Who Keeps A Diary And Why

1. The Mirror of the SelfThere are people, quite a few, and not particularly the happy ones, who are themselves their main concern. They pay a great deal of attention to all the signals their body sends. For them, the physical well-being is a goal in itself, which should be carefully pursued and duly attained. However, the very concentration on the biological signs, the continuous monitoring of sensations prevents one from forgetting that one has a body, which is precisely the essence of well-being. Consequently, the road to comfort is arduous and long, never to be completed. It has many an obstacle and frequent milestones. Keeping track of the fleeting sensations and accurately recording them seems useful, if only for describing one's symptoms to the doctor. Physicians of the leisure class, such as Axel Munthe and Charcot, wrote ironically about le malade au petit papier, the one that produces, upon the visit, a very detailed account of his or her minute troubles. The process of writing down the everyday events in the life of the body increases the awareness and this, in its turn, makes an imaginary illness real and a real one worse. People excessively concerned with the lifeline of their bodies tend to write down daily what they've eaten, drunk and smelt and also the cold and heat airflows they've been exposed to. Thomas Mann's otherwise delightful account How I Wrote Doktor Faustus is, at least in part, a diary which mirrors the body in its continuous changing moods. It would be, however, exaggerated to claim that most diaries deal with the history of the body. The self-focused are also extremely fond of keeping track of their emotions, of the transitory movements of their souls. They strive to give an accurate account of their joys and sorrows, of their impressions upon contemplating a landscape, seeing a movie, reading a book, or having a social or amorous intercourse. When asked why they take the trouble to keep a diary of such personal feelings that could be of no one's interest but their own, some claim that it helps reliving one's past, others that it is a good exercise for the future elaboration of more sophisticated products. Nearly all refer to Proust and his Remembrance of Things Past as a legitimating authority. However, they ignore that Proust himself did not keep a diary during the first, mundane, part of his life and that the literary reconstruction he attempted in the second, secluded, part relates more to the invention than to the account. It is sometimes even amusing to read the texts evolved from personal diaries: they are candid, pathetic and boring. He who feels impelled to communicate something meaningful to the world is more interested in his message than in his person. He does not track down his experiences, but processes them in order to get that "something rich and strange" of the cultural achievement. The real motive behind the personal diary focused on the body and soul of the writer is self-complacency. André Malraux claimed that everything in his life that was irrelevant to others was also irrelevant to him: Que m'importe ce qui n'importe qu'à moi? On the contrary, to those who believe that the diary is the mirror of the self, the only things that matter are those that concern their precious bodies and little souls. Self-examination is not important; transmuting the self into one's work is important. 2. The Music of TimeSocially-focused extroverts are surely more concerned with others than with themselves. Active and apt in networking, they spend a lot of energy in hanging around with the right people, in attending fashionable parties, previews, conferences etc. They believe they lead such interesting and exciting lives that it would be a loss not to keep a record of the great names they hobnobbed with, of the events they witnessed, of the memorable things they could not help to overhear. Moreover, they can insert into the account personal, witty remarks they have never had the gift to utter promptly: the missed esprit d'escalier is recuperated in the evening notes. Monica Lovinescu decided to publish her diaries dating from 1981 on. She deliberately eliminated every touch of subjectivity: the published diary should not be an account of the development of the self, but of the history on the make. "These pages are about others and intended for others" – she writes in the introduction – "The I is duly suppressed." The diary, devoid of self-analysis, resembles more to an agenda. As if by magic, upon reading the blank account of daily events, the perfume of the days gone by becomes vivid and strikes the bell of remembrance. The bare enumeration of facts and names in association with the calendar date makes us hear the music of time. Nina Cassian kept a diary, then, upon re-reading it, she realized that a prudent self-censorship had prevented her from openly speaking her mind. Then, she tried to re-write it, in order to restore the naked truth, but soon saw that any intervention would take away the freshness and authenticity that, mingled in well-balanced quantities, give zest to the genre. Moreover, the person who re-writes is not the same with the one that wrote the first version, so that the change of perspective is bound to encourage further alterations, which would reflect not the genuine thoughts of long-ago, but the actual opinions of today. A vulgar approach would be to use the rewriting of the diary as a means for settling accounts or getting even with friends that eventually became foes, with allies turned into enemies. Unlike Paul Goma or Mircea Zaciu, Nina Cassian is above all that. Consequently, she decided not to update, but to annotate, not to make changes, but to add comments. However, this led her into an endless cycle of iterations. Once one decides for intervention, one cannot bring oneself to a stop. As time goes by, looking back at the past as it is transposed into text suggests more and more comments and annotations, so that the diary becomes sort of a ramified hypertext, a work-in-progress never to be completed. The music of time rolls back upon itself as a theme with infinite variations. 3. Work-in-progress. Progress of workThe publication of Thomas Mann's diaries made quite a stir mainly on account of their unveiling of the author's peculiar sexual preferences. However, these diaries contain also interesting hints about how he wrote his great novels. A diary that accompanies the process of intellectual elaboration is extremely appealing. It is not the "mirror of the self" that describes various, sometimes irrelevant "states of mind", nor is it the "music of time" that tries to bring harmony into the noisy succession of events. It is a work-in-progress that minutely accounts for the progress of work. The diary mentioned above, How I wrote Doktor Faustus, is not only an account of private miseries and worldly events, but also a vivid and entertaining description of the various facts that went into the composition of the famous novel. These facts should not be taken for clues, as tempting as it may be. Sometimes, the diary that depicts the fictionalizing process is more interesting than the resulting fiction itself. Radu Petrescu was perfectly aware, while writing his novel, Matei Iliescu, that he was composing a masterpiece. The diary that describes the process, Părul Berenicei (The Tresses of Berenice) is the best proof of that. However, contrary to his assumptions, the diary is a masterpiece, while the novel is not. The latter suffers from over-elaboration; the first is vivid, daring and exciting. One realizes how self-judgment can be misleading. One is involved in what one thinks to be a "great project" and, while failing in the attempt, one succeeds in describing the attempt itself. The perfect diary is the accurate account of what life really is i.e. the story of a failure.

by Adrian Mihalache