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May 16, 2007


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Dale Smith

Many post war American poets have used diaries to generate poems. A new anthology called For The Time Being (available at http://www.bootstrapproductions.org/catalog/tad/3.html) provides a historical context, essays, and poems dealing with this subject. It may not be what you're looking for, but poets have been using the diary for a while.




Will say again you are brilliant, but this is the kind of stuff your geeky fans wanna see!

When do you need it by? This is going to be fun! There are so many places you can go with this - mind racing.



OK, this isn't contemporary, but Benjamin's discussion of keeping a diary in 'Metaphysics of Youth' (vol.1 of Selected writings) is essential to any discussion of this topic.

patrick j. mullins

I've kept a diary since I was 7 or 8, so had no idea it was something to approach formally. I guess it's a diary, I never thought of it like other writing. Apparently, there's then a tradition of writing diaries in some specific way.


Patrick, me too..

What really got the trigger finger itchy was where you could take it...

Why did/do people write diaries?
Is it a form of self vindication? [will come back]

Diaries, personal tomes of introspection... Why do it? To clear your head? You can do that by talking to yourself, or by meditating.

What was it about writing diaries, or writing in general? To remind only yourself?

Is there something conscious or subconscious? Knowing that maybe once your life is over someone would be able to read it, gain a different perspective of your character or learn something.

As we've become more voyeuristic, is there something to be said that blogs are diaries. Mimicking the sign of the times as life becomes more public, or do diaries still hold their place.

Would you share your diary while still alive?

Mind racing.


You might be interested in Gorky's "one day a year program" program, of which Christa Wolf had to be the paricipant with the most longevity.

One link to follow is here: http://www.litrix.de/buecher/belletristik/jahr/2004/tagimjahr/enindex.htm

patrick j. mullins

'Knowing that maybe once your life is over someone would be able to read it'

Kareem--from about 1999-2005, I wrote my diary as if for someone who might later read it, at least part of the time. For some reason, I stopped in the last 2 years with that. I've always used them as means of working out thoughts, and sometimes have started them off as journal entries, too weary to do real writing, and then they'd evolve into the more formal writing--that difficult thing of initiating work sometimes. Recently, I lost a portion of diary, and don't like this at all--it was one of those beautiful book-form calendars American Express will give you for $2.99 that are worth about $38 (if you use it for a diary you can then cancel it or they'll assume you've subscribed for the regular price next year. Cancelling, you only sacrifice that you don't get the offer again for 5 years; I've gotten Food & Wine Cookbook like this too, I guess it's a way of collecting interest on credit banks...), worst part was that it had about 10 pages of painstakingly revised dialogue from an old play I'd written and recently picked up. Hateful, and I've been everywhere.

'is there something to be said that blogs are diaries. Mimicking the sign of the times as life becomes more public, or do diaries still hold their place.'

They do for me. I always write a diary entry before going online if possible, and I want it to be in handwriting. I used to keep a journal as a Word document, but I got rid of that. Some things I never write down, and just read in 'Intelligence Wars', Thomas Powers's essays about the CIA, that Robert Kennedy said his Neville Chamberlainish father said 'never write anything down.' Due to that, the very strong case that JFK and RFK were trying very hard to assassinate Castro has no hard evidence in that form, although it's not really disputable.

patrick j. mullins

'Would you share your diary while still alive?'

No. Except that I think I left that Amex Blue book in a park, and now God is not the only one 'unto whom no secrets are hid...'

Ben G


There's a good recent book by Jochen Hellbeck called 'Revolution on my Mind: Writing a Diary under Stalin'. It discusses the use of diaries as technologies of the self in Stalinist Russia and how the 'truth' of history, the materialist dialectic, etc. played out in this context. Or rather, it doesn't actually talk about the diary as a technology of the self but this is in fact what it is (Foucault appears in a footnote once, I think). Its a really interesting book, but more for its historical examples than for the theory. I'm writing something about it at the moment so if you'd like me to send you a draft then email me,

Ben G


Thanks, folks, for your suggestions. Kareem and Patrick--what a fascinating exchange. Patrick, I'm intrigued by your appreciation for the materiality of your diary, for the texture, form, and appearance of the book.


Jonathan Dewald "Aristocratic Experience and the Origins of Modern Culture, France, 1570-1715" (U. Cal, 1993). Especially chapter six "The Meanings of Writing."

There's a short discussion in Foucault's lectures, "Psychiatric Power," on autobiography, psychiatry and discipline, pages 156-164.


Foucault also has a piece called "self writing" that is about writing for the self in the Hellenistic period. It is published in Ethics: Subjectivity and Truth. See also hermenutics of the subject (lectures) for discussion of Hupomnemata as part of the practice of caring for the self. There is also many discussions in this series confessional writing in early Christianity. There are also some other writings about this but I cannot recall the references right now.


This is another one I was thinking of "Humphries, M. L. 1997. Michel Foucault on writing and the self in the meditations of Marcus Aurelius and Confessions of St. Augustine. Arethusa 30 (1): 125–38."


'Last thing at night, Lyndall Boucher curls up in bed with a purple pen and a journal covered in Japanese paper, and writes her heart out.'

Highly amusing and ripe for satire:


patrick j. mullins

Yes, these are hilarious:

'Don't underestimate the emotional energy involved in writing about traumatic events. Plan a transition activity, such as watering the plants or reading a magazine, before resuming normal duties.'

I only plan transitional activities when I'm standing up, and am afraid I won't do them if I sit down again first.

'Beware the temptation to use writing as a substitute for action.'

I don't know why beginners should. Most others don't.

I don't think anybody's mentioned Samuel Pepys' Diary, which I've never read. The article cited Curt Cobain instead...

khalid mir

Jodi, there was an interesting article on 'lifelogging' in the New Yorker ..a sort of extension of diaries.

patrick j. mullins

Jodi--you mentioned the 'materiality and appearance' I valued in my diary, but it's more the materiality. I liked the Amex book, but I would have never bought it had it not been a near-steal. Over the years, I have always kept diaries in some sort of sizable Calendar book, which makes them locatable; and I usually am writing the diary in 3 or 4 different notebooks at one time (so that I don't fill up the nicer ones too quickly).

One of the things I find most valuable about the journal aspect of the diary is that you are forced to see how your mind 're-chronologizes' what you did and wrote about; I am always wrong about how recently or far back something happened unless I also know the date. Since I divide the diary into several places, I keep a Word document called 'Locations of Things', which tells me where I can find the stuff if I ever need it--plus where documents are that are hard to keep up with, birth certificates, tickets bought way in advance.

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