Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Henry James on Notebooks

Henry James writes about the pleasures connected with re-reading old notebooks: "One notes, as all writers remember, sometimes explicitly mention, sometimes indirectly reveal, and sometimes wholly dissimulate such clues and such obligations, The search for these last, indeed, through faded or pencilled pages is perhaps one of the sweetest of our more pensive pleasures.
  1. Then we chance upon some idea we have afterward treated;
  2. then, greeting it with tenderness, we wonder at the first form of a motive that was to lead us so far and to show, no doubt, to eyes not our own, for so other;
  3. then we have heave a sigh of relief over all that is never, thank goodness to be done again. Would we have embarked on that stream had we known?—and what mightn't we have made of this one //hadn't// we known!
But more generally notebooks are for him also a means of capturing "a record of passing impressions, of all that comes, that goes, that I see, and feel, and observe. To catch and keep something of life ..."

In other words, they serve at least two functions, one having to do with art or theory, the other having to do with life. For him these two functions were starkly separated. "Life is being all inclusion and confusion, and art being all discrimination and selection, the latter in search of the hard latent value with which one is concerned, sniffs around the mass as instinctively and unerringly as a dog suspicious of some buried bone." Needless to say, theory and life do not have to be viewed this way.[1] But not matter how their relation is viewed, notebooks or other ways of record-keeping, are essential for both.

I have never aspired to creating "art" or "fiction."

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