Sunday, August 10, 2008

up there, few words, diaries

Posted by PicasaMy perusal of rooftops and in particular of the finials which builders and architects have placed there continues.

Brevity is not a word which you normally apply to Proust, yet in the last few days, as I proceed with my slow and enjoyable reading of A la Recherche du Temps Perdu, I have found myself referring back to Proust's introduction of one of the most memorable of his characters, Madame Vedurin, whose little "nucleus" of regular guests, she clucks over and favouritises, and inculcates with her bourgeois, social and aesthetic prejudices. You find it hard to love her or her histrionics, which it is easy to laugh at, yet you wonder at the fineness with which Proust depicts her. What exactly is her background? Proust gives it in a sentence, or to be fair in part of a sentence, and, as it happens, entirely in brackets "... for all that madame Verdurin herself was a thoroughly virtuous woman who came of a respectable middle class family, excessively rich and wholly undistinguished, with which she had gradually and of her own accord severed all connections..."

A friend of mine, who has not and is unlikely ever to have a computer, kept a diary for almost a year, before, unaccountably giving it up. When recently she re-read it, she was quite pleased with it, (usually people, myself included, have the opposite reaction, and push their reread diaries away in embarrassment), and, taking me by surprise, asked me if I would like to read it. I have sent it back to her with the urgent request that she take up diary-writing again. What are its qualities? Clarity, directness, honesty, wit. And its weaknesses? Complaint, obsessiveness, self-absorption. Note that the weaknesses are what you would expect of an honest diary writer. It seems to me that diary-writing may be a chore, but it has the merit of providing a focus for one's thoughts and even actions, even if one leads what appears to be a sheltered life. I ask myself if this blog and the other blogs which I read, are not, after all, diaries of a sort? And whether the chief encouragement to continue with them is not the feeling that their readers, usually sympathetic, are responding, most of the time to your musings and observations. That, I suppose, may set blogs apart from more traditional diary forms, but the thought does put blogging and diary-writing in a new perspective.


Anonymous said...

Interesting thoughts on diaries vs blogs. I've not been a diarist but have felt my blog is a bit of one, a recording of thoughts, inspirations and observations, yet not as personal as a diary, because it is so public.

Unknown said...

Things you believe in or you have been inspired or forced to believe in sometimes become your jealously guarded secrets. An introvert diarist will find difficult to blog the so-called secrets. Extroverts do not write diaries, they write letters and send op-eds. This is no rule however, just a tendency. Even extroverts have highs and lows and during lows they may write diaries.


Roderick Robinson said...

Gosh, so much to respond to.

(1) Mme. Verdurin. Strange that Proust refers to her as "virtuous" given that her control of the "clan" is absolute and two of her favourite tools for achieving it are humiliation and calumny. But then perhaps virtuous has an ultra-specific meaning. She is possibly Proust's second greatest creation after Baron de Charlus. Finally, of course, he can't resist the temptation and brings them together with horrifying results.

(2) You list seven qualities which more or less define the perfect diarist. Two others remain: Graham Greene's oft-repeated "chip of ice in the heart" (he was talking about writers but it has wider application) and, most important of all, persistence. Most published diarists seem to reveal an obsessional desire to keep going.

(3)Blog vs. diary. Is there a gulf? Don't most diarists secretly want to be read? A blog that gets no responses may suit some inner instinct in the writer but why then go to the palaver of making it public in the first place?

(4) Blogs (and such things as profiles) have the advantage of being correctable, a feature I am eternally grateful for. Whereas comments to blogs are permanent. These two factors are rarely mentioned but are important.