Fiction Of The Diary

excerpts The Diary and Its Readers "We should not overdo it with diaries and letters. We usually tend to deem them more revealing of the man than his public work. All that is secretive, familiar draws us as if it were a confession. It is the pleasure of breaking an interdiction, of stepping into a closed world." MIHAIL SEBASTIAN, 1940 I have often asked myself why we keep a diary?! And for what purpose? But I have not yet approached the motivations of diary readers. What delights could they take and what could their aesthetic justifications be? Along this line I think we could detect three categories of readers: 1) the diarist-reader who reads all available diaries, 2) the diarist who reads his own diary and 3) the common reader (the unknown reader, the public at large) who picks up the secret notes of an author for various reasons. A solid motive could be that the diarist is an author well-known through his work of fiction or is a public personality. But it is not the matter of diary writers but that of "receivers" that goads us now. Who are they and what prompts them to choose from a bookstore an intimate diary instead of a poem or take them both at the same time and read them? Could it be only the desire for information? Before actually seeing what makes them tick we have to underline there are only few sociological studies on diary-keeping as a specific phenomenon. In fact, I have not found a single one to approach the topic systematically. Most of them refer to the way literary critics take in diaries (as is the case of the author of this book) or the way diarists read diarists. The bottom line is diaries written by great personalities (cultural or political) are the most extensively read, to say nothing of the diaries of cinema or rock stars that do better that all. In this case, the reading is motivated by other things that we will mention in due time. Until then let us examine the situation and the motivation (moral, aesthetic) of the three categories of readers quoted before.1. The diarist-reader who reads other diaries. This is commonplace in the diary discourse. There is absolutely no diary writer to fail to mention, one way or another, the name of other fellow diarists in his/her own notes. Which is more, many start a diary inspired by other diaries. Suffice it that an author should meet with success that ten more other will discover right away they too have a vocation for keeping a diary. There are generations, like for instance that of Mircea Eliade (the 1930s) that evolve an aesthetics of genuineness in which the diary is a point of reference. As a matter of fact, nearly all the writers and philosophers of that generation kept diaries, despite literary criticism (G. Călinescu) claiming that a diary is a waste of time. But let us go back to diary readers. Jean-Pierre Collinet* studied the case of French diarists, from Amiel to Green, that is three generations of authors who read and judge each other's work, often with acute sharpness. His examples are most telling. Other can be brought, no doubt. In the following chapters (dedicated to great diarists, studied in monographs) I will provide further landmarks. This is not the place to give them all in these pages that are meant to catch just the essence of the phenomenon. The first name quoted by Jean-Pierre Collinet is Amiel, with a 1851 reference to Joubert's Reflections. Is it so late that the diary emerged in the consciousness of diarists? The delay can be accounted for by the known fact that diaries use to gather dust in archives decades or even centuries on end. The complete diary of Pepys was published after two centuries. Those of the French "founders" got printed, partly, several decades after their creation. Elsewhere I proved that it was only in the mid-20th century that the diary started circulating as a public asset, taken into account by literary criticism quite reluctantly. Amiel is, anyway, among the first diarists to show interest in other diarists, and raise the matter of the genre as such. He does not exactly rave about Joubert's confessional. ("This kind of minced, fragmentary, drop-by-drop thinking fatigues me /…/ a collection of butterflies, of brilliants, of medals and engraved stones…") Amiel is right and then he is not. Right, perhaps, about the substance of the reflections, and wrong about the fragmentary style of the texts, which is part and parcel of the nature (structure) of the genre. Les pensées is, all in all, a collection of aphorisms, not a diary proper. Therefore, the moralists' manner of writing ("c'est un entomologiste, un lapidaire, un joaillier, un monnayeur de sentences…") is not to be blamed in principle. In exchange, Amiel derives many-fold pleasure from reading excerpts of Maine de Biran's diary. He finds something of himself in this "éternel observateur de soi-même" for all his defects: "indécision, décourragement, besoin de sympathie, inachèvement, etc." At the same time, he discovers certain differences in his favor: he can be a more objective, more constructive spirit, has a wider horizon, has seen more, and is, probably, more cultivated than his forerunner…These are a few elements for a possible self-portrait. Uncertain of himself and of what he is doing, Amiel seeks and detects himself in the mirrors of another diarists. He does the same with the diary left by Eugénie de Guérin, "la pieuse héroine de l'amour fraternel." He savors the elegiac purity of this unhappy writer, and finds himself in her as in a youth malady… In his turn, Amiel is judged by other diarists with even bigger harshness. To be honest, whenever there was anything to reproach to diary writing it was Amiel's diary that was first brought up, justly or unjustly (mostly unjustly). Aesthetes may find unacceptable the idea that one can write 17,000 diary pages. Then there is his punctilious style, his lack of brilliancy, his eternal malaise…Gide (December 5, 1921) finds him "unbearable". ("Ce style à la fois hésitant et tatillion".) Strangely, at times in his diary Amiel judges himself just as intolerantly. I gave elsewhere his entry of April 22, 1851 in his secret notebook: "a neglected diary, a boring diary for by and large it jots down only a few events." Or on July 226, 1879: "What an amazing loss of time, thinking and form! This will be of no use." Julien Green deprecates Amiel thus: "So tedious that after a few pages I can no longer digest it." Contested or accepted half-heartedly, Amiel is, nevertheless, taken as a model (or anti-model) when it comes to the destiny of diary writing. But he is not the only one. The condemnation is almost universal, as I said before. I will give only a few random examples. Paul Claudel says about Gide's diary that "it is impossible to find in this huge pile a single serious, in-depth discussion about the Catholic position /…/ dryness of the soul, vainness, frivolousness, put-on." (May 7, 1943) After thumbing through the diary written by Eugénie de Guérin, Green exclaims: "Quelle stupidité!" (August 19, 1944). The Goncourt brothers penned in their diaries, on May 5, 1863, these impossible phrases about poor Eugénie: "Dans Eugénie, il y a comme un onanisme de piété; elle semble se toucher les parties les plus délicates de la femme." Even Thomas Mann, who works every day like a Rhine factory, finds the time to read diaries, and pass judgment. For example, he leafs through Hebbel's diary and hates it: "Rational, too rational, disagreeable, oppressive." (March 11, 1945).This kind of ferociousness speaks volumes about the critical sprit of diarists when it comes to other diarists, and, something that must not be ignored, about the secret character of the judgment. In connection with the diary of the Goncourt brothers, note should be made that it has proven magnetic for more than a century. Everything in it is contested, starting with the shallow writing and ending with the anecdotal style. Jean-Pierre Collinet quotes Maurice Barrès, Gide, Léautaud, Green and others, who take ill the abundance of little stories and the mark of "the insufferable man of letters" in the concessive discourse. "Ils s'écoutent l'écouter; ils se regardent l'observer," says Barrès (1902). The repeated reproach is connected to the absence of a deep I and the excess of literature, which is mostly true. More proofs can be brought to the Goncourt file. Jules Renard does not love the two diarist brothers because they "palaver" too much, and say almost nothing about themselves. Gide talks with Jacques Blanche (January 1902) about the same characters, and the latter wipes them out. Gide is more restrained, his concern being that a diarist should not become a littérateur, that he should not embellish the text.When the peril of a too "literaturalized" diary hovers in the air, the names of Edmond and Jules de Goncourt come almost obsessively to the mind of diarists. If Stendhal is a paragon, the Goncourt brothers, I repeat, represent an anti-model, the mania of which the diarist must needs rid himself. And this, we must underline, when the two, by their success, prompted many to keep dairies. Green confesses that he got the idea of drawing up the history of the times from the diary of the brothers Goncourt. Léautaud, the fanatic admirer of Stendhal, has a curious stand on this. At first, he does not pay any attention to the two memoirists, suspecting them of calophilia – although he has not read them. He peruses their diary only in 1935, and is surprised to find "delicious things" in it. Later, (1947) he writes with delight about the way the diarists paint women ("dans les moindres détails physiques, les moindres menues expressions de la physionomie, façon presque sensuelle, qui se communique au lecteur.") He does not like Edmond de Goncourt, whom he suspects of stylistic affectation ("sa fabrication littéraire"). He thinks that the real talent, spirit, and fantasy spring from the other Goncourt, Jules. The Goncourt file has not been closed to this day. Its still garners enthusiastic readers (among them critic Şerban Cioculescu) and also irreconcilable adversaries. Anyway, their notes (published completely only in 1956) revolutionized the diary genre by sympathy or contesting. When the first volumes came out, the young writers hurried to imitate them, then they walked way from them, rejecting the respective formula as too literary. The 20th century of diary writing began under the sign of a different model: Stendhal. A decisive moment in the development of the genre is represented by Gide. His diary is read, quoted, commented by nearly all those who keep diaries. It is a must. The subject really deserves being treated separately. The result would be, no doubt an ample, useful work about the way Gide and, consequently, diary literature, are perceived and received. Next to Stendhal, Gide is another writer who emerges as a model, and often manages to be accepted and followed. Reactions to him are visible in important diaries of the 20th century, touching both extremes. For Valéry, Gide is simply "une cocotte"; "son Diary veut donner du prix à ses moindres moments. Quel Anti pour moi." (1942) Claudel deems the diary "a huge pile" where it is impossible to find any serious topic. "The good part is the music, the only thing that seems to awake something in this perverted heart." (May 7, 1943) This is a severe moral and religious sentence. It will not be unique for Gide, who is penalized for having the courage to tell everything. Julien Green admires the style of the diary, ("Il est écrit à ravir"), its intellectual richness but then there is something about this confession that he hates: "il glace le coeur, et plus on avance dans cette lecture, moins on croit, moins on espère et, je le dis à regret, moins on aime." Again a moral judgment coming from a church-going Catholic.Let's now quote Mircea Eliade whose autobiographical novels, in the mid 1920s, already smacked of Gide, (using, among others, the narrator's diary within the narration) and who took up writing a diary. From previous reflections we infer that according to him a diary should not be a full confession, as with Gide, but an exemplary confession. Gide is anyway a model for him and his generation. (I am thinking of Camil Petrescu, Arşavir Acterian, Jeni Acterian, Petru Comarnescu, Eugen Ionescu, Mihai Sebastian, Octav Şuluţiu, Alice Voinescu, authors of diaries or theorists of the diary.) The most consistent admirer of Gide, at that epoch prone to the autobiographical genre, is Alice Voinescu, a cultivated woman, a friend of Roger Martin du Gard's. She had seen Gide, François Mauriac, and Charles du Bos in their meetings of Pontigny, and confessed that it was a friend of Gide's, novelist Roger Martin du Gard, who advised her to keep a diary. In her writings she defends Gide, calling him "a superior heroic nature." By telling the truth he would have got "to the roots of the being." The Romanian literary critics are more circumspect when it comes to Gide's diary. Leaving aside other examples of diary reads within a diary what can we really sum up? a) A diary is born as a rule from reading other diaries and in the early 20th century the most read diarists, commented by other diarists, are Stendhal, Benjamin Constant, Maine de Biran, Amiel, and the Goncourt brothers.b) The diary of the Goncourt brothers was at first a smash hit, and then it bred hostility among the youth (Jules Renard, Léautard) who wanted diaries to keep away from the excesses of literature. "The Goncourt Mania" began to be perceived as an anti-model.c) 20th century diary writing began with the battle between Stendhal and Flaubert supporters, and the former came out triumphant in the end.d) A capital moment in asserting and revolutionizing modern diary writing is represented by Gide. His reads, (recorded as such in his diary), and his diary being read by others, brought about a good part of the aesthetics of the young generation after the first world war, an aesthetics based on the idea of experience and authenticity. Through him, the diary cut across (moral) limits and claimed the right of becoming literature.e) Reading the diaries of others, diary writers build their own aesthetics or, if the term aesthetic is not the most adequate let's rephrase and say that diary writers define the breathing space of the diary, its purposes and chances to become a work…Jean-Pierre Collinet from whom, I must repeat, I borrowed some of the examples, says that diarists delight in reading each other, and from this vantage, the diary becomes "an intersection, a meeting and dialogue place." I agree to the first part but not to the latter. My readings show me that diarists do not always delight in reading each other. The important thing is that they read each other, and in so doing they situate themselves, and shape their style, setting the limits of their hunting field… In a word, they lay the foundations of a diary poetics before literary critics and aesthetes take into account this new literary genre…2. The diarist as a reader of his own diary. The second situation that has to be examined when speaking about reading and readers of diaries is that of the author periodically reading his/her secretive jottings. The motives are different. Some read their diaries in order to remember a certain occurrence in their life, others to see if it is worth going on. It is supposable that there are diarists who read themselves in order to check their aesthetic touch (that is to persuade themselves they have chosen the adequate style, and the pace of the writing is the most appropriate). Rereading, in all these circumstances, means giving hues, correcting, suppressing or adding. Reading is a means of organizing the diary discourse. By its fragmentariness, the diary allows such interventions which, in the eyes of Stendhal buffs, are already suspect. Suspect or not, they repeat themselves in a field where rules comes out of misrules.Reading is often an opportunity for contesting the genre (we have already pointed this out) and self-contesting. Few are those who, reviewing what they wrote, hold a good opinion of themselves. Even the most obstinate intimists have moments of overpowering skepticism. Let's take the example of Amiel, the most diligent of all the slaves of diary writing. When he reads notebook 141 again he discovers that his endeavor to catch on paper the meanders of inner life was futile. "What an amazing loss of time… I myself would have been better served to have avoided life than lived it." (July 26, 1876) Amiel is not very much in the wrong. Nonetheless, the diary is of some use: it marks the failure to live life, and through this, a sterile life is saved from oblivion. A much too known paradox. The skepticism of the diarists gets repeated. On August 27, 1878, he comes to page 14906, and his spirit aches with doubting. "Will this ever be of any good?"This is the question that really makes all diary writers uneasy. Even the untiring Gide. He too has moments when his diary simply disgusts him. No justification can cope with such radical contesting: "Before leaving I have read my whole diary," he writes at Honfleur, in 1893. "I did it with a disgust I cannot put into words. All I can find in it is pride, pride in its very expression, always with pretentious, either of depth or of spirit. My pretences of metaphysics are ridiculous. The ceaseless analysis of thoughts, the absence of all action, the morals, are the most weighing, most insipid and almost impossible to understand when you have got used to them. I know some of those states were genuine, but I can no longer go back to them. For me they are a finished thing. It's a dead read, an emotion frozen for good. By reaction I want to come to that situation when I no longer deal with myself; not to ask myself when doing something whether it is good or bad but just do it and not care. I no longer cherish bizarre and complicated things; I no longer understand complicated things. I would like to be normal and strong, simply not to think about it. The desire to write well those diary pages cancels any merit, even that of sincerity. They no longer mean anything, being never sufficiently well written to hold any literary worth. Finally, they all stake on a future glory and celebrity that would render them interesting. All this is fully to be despised."As it can be easily perceived, Gide, the champion of sincerity, the man who wants to blow up the existing hypocrite morals no longer finds a point to his diary, any quality, any minimal justification, be it moral or aesthetic. Rereading it triggers an interior catastrophe. He repeats the experience in other periods of his life. On May 2, 1931 he is in Cuverville and typewrites his older diaries. Is he content perhaps? On the contrary. "Reading plunges me into an indescribable contempt for myself." This is not always so. There are moments when the read is positive. Then Gide draws useful conclusions about the literary genre which he wants to introduce in literature.In general, diary writers have mixed feelings about their own diaries. Claudel finds his diary chaotic, an anesthetic storeroom. Eliade, who rereads his notebooks frequently, is more lenient. When perusing or transcribing them (an operation he often undertakes) he refines and orders the text. And anyway, he is not discouraged, "disgusted" by his confident. But rather thinks of publishing it, which he will actually do. We should keep in mind this secret motivation of reading. Because, although they do not say, most diarists reread their notes in order to see whether aesthetically speaking they are worth being printed. For instance, Virginia Woolf does not exclude the possibility that "this type of repository (the diary) should acquire a transparent form in order to be able to mirror the depths of the being, just like a work of art…" Should I quote Camil Petrescu who keeps a diary in which he writes down the reactions of his body like in a physical file. Rereading it, he can come up with a correct diagnosis and suggest a cure. A medical read, in other words, undertaken by a patient…Tolstoy thumbs through his youth memoirs and decides that he is a cheat, condemning the pages to be destroyed after his death. Fifty years later Queneau is also nauseated with what he has written in his notebooks. "Ça ne rime plus à rien d' écrire ici /…/ j'ei ai marre." But enough examples (though I could extend the list ad lib.) It is difficult to draw a conclusion that should stay valid for all the cases. Perhaps only in a few repeated situations. For instance:a) Reading impressions are in general negative, and the diarist is decided to abandon writing for good; this does not happen though; awareness of the uselessness of a diary does not put an end to the writing as such; the candidate continues the adventure of writing, waiting for a better mark.b) Reading represents, in most of the cases, a control of the means (style, degree of interest, capacity of containing and of expression) with a view to…The reasons are seldom worded clearly. Some we can guess: the diarist is thinking discreetly of the day when his diary will be read by an unknown receiver. Rereading it is a rehearsal of that possible meeting. c) Who reads, rewrites; if not wholly at last partly. The author makes corrections, adds an adjective here and there, scratches out a too rough characterization. This operation is achieved at a variable distance in time as to the moment when he took the daily notes, in step with the events lived. In this case, another point of view on the little story may emerge. We cannot say that the discourse gets objective but the intimate discourse continues for certain to get fictional through successive reprises. In this case self-reading means self-fictionalizing.d) Being a data bank, as many put it, a repository of information (as with Musil), a lab of phrases (Barthes), a range for style drills (Virginia Woolf), the diary is consulted from time to time by the author when he draws up his other work, this true work (of fiction). Musil collects in his notebooks data about suicides or psycho-social phenomena of the time in order to be able to put them at the appropriate moment in the novel he writes. In other words, the diary as an aide-mémoire, and reading as a code opening the safe doors of this huge data storehouse.e) The diarists read their stuff among themselves as they read others in order to reflect on the condition of the diary genre. A programmed reunion which stimulates not only the critical spirit but also the reflexive one. From such ritualistic comebacks, to use a known phrase, the possible poetics of the diary is born. The dissatisfaction with a genre that assumes all liberties causes the desire to curb improvisation, and impose a set of rules. It is the moment when anti-rhetoric starts to get transformed, willingly or unwillingly, into a possible rhetoric of diary writing. f) Finally, let us note that through such returns, the diarist seeks himself first of all. The disgust with his/her diary is a form of disgust with the character writing it. Amiel does not find himself as he would like to when he returns to that product of sloth which is the diary. Tolstoy who has the consciousness of sin to an utmost degree pledges, in writing, to reform but further notes that he has continued to sin, becoming an actual knave. Reading the diary is an opportunity for doing penance. Which will not take too long, naturally. Until the first relapse into temptation. Gide typewrites his old diaries, and voices a profound satiation with himself. He hates the character exposed in the relevant pages. The mirror is the same, only the person looking in it is changing imperceptibly or rather his humors are fickle. 3. Still, why do we read diaries? This question brings us back to the real topic of this study. The fact that diarists read their works between themselves or read their own words is important but not essential for the viability of the diary as a piece of literature. This depends, among other, on the degree of reception and, from our point of view, on the motivations of a lasting reception. What could they be? Şerban Cioculescu confesses* that he reads "voraciously" the daily notes of Amiel, of the Goncourt brothers, of Jules Renard, Paul Léautaud, Pepys, Maiorescu, Maghiloman, and that he has a soft spot for the diary of Octav Şuluţiu ("revealing us the tribulations of an eminent self-analyst and at the same time, an acute observer and portraitist.") Finally, he provides the following justification: "Because it allows a glimpse into the activity and especially the intimacy of a personality. Is that not enough? What do our 'ontics' say?"Without being sure what our "ontics" say, we can put forth the idea that a critic's arguments are good but not sufficient. There are other reasons for reading diaries ravenously. To quote here another critic, Ovid S. Crohmălniceanu, who explains it by our curiosity in connection with the secret thoughts of personalities. "It is a genuine voluptuousness to learn the undivulged opinions, entrusted by an author to his diary. Who is not curious to hear what Sainte-Beuve thought about himself, and would not say in his installments, and to try with the tip of the tongue the 'poison' reserved only to private diaries?" And further on: "There are, finally, other reasons for thumbing through diaries. Anyway, not in order to learn how someone keeps on wondering how to put the inexpressible in words, or to read all sort of sermonizing that simply ends by recounting the ontological hitches of putting a sentence together."* Indeed, there's no fun in looking for the expression of the inexpressible in a diary but I am afraid that we can exclude not even this from the listed motives of curiosity. After all, any reason is as good as another if it prompts a certain individual to pick up a diary and read it. Ovid S. Crohmălniceanu is right when he says that we should not look in an author's confessions for sermons or ontological speculations about the difficulty of writing. Although we have often remarked in this study that the difficulty of writing is a favorite topic with diary writers. Don't they always complain, from Amiel to Leiris, of the miseries of the art of writing? Don't they claim to be desperate, nauseated, impotent in the face of the desert of a blank sheet of paper? Even the grandiose Tolstoy complains of this torment and more than once comes to say that writing is a sin.Ovid S. Crohmălniceanu brings another argument to the support of the diary, namely that it is more genuine than a book of memoirs or an autobiography. The latter pursues the sensational in a life, and through it boosts what Paul Zarifopol called "the literary gutter spirit." The fear of "base-instinct drills," in short, of "curve crawling rhetoric" would prevent some of the readers from picking up diaries. The critic fights this hesitation thus: "I cannot deny that this type of read is highly circulated. But is the diary its favorite nourishment? I seriously doubt it. It is rather the stuff of memoirs and autobiographies full of indiscrete revelations published non-stop. A confusion dwells here by which the diary is assimilated to this kind of writing because it speaks of the life of a certain person. The difference is huge. Memoirs narrate a life in retrospect, choosing what is deemed more attractive for those who will read it. Biographies, are similarly, written post festum and their authors have enough freedom to insist on what they believe the public expects. In exchange, the diary is a pure species, admitting no staging – if it obeys the rules – of the things jotted down. The intimate elements, as many as they are, should be sought in a jungle of reflections, notes about reads, words memorized, echoes of events, drab happenings, too bushy and too extensive not to deflate 'literary gutterism'." This is an observation worth retaining. After all, the critic is right. Indiscretion, vulgarity, curb vocabulary do not incite to reading. Especially when the reader is formed at the school of classical culture. How could he be aroused by Goethe's indigestion or the nymphomaniac or lesbian sessions of the many-sided Simone de Beauvoir? Biographies or memoirs that harp on those sides of the circumscribed human inferno cannot enjoin to reading. Anyhow, not the readers on whom a true memoirist or biographer can count. Only that we are not always blessed with the readers we expect. And then if we speak of "a literary gutter sense" and perverted seduction we have to admit that the diary is not always alien to such temptations. Is it a rule, I wonder, that the diary be a "very pure species?" There are so many proofs to the contrary. Let me quote only the secret notes (so secret that she entrusted them à tour de rôle or even at the same time to her lovers) the celebrated Anaïs. Or the confessions in the diary of Drieu la Rochelle. Here the "gutter spirit" is at its height. Then the argument of a pure species becomes null. The others remain though. First of all our curiosity to learn something about the man who boasts to have created a masterpiece; that something which neither the work nor the public biography of the person who wrote it tell us. This in the case then the author of the diary is not a well-known creator or a great public personality. What if he is called Samuel Pepys and was only a British admiralty official? Why do we ravenously gulp down his notes written more than three hundred years ago? The motivations of the read must be sought, in this case, elsewhere. I will further make systematic remarks about some diaries I read with a pencil in hand. I will say from the first that I am a passionate reader of diaries. I read them for pleasure and I read them for interest. For ten years now I have been working on a study on diaries and consequently, my reads follow a schedule. Moreover, I myself have written and published such a diary (and I continue another). At the same time I am a literary critic and I often write about diaries published by others. In short, I am a special kind of reader. I have often been through the situations mentioned before. I read my own diaries, I read the diaries of other diarists and, being a literary critic I try to read the confessions made by others out of aesthetic pleasure. Why?a) We read diaries written by writers, artists in general, great creators of science, personalities who played an important role in history… because we want to discover the real man behind the deeds. How much we would like to lay our hands on a diary written by Eminescu or Arghezi! What would Gide be without his diary? Or Maiorescu without his Daily Notes and his correspondence? Stendhal's diary puts forth a fabulous character who, naturally, does not explain his novels but says a vital thing about the mentalities, character and humors of the man writing them. "Beyleism" is a creation of the diary and at the same time of the other confessional writings. When the authors do not boast a memorable work but have instead a celebrated life (politicians, for instance) we read their diaries to detect the formula of their personality. Or to learn something about the history they lived, and at times, made.b) Would we read them if their authors were nobodies? It depends on the experience of the author and, naturally, on the quality of the writing, including the amount of sincerity. Hazard can often play a considerable part in such cases. I will give two examples: the diary of Ann Frank and the memoirs (I will skip now the differences between diary and memoirs) left by a peasant woman from Bukovina, Anita Nandris, exiled by the Soviets to the polar area together with her three kids during World War II. Two authors who have become famous (Ann Frank more than the other) after having their writings published posthumously. Anita Nandris is a simple woman, not very learned. She has been through a terrible ordeal, and she recounts it with no literary effects. It is an overwhelming story, a lived story, written in a language that is full of delicious oral phrases. The anonymity of the author is not a handicap to reading the diary. We read such confessions in order to discover that reality can at times be more powerful than fiction. History can be extremely inventive, especially in matters of evil.We have to say, in order to observe the truth, that what attracts us in the first place when we talk about a diary is the reputation of the author on the cover. But the reputation is not essential to the destiny of the diary. Eventually, what is vital is the human dimension of the diary. The headaches of a cinema actress can leave us totally cold. Whereas the tragedy of a peasant woman from Bukovina takes us into the heart of big tragedies of the destiny. The diary is the space where the existential can defeat fiction or better said, it is the space where the existential creates its own fiction and imposes it.c) Would we read these texts if they were not well written? I have often said that the diary discourse is, par excellence, anti-calophile and that the presumption of literaturizing is, out of all possible blemishes, the most serious. To be genuine, credible, to enjoin to reading a mistrusting reader, the diary should have the air of a literary product. Maladroitness – everybody says so – is to be praised more than rhetorical mastery in the case of confession. In a word, the diary must be rather badly written than well written. The question is if there is not a limit to this upside-down aesthetics. How badly written can a diary be to be taken into consideration? Not to further descant on this topic it must be said that a diary ought to have a minimum degree of relevance. It is only from this vantage that it can turn a certain narrator/character into a destiny. The condition is that the style (good or bad from a literary point of view) should be adequate to the purpose. Sincerity must find the right style to become persuasive. When the reader begins to sense this is turning into literature, he withdraws his trust and interest. "The smell" of literary convention alters the spirit of the suspicious reader, as the reader of diaries often is. He likes the text if first he gets the feeling that the confession is not fake.d) There are, nevertheless, authentic diaries that are well written. For instance, Jünger's diaries. Those of Stendhal and Constant are not badly worded either. How about Gide or Pavese, how do they write? Anyway, their discourse is eloquent. Reading them – and what a joy to the spirit that is – you get the feeling that they found the right tone and that by avoiding the seductive forms of literature a new type of writing has been born, and consequently a new kind of epic: subjective, non-conventional, direct, provocative, fragmentary, with varied paces and unforeseeable topics. How can it win over the skeptical modern reader who, as is known, cannot be fooled so easily? I would say by the unexpected that it promises (the unexpected can translate in unknown data on a secret personality) and the intuition of a destiny that is not the work of fiction but the work of an existence. This is the forte of the diary: it can offer the readership a life or, as Barthes put it, a structure of existence seen from within, and written, if we may say so, by itself. Gide created a model for this type of prose which, unlike the other (fiction) works with elements that can be checked. Thus the reader's need for truth is satisfied. Even if as we have proven, the truth is approximate here too. Is this non-epic epic beautiful? I repeat, it can be beautiful by its truth. We read it voraciously, as Şerban Cioculescu put it, because we want to find out in it a true person in the ordinary circumstances of life. Even in the most humiliating instances of his life. How does a genius fare in the conjugal inferno? We learn that by reading Tolstoy's diary. How is it to live constantly on the threshold of despair and to minutely prepare your own suicide? Pavese tells us. What is the human dimension of anguish? Kafka experiences it and describes it with no artifices. What does a great writer do when he is working on a novel that will be his masterpiece? We can learn that, for instance, from the diary of Thomas Mann or Rebreanu. Though the latter does not tell us much because instead of writing in his secret notebook about this essential relationship he wages battle against his opponents. The reader is disappointed. He expected something different and if offered uninteresting stuff.Perusing a diary is not always in favor of the author. The deception is the bigger the more important the author by his public work. The truth is that great writers can turn out a mediocre diary (again Camil Petrescu). Which Eugen Ionescu, among others, acknowledges in his Romanian youth. "The sad thing is that some writers of diaries happen to be indifferent. The blame was not put on the man as it should have been natural, but on the literary genre. Instead of the diary compromising the writer, it is the writer who compromises the diary (what logic!) To say nothing of the fact that the diary has the advantage of presenting the backstage which, for the truth, is infinitely more interesting than the stage, the director and the prompter put together. I love to see life without a prompter! Literature has by and large put so many stereotypes into life, and tragedy turned all heroic deeds identical in size and color. Life repeats literature, and literature, feeding only on literature, on itself, consuming more than drawing in, got atrophied, and acquired the iciness of corpses."So we read the diaries of geniuses to find our how geniuses live their private life. If the diarist is no genius we read it to see how a destiny is made. And if there is no destiny involved then we leave it without regrets.e) I wonder if the reader of diaries has a bigger or a smaller task than the ordinary reader. If his spirit is not too much tested by being invited to read a text that can begin anywhere, and end suddenly, at the author's convenience, not when the logic of the narration demands. Moreover, the text is a concatenation of fragments, with no connection in between. What joys can such smithereens offer one? What does "life without a prompter" offer? And is it sufficient? Answer: in some cases it is, in others it isn't. Depends on the substance of the confidential notes, sure, but it also depends on the reader's capacity of seeing beyond the surface of he text. Because the reader of diaries has an additional task as related to the ordinary reader of literature: he must give a meaning to these isolated elements. ("C'est à lui d'assembler ces elements," Jean-Jacques Rousseau writes somewhere) and to build a character from a narration that programmatically refuses it. A visible character, a secret character in a prose satiated with life's nothings. This is not easy for the reader of diaries. Ostensibly he has more responsibilities than pleasures.f) We have to admit frankly that if he fails to find pleasure the reader will finally abandon the diary. We must not rely only on his desire to get informed, to learn about the dark side of illustrious lives, to give a global meaning to excerpts, and to reconstruct the trajectory and significance of a destiny. An intelligent and devoted reader must have other satisfactions when he opens a diary. I hesitate whether to call them pleasures, or aesthetic joys, although this is exactly that it is all about. The joys of reading. They must be so well grounded and so intense that the reader forgets, at least for a time, the lures of literature proper.
* Jean-Pierre Collinet, "L'auteur du Journal lecteur et juge du Journal des autres", in Le journal intime et ses formes litteraires, op. cit, p. 191 and fol.* Şerban Cioculescu, "Why do we wolf down such daily notes?" in Caiete critice 3-4, 1986, pp. 82-3.* "Why do we read diaries", in Caiete critice, 3-4, 1986, pp.80-1.

by Eugen Simion