Though his reputation was made as a poet, Ford's artistic interests took him in many directions--prose, the visual arts, even directing a feature film...moreThough his reputation was made as a poet, Ford's artistic interests took him in many directions--prose, the visual arts, even directing a feature film. But if the back cover of this volume, a decade-long expanse of Ford's personal dairies, is to be believed, Ford himself considered this to be his masterpiece. And having read a collection of his poetry concurrently, it's rather hard to disagree. Ford's background as a poet is obvious and serves him well, as the diaries are mostly long strings of short anecdotes polished to a sparkling epigrammatic brilliance--there's definitely a talent for diverting what could conceivably be a long digression and summing it up perfectly with a witty line or shrewdly recorded bit of dialogue. Famous names waft in and out of the pages--the Sitwells, Djuna Barnes (Ford's former lover), Cocteau, Genet, Capote, as well as the not-so-famous that made an impression on Ford during his many travels and international places of residence. It's also remarkably candid about his sexual adventures and misadventures, though in the end the entire thing can almost be characterized as an elegiac valentine to his longtime partner, the Surrealist painter Pavel Tchelitchew. Though Tchelitchew, fondly referred to throughout by his pet name Pavlik, often comes off as conflicted and unbearably cantankerous, Ford still manages to convey his great love and affection, and as the diary comes to a close by recording Tchelitchew's last days and painful death I found myself, unexpectedly, near tears. A particularly notable example of the personal diary as a work of art.
"Sometimes, one has to empty out oneself to feel the world's fullness."(less)
Three years ago The Guardian ran some excerpts from an upcoming edition of Susan Sontag's journals, and despite being at that time little more to me t...moreThree years ago The Guardian ran some excerpts from an upcoming edition of Susan Sontag's journals, and despite being at that time little more to me than a massive literary reputation, I was dazzled by her penetrating, often brutal self-dissection of her own personality and intellect. I even dared think I recognized a sensibility shockingly similar to my own. Fast-forward through several years and the journals, a compilation of her earliest, are here, and yes, my suspicions have been borne out. Not that I'd at all equate our intellectual abilities, but I recognize (and in a sense, sympathize over) the slavish desire of creating and shaping an entire identity out of intellectual engagement and a systematic and largely self-imposed exposure to art and the humanities, a desire always at war with the cravings for intense personal experiences.
The "reborn" of the title hints at one of the main underlying themes of these journals: the self-creation Sontag undertakes from being the precocious teenager who graduated high school at 15 and had studied at both Berkeley and University of Chicago before she was 20, to the woman on the brink of superstardom as a public intellectual by her early 20's. These journals document a stunning amount of stuff and happenings--exploring and embracing her lesbianism, a whirlwind marriage and motherhood, divorce, escape to European bohemia, and, of course, the steady evolution of her intellectual abilities and persona. Inevitably, this leads to some uneveness in tone and content, with drastic oscillations between cool academic analysis and rather hysterically-pitched recounting of personal drama (she seems to have modeled her romantic yearnings on the European art films she adored or, as she records a friend of hers commenting, on the characters of Nightwood). But frankly, that's how my, and probably all our journals of those years read too, no?
And so that long wait for the next volume to be released...
"My reading is a hoarding, accumulating, storing up for the future, filling the hole of the present. Sex and eating are entirely different motions--pleasure for themselves, for the present--not serving the past + the future. I ask nothing, not even memory, of them."
Really only for die-hard fans and/or those who are already interested in this type of idiosyncratic marginalia. Distinguishing a "notebook" from a "jo...moreReally only for die-hard fans and/or those who are already interested in this type of idiosyncratic marginalia. Distinguishing a "notebook" from a "journal" or "diary" might at times come off as nit-picky, but it's an important one in this situation, as this is less a personal record than a ramshackle collection of sentence fragments, long lists of slang, a few rather unreadable writing exercises, and many excerpts of articles and essays from other writers that Chandler evidently drew inspiration from in some way (and while they might not be of the utmost interest in and of themselves, they're interesting in that Chandler found them interesting). Also included are a few more formal pieces, such as his published review of Diamonds Are Forever, a study of American vs. British English, and a previously unpublished screed outlining Hollywood's treatment of screenwriters that he ends up characterizing as "a testament of failure." The essay, certainly one of the best things about this collection, provides an illuminating, ground zero perspective on the collision of a screenwriter's creative impulses in the face of an unapologetic Hollywood machine (one choice bon mot: "integrity is a nice word, and you hear it a great deal in Hollywood, but you seldom meet the quality itself").
Also included is the short story "English Summer: A Gothic Romance," a piece Chandler was reportedly very fond of and held hopes for reworking into a full-length novel. It is, well, immediately apparent that this would have been a horrible idea. The story, interestingly, reverses Chandler's usual narrative strategy—rather than uncovering the unexpectedly poetic in squalid urban spaces, he begins with the picturesque English coast and attempts to uncover the unsavory elements lurking beneath. And while I'm sure that if Chandler had pursued this tactic in earnest he could very well have mastered it in time, but as is this is a British romance-mystery as pedestrian as it is cliché, the type, unfortunately, involving such exchanges as "'I'm afraid you're flirting with me'/ 'I'm afraid I am'"). The proceedings are livened up with the occasional Chandler witticism ("I had gone, a little to be near her, a little because asking me was a sort of insult, and I like insults, from some people"), but they come off here as painfully shoehorned, as incongruous as memorable. It's not made clear if Chandler considered this a complete work, but as is it's (at best) a dry run or even an early draft, which means, I suppose, that it's perfect for including in an informal "notebook" such as this. (less)
A charming memoir of the author taking a vacation with his friend and mentor, the Bloomsbury artist Duncan Grant. In the early 1970's, however, Turkey...moreA charming memoir of the author taking a vacation with his friend and mentor, the Bloomsbury artist Duncan Grant. In the early 1970's, however, Turkey was not exactly an easily accessible location to visit (particularly the tiny, ancient coastal town that was their ultimate destination), especially for somebody nearly 90 years old, as Grant was at the time. The inevitable adventures (including lost luggage, language/communication problems, lack of accomodations, etc) demonstrate that though physically frail, Grant never lost his verve, curiosity or sense of fun (or his desire to create art—he resolutely sketches every day without fail). The memoir functions simultaneously as travelogue, a snapshot of a certain time and place, a portrait of an artist and a commemoration of a great friendship. Written as a diary, it is also interwoven with Roche's interviews with Grant about his early memories of the Bloomsbury group, his romantic relationships, his experiences as a conscientious objector during WWI, and his views on art. Primarily for fans (the book assumes some prior knowledge of Grant and the circles he moved in), but one gets to "know" Grant in a personal, intimate way that is never really gotten from historical accounts. (less)
My original intentions was to confirm some esoterica regarding Djuna Barnes (Coleman was the main force behind the editing of Nightwood and convincing...moreMy original intentions was to confirm some esoterica regarding Djuna Barnes (Coleman was the main force behind the editing of Nightwood and convincing T.S. Eliot to eventually publish it), but the sections I did read were so engaging that I plan to revisit for a more extensive read.(less)