Thursday, 6 November 2008

More Diaries

Having just finished the second volume of Bernard Donoughue's No10 memoirs (but not being bothered to read volume 1), I thought I would stick with the theme of diaries for the moment, so I'm now reading The Duff Cooper Diaries.

What has struck me in the first hundred pages or so, apart from the extraordinary indulgence of his lifestyle, his casual evenings out with the PM, and his sudden encounter with war in 1918, has been his attitude to love.

The object of his affections is usually Lady Diana Manners (whom he marries in 1919), but he describes his love for her in rollercoaster terms: it appears and disappears day by day and sits sometimes comfortably alongside his love for other women he variously kisses, looks at, or as in the case of an unnamed woman in France, follows out of a restaurant and into her bed. His love does not seem like an animating force, but like a scratch that is more or less irritating.

I often wonder how diarists can separate themselves from their emotions long enough to commit something readable to paper. Does it mean there is a kind of distance between an experience and its impact? How can you write something down while its consequences are still rattling through your veins? Do such people in fact not really experience things at all but merely observe them?

I ask because I've often tried to write diaries of my own. They always stop at precisely the point something ghastly happens, like a work crisis or a love crisis. I cannot record these things, because I can never find the words for them. The feelings always re-emerge, or are too vivid anyway, and anything I put seems trite or simply inadequate. That, or it just seems wrong to be writing things that are really happening and are really awful. The only way I could see to do it would be if I - as a self, as a feeling being - was not affected by the things that happened to me, so that I could sit there as the same, possessed person I had been before, and write it as though it were a story.

Even that is difficult, because I know I am lying, in the sense that I'm not writing a story, but babbling a set of unpleasantnesses or a jagged series of events. This is why for years I've only written poetry, so that I can write in shades of opacity that suit my need to close the actual experience down, and leave myself with only a reflected emotion, which I can write in analogue or metaphor.

Real experience, for me, needs to be left alone to settle or to wreak the havoc it wants to wreak. It is too important to be narrowed and scribed, and the emotion too raw to write, even privately.

Maybe years later. Or sublimated into an imagery that can actually be used; but then you never quite get to the centre of the issue.

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