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Month: November, 2013

The Pink Notebook – On the occasion of Doris Lessing’s death

[There were four notebooks. The first one lemon, the second navy, the third a clear colour, the last one pink. Mary began with the lemon notebook, thinking that it would be her life’s work. But it was not. Like most passions, it sparked off like no other, then died down like all else. Three years, and she no longer looked at it anymore. Then Mary began the navy notebook, carefully bound with a textured woodfree card and black satin ribbon. It had an even shorter life span, and was now entirely forgotten. The more intense the passion, the stronger the resolution to forget. As for the clear notebook, she intended to make something out of it, but time had outlived her passion, and she forgot about that too. And then there was the pink notebook. It was a nice cloth-bound notebook from IKEA. The colour was a shocking pink. Choking shocking pink. As with the previous notebooks, the pink notebook also carried a certain fatalism with it. The last notebook, the pink notebook, began in densely written characters in blue ink:]

Today I read about Doris Lessing’s death through Facebook. Nowadays all news come to me through Facebook, in the form of shared links. I am lucky to have friends who share news about Doris Lessing. I learnt that you receive most news feeds from those with whom you interact most. That means if you keep LIKEing and SHAREing and COMMENTing a certain friend, you not only keep yourself informed of his/her activities, you also keep he/she informed of your own activities. From that I learnt to stay away from some people. People who can hurt you just by appearing on your news feed, by giving you a well-meaning smiley emoticon.

But today I saw a post other than the news about Doris Lessing. I had not been seeing that person’s posts for some time now, and I had had a hard time resisting the temptation. It was a beautiful photograph. Not technically. It was blurred, unphotoshoped, just an ordinary snapshot by any ordinary smartphone. But it was beautiful, because the subject, a young girl in a black dress ice skating, was beautiful; and the person who took the photograph, a young man, undoubtedly in black as well, took the photograph lovingly, and that was beautiful. Because I saw that the young girl, who used to be a little eccentric tomboy, had changed into a little black lady for him; and that the young man, who used to be an angry nihilist, had softened for her, and all that was beautiful. So beautiful you could not wish it otherwise. So beautiful it hurt. And I had stayed away for over two years now, just to spare myself the pain of looking at this.

But even that was not enough. There were times when I felt like choking to death, that I had to let my pain out, and I remembered my three notebooks, the three caskets of forgotten secrets. Two years had passed before I opened the fourth notebook, the pink notebook, and poured out my desperate and suicidal thoughts. I would then enjoy a period of serenity, before the next attack came unannounced. While I scrawled on the white pages I thought of how I would be working on it for the next 36 years, and imagined the scenario in which the notebook would be discovered and my secrets revealed. I swore to myself that nobody should learn of my secret until the day should come, 36 years later, and the notebook would be testimony to my passion. I would either be mad then, or have forgotten about all the notebooks.

Susan Sontag on Albert Camus

Camus’s Notebooks contain an assortment of things. They are literary work-books, quarries for his writings, in which phrases, scraps of overheard conversation, ideas for stories, and sometimes whole paragraphs which were later incorporated into novels and essays, were first jotted down. These sections of the Notebooks are sketchy stuff, and for that reason I doubt if they will be terribly exciting event to aficonados of Camus’s fiction, despite me zealous annotation and correlation with the published works supplied by Mr. Thody. The Notebooks also contain a miscellany of reading notes (Spengler, Renaissance history, etc.) of a rather limited range—the vast reading that went into writing The Rebel is certainly not recorded here—and a number of apercus and reflections on psychological and moral themes. Some of these reflections have a great deal of boldness and finesse. They are worth reading, and they might help dispel one current image of Camus—according to which he was a sort of Raymond Aron, a man deranged by German philosophy belatedly converting to Anglo-Saxon empiricism and common sense under the name of “Mediterranean” virtue. The Notebooks, at least this first volume, exude an endearing atmosphere of domesticated Nietzscheanism. The young Camus writes as a French Nietzsche, melancholy where Nietzsche is savage, stoical where Nietzsche is outraged, impersonal and objective in tone where Nietzsche is personal and subjective to the point of mania. And lastly, the Notebooks are full of personal comments—declarations and resolutions, one might better describe them—of a markedly impersonal nature.

Impersonality is perhaps the most telling things about Camus’s Notebooks; they are so anti-autobiographical. It is hard to remember, when reading the Notebooks, that Camus was a mn who had a very interesting life, a life (unlike that of many writers) interesting not only in an interior but also in an outward sense. There is scarcely anything of this life in the Notebooks. There is nothing about his family, to whom he was closely attached. Neither is there any mention of the events which took place in this period: his work with the Theatre de 1’Equipe, his first and second marriages, his membership in the Communist Party, his career as an editor of a leftwing Algerian newspaper.

Of course, a writer’s journal must not be judged by the standards of a diary. The notebooks of a writer have a very special function: in them he builds up, piece by piece, the identity of a writer to himself. Typically, writers’ notebooks are crammed with statements about the will: the will to write, the will to love, the will to renounce love, the will to go on living. The journal is where a writer is heroic to himself. In it he exists solely as a perceiving, suffering, struggling being. That is why all the personal comments in Camus’s Notebooks are of so impersonal a nature, and competely exclude the events and the people in his life. Camus writes about himself only as a solitary—a solitary reader, voyeur, sun-and-sea worshippers, and walker in the world. In this he is being very much the writer. Solitariness is the indispensable metaphor of the modern writer’s consciousness, not only to self-declared emotional misfits like Pavese, but even to as sociable and socially conscientious a man as Camus.


(On the 100th anniversary of Albert Camus’s birth)



今天忽然想寫,是因為在一本小說裡看到一段文字,勾起了我的記憶。跟友人合著的書也剛寫成了,寫字的手相隔大半年後又回復自由了。買了新手提電腦又未曾試用過。於是我又重新想寫了。 我問自己:我又要重新寫那種日誌了嗎?還是我會寫一些跟以往的日誌不同的東西?況且,說那是日誌也不對,因為我想寫的是幾年前發生的事了。那我想寫的,是一種追憶,還是以追憶的名義,實質上卻是別的,重新建構的東西?