in the afternoon I palys [sic] with clever sticks and after school I went canoeing with P palyed [sic]

The real, day-to-day effort starts four years later, at ten.

Monday 1 January 1996

I still can’t get to grips with the fact that ’95 has ended, it went so fast. T. H. … came round and rattled on about his Christmas presents, we showed him the end of the The spy who loved me and he piped down, probably scared stiff. In the afternoon Daddy and I fitted my bike computer, the black tape wound around the front forke [sic] to secure the wire gave the bike a mean look. We watched the worst Bond movie I’ve ever seen, On her Majasty’s [sic] secrat [sic] service.

I do not know why my diary began when it did, in the dead time of New Year before the Christmas decorations came down. Whatever its inception, that daily diary persists, with periods of greater and lesser enthusiasm, for seventy-eight months. It peters out entirely in the summer of 2002, when I have just turned seventeen. The last, rather embarrassing entry is scrawled as follows:

Friday July 26 2002

Pulled [British slang for made out with] F. H. in a punt [flat-bottomed boat propelled with a pole] on the way to Grantchester. [Photogenic village outside Cambridge, once haunt of poet Rupert Brooke] Read More »