These days I’m reading Reborn, the early diaries of Susan Sontag. They start in 1947, when Sontag was not quite fifteen. And I know what you’re thinking. Why on earth would anyone want to read the diary entries of a fifteen- or sixteen-year-old? Because this is the kind of thing that Susan Sontag wrote in her diary, when she was fifteen and sixteen years old:
And what is it to be young in years and suddenly wakened to the anguish, the urgency of life? It is to be reached one day by the reverberations of those who do not follow, to stumble out of the jungle and fall into an abyss... [...] It is the emergence of cynicism, a probing of every thought and word and action.
And this (on deciding not to erase a previous entry, about a “wasted evening”):
It is useless for me to record only the satisfying parts of my existence—(There are too few of them anyway!) Let me note all the sickening waste of today, that I shall not be easy with myself and compromise my tomorrows.
And this (on reading the journals of Andre Gide—yes, really, at sixteen...):
I finished reading this at 2:30 a.m. of the same day I acquired it—
I should have read it much more slowly and I must re-read it many times—Gide and I have attained such perfect intellectual communion that I experience the appropriate labor pains for every thought he gives birth to! Thus I do not think: “How marvelously lucid this is”—but: “Stop! I cannot think this fast! Or rather I cannot grow this fast!”
For, I am not only reading this book, but creating it myself, and this unique and enormous experience has purged my mind of much of the confusion and sterility that has clogged it all these horrible months—
The idea, especially, of creating a book as you read it. An echo in some lines that come later, from the Paris years (here Sontag is twenty-four, and has just snuck a peak at the journal of Harriet Sohmers, her lover at the time):
Superficial to understand the journal as just a receptacle for one’s private, secret thoughts—like a confidante who is deaf, dumb, and illiterate. In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could do to any person; I create myself.
I think of Jennifer Clement asking me—asking herself too—what would you write, if you knew that it would never be read?
I think of that otherwisedly-disappointing preface to Frida Kahlo’s wonderful color-jungle of a diary: the predominant subject [...] is the self. Kahlo’s motivation has less to do with communication than with negotiating her relationship to herself.
I think of Didion, telling us that we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be whether we find them attractive company or not:
My stake is always, of course, in the unmentioned girl in the plaid silk dress. Remember what it was to be me: that is always the point.
Except maybe, Sontag and Kahlo and Clement and I would add, maybe it’s not only about keeping in touch with the people we used to be. Maybe for some of us, it is also and far more immediately, about getting to know the people we are becoming.
The journal is a vehicle for my sense of selfhood. It represents me as emotionally and spiritually independent. Therefore (alas) it does not simply record my actual, daily life but rather—in many cases—offers an alternative to it.
On Sunday I speak to a friend and former student, who is grappling more courageously than most, with the question of what she wants to do and the question of what she wants to be. Maybe even, the question of what she wants to want. She has just quit her job as director of social media at a major news outlet. She wants advice on how to answer some of these questions.
Who am I to give advice? I’m not sure.
I ramble a little about life and time and choices and their opposites. About Rilke. About a metaphor I’m working on, for the mind as a body of water.
I tell her to write. I don’t know of a better way, I say, to know yourself.
[Santo Spirito, Firenze]
[martedì 18 giugno 2019 ore 12:06:23] [¶]
I’ve been thinking about time.
Earlier this week, I wrote this in my journal: What if time travels through us? I wrote it some different ways. (What if it already always did?) I thought about Billy Pilgrim, in Slaughterhouse Five, telling us that all moments, past, present, and future, always have existed, always will exist:
The Trafalmadorians can look at all the different moments just the way we can look at a stretch of the Rocky Mountains, for instance. They can see how permanent all the moments are...
Then today, in thinking as I have been, on and off these days, about how I should be tracking somewhere, even if only for myself, the books I read as I read them, so that I have at least one kind of picture from one kind of angle, one flawed and limited way of measuring the movement of the waters... In thinking all that, and in wondering how I might organize such a system—would I list the books in order of when I began reading them, or when I finished, or when they first came into my possession?—I think of Nick Hornby’s Stuff I’ve Been Reading. Andrew and I had read and loved the book many years ago—I feel like it was our Colosseo days—but I’m pretty sure it was a borrowed book... Maybe Carlotta’s? Anyway, I know I don’t have the book on hand, but I remember that Hornby had a good way of doing something very like what I want to do, with a bit at the start of each chapter or column, in which he listed books read, books begun, something like that... So I open a tab in Chrome and I go to the website for The Believer. I figure they will have at least some of his columns outside a paywall, and happily enough, they do. In fact, I have a whole bunch of columns to choose from. I click on one at random—the one for October/November 2018. When I do this, it is around one o’clock in the afternoon. And then it is four. Four o’clock, by the time I come back up, out of all the worlds I wound up in.
In October/November 2018, Hornby was reading, among other things, Carlo Rovelli’s The Order of Time. This is what he quotes, among other things, of Rovelli:
It is known for a fact that Newtonian time is wrong. The idea that time forms a long line, there’s a now, a yesterday, a last year, a next year... We know for sure this is a bad picture. There’s no line.
Suddenly, I think of Slaughterhouse Five again: It is just an illusion that we have here on Earth that one moment follows another one, like beads on a string, and that once a moment is gone it is gone forever.
I go back to Rovelli, via Hornby. There is this: Time is not like “the English at a bus-stop, forming an orderly queue”; rather, it’s a “crowd of Italians.”
(Of course. Of course a quantum physicist from Verona, would say this.)
And “the difference between things and events is that things persist in time; events have a limited duration. A stone is a prototypical ‘thing’: we can ask where it will be tomorrow. Conversely, a kiss is an ‘event.’ It makes no sense to ask where the kiss will be tomorrow.” All rather lovely, but then you have to come to terms with Rovelli’s assertion that, actually, [there] are no things: “The world is made up of networks of kisses, not of stones.” Even a stone, it turns out, is an event, since it won’t be around forever.
I think of “A Poem for Pulse,” by Jameson Fitzpatrick. I think of a network of kisses. A collection of stones. An event as something that happens. Memory as a past tense. Fear as a future.
We sat in the far-back of the big backyard
and he asked, What will we do when this place closes?
I don't think it's going anywhere any time soon, I said,
though the crowd was slow for a Saturday,
and he said—Yes, but one day. Where will we go?
Hornby goes on, this time in paraphrase: The stories we tell ourselves about time passing, about now and then and tomorrow, are not accurate; they are merely convenient, because we’re still working on the story that will make sense to science.
I think of the television writer David Milch, in a recent New Yorker piece, saying that time is ultimately the subject of every story. Saying that Robert Penn Warren had it right:
The name of the story will be Time,
But you must not pronounce its name.
I think of Joan Didion: We tell ourselves stories in order to live. What if we tell ourselves time, too?
How else can you have a good time?
How else can you live?
Hornby goes on: Rovelli does a good job of demolishing time: there’s no present; there’s no unity because time is literally different at different altitudes or speeds, and it doesn’t flow independently of us.
I think of Vonnegut again: And I asked myself about the present: how wide it was, how deep it was, how much was mine to keep.
I think to myself, that if I can get my head around this.
There will be a time when.
That if I can feel time travel through me.
We will be everywhere, always;
Then even forever becomes a kiss, a stone. An event.
[Santo Spirito, Firenze]
[venerdì 14 giugno 2019 ore 19:06:23] [¶]