“Almost every Puritan kept a diary, not so much because he was infatuated with himself but because he needed a strict account of God’s dealings with him. … If he himself could not get the benefit of the final reckoning, then his children could.”
—Perry Miller, The American Puritans
For the tempest within us is no tempest without us! We won’t be discarded.
Frog Eyes, “Evil Energy, The Ill Twin Of…”
I hereby report that in an old New Republic article John Updike reports that John Cheever reports in his journal that one night at dinner his eldest daughter, Susie, devastated him by coldly remarking: “You have two strings to play. One is the history of the family; the other is your childlike sense of wonder. Both of them are broken.”
Many of Dickens’s characters are, as Forster rightly put it, flat but vibrating very fast.
“Whatever happened to Johnny Cheever? Did he leave his typewriter out in the rain?”
This is apparently how a particularly frustrated 1970 journal entry of his begins.
To speak personally, this old acquaintance and longtime admirer of Cheever’s had to battle, while reading these Journals, with the impulse to close his eyes. They tell me more about Cheever’s lusts and failures and self-humiliations and crushing sense of shame and despond than I can easily reconcile with my memories of the sprightly, debonair, gracious man, often seen on the arm of his pretty, witty wife. His confessions posthumously administer a Christian lesson in the dark gulf between outward appearance and inward condition: they present, with an almost unbearable fullness, a post-Adamic man, an unreconciled bundle of cravings and complaints, whose consolations—the glory of the sky, the company of his young sons—have the ring of hollow cheer in the vastness of his dissatisfaction. Comparatively, the journals of Kierkegaard and Emerson are complacent and generalizing. And Cheever’s journals make much of his fiction seem timid, arch, and falsely buoyant.
"It is, in fact, an intercourse with ghosts, and not only with the ghost of the recipient but also with one’s own ghost which develops between the lines of the letter one is writing and even more so in a series of letters where one letter corroborates the other and can refer to it as a witness. How on earth did anyone get the idea that people could communicate by letter! Of a distant person one can think, and of a person who is near one can catch hold — all else goes beyond human strength. Writing letters, however, means to denude oneself before the ghosts, something for which they greedily wait. Written kisses don’t reach their destination, rather they are drunk on the way by the ghosts. It is on this ample nourishment that they multiply so enormously. Humanity senses this and fights against it and in order to eliminate as far as possible the ghostly element between people and create a natural communication, the peace of souls, it has invented the railway, the motorcar, the aeroplane. But it’s no longer any good; these are evidently inventions being made at the moment of crashing. The opposing side is so much calmer and stronger; after the postal service it has invented the telegraph, the telephone, the radiograph. The ghosts won’t starve, but we will perish.”
—Franz Kafka, from a letter to Milena
Franz Kafka was Jewish. He had a sister, Ottla, Jewish. Ottla married a jurist, Josef David, not Jewish. When the Nuremburg Laws were introduced to Bohemia-Moravia in 1942, quiet Ottla suggested to Josef David that they divorce. He at first refused. She spoke about sleep shapes and property and their two daughters and a rational approach. She did not mention, because she did not yet know the word, Auschwitz, where she would die in October 1943. After putting the apartment in order she packed a rucksack and was given a good shoeshine by Josef David. He applied a coat of grease. Now they are waterproof, he said.
The college was at the edge of a small town way upstate, barely a town, maybe a hamlet, we said, or just a whistle stop, and we took walks all the time, getting out, going nowhere, low skies and bare trees, hardly a soul to be seen.This was how we spoke of the local people: they were souls, they were transient spirits, a face in the window of a passing car, runny with reflected light, or a long street with a shovel jutting from a snowbank, no one in sight.
Don DeLillo, Midnight in Dostoevsky
Can you imagine being able to write like this?
I so nearly missed the bus, I still believe I am not on it now.