Archive for the ‘Literature’ Category

Didion Redacted

April 29, 2009

“We are not talking here about the kind of notebook that is patently for public consumption, a structural conceit for binding together a series of graceful pensees; we are talking about something private, about bits of the mind’s string too short to use, an indiscriminate and erratic assemblage with meaning only for its maker.”

I blush at this because it’s just so breath-takingly good. Oh Didion, your way with words is a joy and a curse.

Like P&C I too feel slightly withered after reading her, it’s painful to be confronted with writing that puts all one’s own petty attempts at it into sharp relief – she sort of buffets you about the head with the smallest (and weightiest, I like that term) of phrases and she leaves you sighing and melancholic and buffeted and wishing you could drink straight bourbon like she can.

Are keepers of notebooks really a different and lonely and rearranging breed though? I’m not too sure about this but I do like her point about this breed of hers being awash in ‘some presentiment of loss’ – I know this feeling, I don’t always observe things and then worry they’ll be gone (or already are) and go and write them down in my notebook and try to thus fix them and keep them so I don’t lose them but I know that compulsion well, and that feeling of losing moments exactly in the instant I experience them.

For me, this essay captures so well the paradox of the notebook (or diary, or pensee record, or journal, or blog etc etc), the one that often stops me from filling one up with delightful bon mots and charming anecdotes and profound insights; that is that in writing in one, one is always so conscious that it is both the most self-indulgent/pointless/navel-gazing/dripping in upper middle class angst/privileged way to spend one’s solitary moments AND that it is, as Didion says, a delightful way to resist the expectation to always put others before ourselves, to ‘affect absorption in other people’s favourite dresses, other people’s trout.’

“I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not.” This is the lesson I’d like to take from her precisely because I’m certain I do everything I can to stay far far away from my previous others – like the one who tried to start a ‘movie diary’ that’s now a recipe book and which I grimace over every time I flip to the review of ‘Lost in Translation’ [the one that says it was ‘bittersweet’ and ‘altered my perception’] instead of to the recipe for chickpea casserole.

But yet, my latest notebook isn’t going much better if I’m honest – it starts with ‘profound’ quotes from GUESS WHO? Erm, Joan Didion of course along with some David Foster Wallace (I seem to think quotes can speak for me better than I can speak for myself – is this just another example of my diffidence to others’ thoughts and ideas as Didion points out?) and apart from that, there are some random PhD related rants hidden towards the back; apart from this I am actually TOO SCARED to write in it – I actually don’t want to mess up the nice clean pages with what I already assume will be a combination of derivative drivel and quotes…sigh…I’m not really getting anywhere now am I?

Maybe when my others appear “…hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night”, instead of picking up my notebook, I’ll just pick up Joan instead.
[I could also just chill the hell out and start messing up my prissy clean little pages with some mind strings – F**k Yeah]


Joan Didion’s ‘On Keeping a Notebook’

April 29, 2009

Now that I’ve read this, I wish I’d written in notebooks during my life. I’ve kept some ill-fated diaries, books of bad writing, scrapbooks, teen boredoms and notebooks of mundane lists from time to time, but nothing resembling Joan’s slivers of everyday life that obviously honed her acute powers of watching and her sense for the weighty and the dramatic in minor events between people. The fact that reading this essay first made me feel awed and then ashamed for not being as cool as her pissed me off because what that says about me is that the first thing I do with a thoughtful, wonderful piece of writing is to wish that I had written it and despair that I never will. Which may just be a sign that I am a writer and therefore a solipsist. Or it may be a sign that I don’t yet have self respect, as characterised in ‘On Self Respect’. But since the latter remains a bit opaque to be, I can’t be sure. Explain it to me.

“Keepers of private notebooks are a different breed altogether, lonely and resistant rearrangers of things, anxious malcontents, children afflicted at birth with some presentiment of loss.” I can understand the urge to rearrange the truth by writing down a version of it that better suits yourself, but how does keeping a notebook indicate you are afflicted with a presentiment of loss? I suppose Joan’s referring to the creative impulse of those who are compelled to write or draw or carve wood or be creative in whichever way necessary – the urge to remake the world. What I like here is the slightly neurotic inference that notebook-keepers are a bit belligerent, that they are grumpy to find that everything is as bad as they had suspected and are intent on making a new truth as a sort of correction, an antidote to disappointment. Notebook keeping or storytelling as a rebellion, a refusal to accept things as they are.

I think this essay is about the act of writing as a way of remembering. “To remember what it was to be me.” Joan distinguishes between the boredom of writing a diary and the act of keeping a notebook by equating diarising with recording mundane events and large details, and note-keeping as observed details, the embroidery of experience, the moments caught then lost, the breaths of truth, the shit that we don’t remember. I think she was saying that not only did she keep notebooks to remember what it was to be her, but to remember what it was to be alive, what it is to be alive – to grasp onto the greasy pole of mortality by recording a moment even as it slips through our fingers. Like grains of sand through the hourglass, so are the days of our lives.

Some random extracts from the notebook I currently keep in my handbag so as to always have somewhere to write things down:

– A story idea during my placement at the Taranaki Daily News: “Waitara river entrance improvements: feasibility of reinstating half tide wall at Waitara following submissions from users”
– Description of a bar I was reviewing: “Fabric of a Lisa Ho dress, granite, cross section of turd, ant farm, lava, chain mail curtains”
– “For a certain group of young NZers, Helen Clark is not just a political figure, she’s a cultural icon”
– pina colada necklace
– Leonie: “Relationships are all about bringing the other person down.”
– $73.78

Ancient Babes

February 17, 2009


Listen to this crazy good podcast about Plato’s symposium and erotic love – so awesome!
I must have learnt about this at school but Plato’s speech from Aristophanes about the three genders (not two, three I tell you!) and how we all used to be spheres with four arms and legs and two heads?? It’s giving me conniptions it’s so good!
Also, Alcibiades sounds like the hottest babe EVER plus he was in love with Socrates so he gets even more hot points…

Ancient Babe

Ancient Babe

I wouldn’t say no to Edward Cullen.

December 10, 2008

I’ve been trying to resist for ages but last weekend I finally gave in and read Twilight. It’s a shit book – badly written, unimaginative, long-winded, irritating and boring. BUT I couldn’t stop myself from reading to the end.

It’s a compelling story because it’s fucking romantic.

Twilight is simple teenage girl wish fulfilment: lonely, bookish, clumsy new girl at school is the object of desire for several eligible guys on campus, but she spurns their advances because, like, she just wants to be friends. She also has her eye on the mysterious stranger in the corner of the lunchroom who happens to be a stone cold babe. Girl turns out to be object of primal, uncontrollable desire for babe. Babe also happens to be undead. Big deal! Babe and girl fall passionately in love and are the envy of all their peers. He saves her from peril, she takes care of him and rescues him from himself. They go to prom. They do not have sex. Ever!

Edward and Bella’s relationship is exactly what every girl wants in high school – a gorgeous supernatural being to save us from the boredom and awkwardness of adolescence, convince us that we’re special, kiss us coolly and have absolutely no desire to get in our panties.

Unlike The Guardian, I don’t think Stephanie Meyer’s series is pernicious, anti-feminist or dangerous (it’s a bit much to label two-dimensional vampo-babe Edward a proto-rapist). Even though there are definite pro-abstinence messages in the book, frankly, I don’t think that’s such a bad thing for young women and girls who are becoming acquainted with sex and sexual behaviour at an increasingly early age. Sure, Bella is pathetic and annoying, but at least she’s independent, interested in reading, doesn’t wear g-strings or Playboy t-shirts and is a nice person, unlike any of the characters in Gossip Girl.

I’m trying really really hard NOT to start reading the second book in the Twilight series, New Moon. But I’m losing the battle. I dig a fucking good romance! I don’t care what you say.

Oh yeah and this article in The Atlantic has an interesting take on it.

And has anyone noticed the ridiculously obvious origins of the name Edward Cullen???

PS. Robert Pattinson is a babe.

Philosophers Face-Off

October 15, 2008

I’m reading these two books simultaneously at the moment:

Exhibit A: Jacques Derrida’s Positions

Sample quote: “Thus, the limit on the basis of which philosophy became possible, defined itself as the episteme, functioning within a system of fundamental constraints, conceptual oppositions outside of which philosophy becomes impracticable.”


Exhibit A: Derrida

Exhibit B: Chapman’s The Good Husband’s Guide to Balancing Hobbies and Marriage

Sample Quote: “My main qualification for writing this book is that I am a sportsman with a happy wife…a contented wife…a wife who supports my hobbies. And by the way, if you don’t think it is important to do all that you can to cultivate the sweet disposition of contentment in your wife, consider this ancient bit of wisdom from the book of Proverbs (27:15)…”


Exhibit B: Chapman

Obviously Derrida and Chapman enrich my life in different ways but i just thank god (sorry Chapman, the Sweet Lord Himself) for philosophers such as these – they illuminate, they elucidate, they speak the TRUTH

NB. Chapman also writes music but I’ll save commentary on his hit single: ‘The Hunter and His Gun’ for another post