josh blog

Ordinary language is all right.

One could divide humanity into two classes:
those who master a metaphor, and those who hold by a formula.
Those with a bent for both are too few, they do not comprise a class.

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22 Aug '12 11:47:03 PM

Maybe the most surprising thing about Robert Shields' diary (a page of which is here) is that it contains anything like impressions, anecdotes, or opinions at all.

'I don't leave town. I haven't left town since 1985, to visit my brother in Tennessee. I don't like to be away overnight, because it gets me behind. If I travel to Walla Walla to do shopping, it puts me behind in the diary. I have to take notes all the time, and I get back and it takes me a day to catch up with the notes. So I avoid going out. I avoid being away.'

21 Aug '12 08:54:14 PM

'The lyrics are so filthy that I can-not enclose them in this letter.'

(And a concerned mother: 'Is there perhaps a subliminal type of perversion involved?'.)

21 Aug '12 05:10:28 AM

Overstatement is not a way of saying more, but a way of saying too much.

21 Aug '12 04:24:53 AM

More should learn, and practice, understatement.

20 Aug '12 08:51:37 AM

The Goncourts begin their journal on the day their first book is put on sale, also the day of Louis-Napoleon's coup d'état, 2 December 1851. Edmond thought to stop after his brother died in January 1870, but

'then I was seized with the bitter desire to recount to myself the last months and the death of the dear man, and almost immediately afterwards the tragic events of the Siege of Paris and the Commune impelled me to continue this journal, which is still from time to time the confidant of my thoughts'

Edmond's preface from 1872 treats the earlier part of the journal as a 'nightly confession', a 'day-to-day autobiography' with the ambition to 'show changing humanity in its momentary reality'.

20 Aug '12 07:43:53 AM

'They tell me now / They want a poem / With social significance'

20 Aug '12 04:44:10 AM

When Currin says 'distorted bass from a keyboard' he sounds like he's saying 'coffee from a can', but I don't think he means to.

20 Aug '12 12:44:57 AM

One of those days, by the way, the journal served some part of its intended purpose: it captured a bit—whether before or after I don't know—of one of my best days in a classroom, analyzing Roxy Music's 'Mother of Pearl'.

20 Aug '12 12:38:32 AM

I'm surprised to find today that I've never before committed the following remark (from Jan. 22, 1852) to the internet:

'To set down such choice experiences that my own writings may inspire me and at last I may make wholes of parts. Certainly it is a distinct profession to rescue from oblivion and to fix the sentiments and thoughts which visit all men more or less generally, that the contemplation of the unfinished picture may suggest its harmonious completion. Associate reverently and as much as you can with your loftiest thoughts. Each thought that is welcomed and recorded is a nest egg, by the side of which more will be laid. Thoughts accidentally thrown together become a frame in which more may be developed and exhibited. Perhaps this is the main value of a habit of writing, of keeping a journal,—that so we remember our best hours and stimulate ourselves. My thoughts are my company. They have a certain individuality and separate existence, aye, personality. Having by chance recorded a few disconnected thoughts and then brought them into juxtaposition, they suggest a whole new field in which it was possible to labor and think. Thought begat thought.'

I realize that the surprise comes from basically already thinking that this was part of my journal. It was; but a 'real' journal. In fact it looks to have been the instigating or commencing entry, in January of 2010. This is one of those journals I began with a specific purpose in mind, with the Thoreau above to guide me and cheer me. Since first teaching I've known myself to be a little desultory about recording my own work so that I could exploit it and develop it in the future—that is, my work in the classroom, which is often quite spontaneous or which far exceeds the recorded preparation for it. (A big part of teaching for me is rereading; during a term, I am always rereading. Reading is preparing, making myself ready.) So I periodically try to take better advantage of myself, my days. To turn them to future advantage. This journal covers about two terms, and four courses; in one term, that was three at once with two preps. (The way academics say that makes it sound like they are chopping ingredients to put on hamburgers.) It was still my first year of full-time teaching just out of graduate school, too, by myself in a new place. So I was feeling pretty strained, giving most everything to my hours in front of class and taking what was left to grade papers; little left for myself, i.e., to write for or to myself in my appointed place. So, up through mid-May and the end of term, covering 116 days of journal space, I managed some 28 days of entries (a few insignificant records). The patterns are familiar. For my intro, my times of greatest need produce my fullest use of the journal: writing on Nietzsche and Wittgenstein in advance of teaching them, rather than afterward. A silence with the receipt of papers; and here, no subsequent relaxation into freedom, as the next term began too soon after. With several things to do at once, often a busier, briefer juxtaposition. A Saturday or two obviously given over to thinking about something against the inertia or tick-tock of my schedule. Disappearance into my work, in heavy Februaries and Marches which have left no trace. An interlude of travel (to St. Paul, San Francisco, Berkeley) and sociability. Silence, again. Then renewed activity as, evidently, I anticipate the ends of courses and am thinking about how to round them out rather than just on the day-to-day. In mid-June, suddenly, I have reclaimed my journal for myself, or at least, my professional self; from then on through summer into fall and winter I see where I have intermittently turned to it to revitalize or redirect thoughts which I know issued in writing elsewhere; or where it attracted, or had directed toward it, sustained efforts to resist dispersal as I wrote, unemployed, pursuing projects and reworking over and over again 'personal statements' and 'research statements' which all the more dispirited me and made me sick of talking about myself, sick of my self.

Obviously, I thought I had copied the Thoreau because, even when I'm not writing in it, even when my thoughts are elsewhere, this is where I think I keep my thoughts.