December 13, 2007



a young romanian student who went to listen to a lecture given by a professor from Denmark wrote me asking questions about why writers write diaries --

I put together the exchange of email we had

Hello Mr. Federman. My name is Miloi Ionut, I am a forth year student at the University Babes-Bolyai, Faculty Of Letters, Cluj-Napoca, Romania. Recently I have attended a conference given by Professor Camelia Elias, from Roskilde Univesity, Denmark with the title "Sesame Undone: Negotiations of (Virtual) Space in Raymond Federman’s first person narratives". I am writing to you because I am doing a research for a couple of years about the problem of the diary and the narrative techniques (in the diary as well as in the novel) and I would like to ask you, if you are so kind to tell me what do you think regarding the following questions:

1. 1. Do you think that Rimbaud’s words – Je est un autre- is still viable regarding to the diary. How can one, how is writing for himself about himself, in order to a better understanding of himself, to be another one? In the case of fiction or poetry the things are very clear, but what about in the case of the diary?

2. Do you thing that Proust’s separation - the biographic ego and the profound ego – can be applied in the case of the diarist, or an analysis in the way Saint- Beuve did is more appropriate?

3. How sincere do you think a diarist is in his diary, knowing that his diary will eventually be published?

4. Don’t you find it interesting that, although the diary is like a self-portrait of the diarist, and although we find so many things about his inner life, all that we hear is just his voice, but we never find a line or a word about his face (physical appearance)? What do you think about this?

5. What do you think about the problem of the time in the diary?

I would appreciate it very much if you would find the time to answer me, because I am
studying these problems for a couple of years and I am very anxious to find how do you see all these.

Yours truly,
Miloi Ionut

Dear Miloi

Did you like what professor Camelia Elias had to say about my work?
I assume when you say diary you mean the private journals many writers keep in
which they write notes and descriptions of what they do or ideas they have.
I do not keep a diary. I have no need for one. I do write notes in various places, but I do not keep a regular journal.

To answer your questions.

I think Rimbaud's famous statement Je est un autre is still very viable regarding diary because writing about oneself is in fact writing about the other selves that exist in all of us. Are you familiar with a very interesting book written by Roland Barthes called -- BARTHES SUR BARTHES -- it is as though Barthes is writing about himself as if he were another person -- another interesting book in the same category is the book written by Jean-Jacques Rousseau entitled JEAN-JACQUES JUDGES ROUSSEAU.

Writers often write about themselves in the third person. I do it often. And when I
inscribe my own name in my fiction I become -- in the sense that Rimbaud gives in
his statement -- an other Federman.

It's been a long time since I read Saint-Beuve, and I was never a great admirer of his work -- but I am a great admirer of Proust and I still read him regularly -- I do not believe that there is any separation between the biographic ego and the profound ego in Proust. The entire project of Marcel Proust is the same as the project of Marcel [the fictitious character in the novel] : to reveal who they are while postponing their death -- they both speculate about who they are. I highly recommend, if you have not read it, the little book by Gilles Deleuze called PROUST ET LES SIGNES.

I think all writers who keep a diary are insincere. They are aware that their diary will be part of their archives and that what they write will become public after they die.

Therefore they invent things - they make up stories. One should almost read the
diary of a writer as as work of fiction -- Andre Gide says that much in his Journal.

Also it is possible that writers who keep diaries may censure themselves knowing that
what they write may injure their posterity -- or on the contrary they may write certain things to make people think they were better or smarter or more original or whatever than they were. They improve themselves in their diary.

I am not sure about this question - I have not read enough diaries of writer to say that one hears only a voice.

I think many writers like to write self-portrait of themselves. It may not be in the form of diary but in some other form of writing which can be read as diary. For instance in my case I recently published a book entitled MY BODY IN NINE PARTS -- I wrote it in French and also did an English version. This book could be read as a kind of diary -- a description of my physical appearance.

As for the problem of time in the diary -- that too can be problematic. There is not a way to prove -- to assert that when a writer puts a date to an entry in his diary that it was the real date. I am sure that writers make entries in their diary retrospectively -- or invent certain things to which they give a date because they wrote nothing on that date -- I do not think diary respect what we call real time.

Well that's the best I can do with your questions. I hope that will help you.

All the best
Raymond Federman

Hello Mr Federman! First of all, I would like to thank you very much that you find the time to answer my questions. Now, to answer your question, I would like to say that I found very interesting the things Camelia Elias said in her conference and I think that she did a great job and I admire her for her visit from Denmark to Romania to give us this conference about your work.

I am very thankful that you correspond with me and exchange ideas and thought. I see this as a privilege. I have started to study the problem of the diaries because in the last years I noticed a large number of personal journals in libraries and I asked myself why aren’t people (readers and writers as well) interested as they were in prose or poetry and they now prefer the small, insignificant history of a certain individual. Another point in starting my research was noticing the fact that the postmodern novel is starting to imitate some narrative techniques that belong to the personal journals such as writing in the first person singular, the fragmentary form, describing or talking about the narrator’s private life, to include fragments from real or imaginary diaries (do you agree with this idea? ) So I asked myself “ Who is talking in the diary, who is being silent and why?”

Regarding the problem of time, you are correct. No one can have the proof that the date of an entry is real or not, but I was referring about the fact that the novel introduces us into a different time, an imaginary one, while the diary tries to present us a time which seems as real as the time the writer lives. The time in the novel is a virtual one, while the diary is trying to achieve a present time without the pressure of the day to day life, and the writer by expressing his own inner time hopes to obtain a fully image of himself. I think that the time in the diary is somehow parallel to the real time (similar but not identical), while the time in the novel is a virtual, imaginary one. It goes without saying that the time of the diary is the present tense, but by keeping a diary don’t you think that a writer has the opportunity of reliving the same event twice – once in the actual world, and than by narrating it in the same day, still at the present tense? This is just a thought, but I am very anxious to see what do you think about this, as a fiction writer who is dealing with imaginary time.

I wish you all the best
Yours truly,
Miloi Ionut

Hi Miloi
Yes Camelia is quite a woman and quite a scholar -- I like the way she read my work –
good question - why are people more interested to read about the writer's life and his debauchery than read the fiction the writer has written -- I raise these very questions in my essay entitled Federman on Federman: To Lie or to Die [do you know it? I will attach it -- and also in another essay I published recently entitled ti Critifictional Reflections on the Pathetic condition of the Novel in our time] --
I think it is because people have such doubts about their own existence and who they are -- in other words the banality of their life -- they try to identify with writers -- since it is assumed that most writers are weird and live interesting lives. Which is not really the case -- especially in America where most writers are drunks and conduct their lives irresponsibly.

But that's not the only reason. The real reason is because the publishing industry decides that’s what the people really want to read. The commerçant of books impose those kind of books on their readers -- just as hollywood decides for the people what kind of movies they should see -- mostly dumb movies for dumb people – and the same thing for the auto industry which imposes on the people their ideas of what a car should be -- the cars that have become dangerous and useless little trucks called SUVs so that the entire family can get in -- but most of those who buy those SUS no longer have families -- meanwhile litterature is quickly becoming a supplement of culture.

So the question should be : why the fuck do you continue to write novels Federman?
Why don’t you write a diary? Or why don’t you give up writing?

Answer -- if I didn't write I would spend my time going to the movies to watch the dumb Hollywood movies and I would become like the people who drive SUVs. And besides, my novels are written like diaries.
Imagine that.
Well enough for that --
So you are a student writing on a really fascinating subject. May I ask how old you are?

And also -- excuse me for asking such a dumb question -- but your first name Miloi forces me to ask -- is it a feminine name or a masculine name? I have never seen or heard that name before.

Next question --
Who is talking in the diary, who is being silent and why?
The many selves of the writer talk in a diary -- because one day it is the man and not the writer who makes an entry in the diary -- the next day it's the writer but that day he's in a bad mood and that affects what he write -- another day it's the alter ego who talks – whatever name he goes under -- sometimes it is the masculin in the writer who talks -- and other times the feminine in the writer -- all writers are ying yang -- they all suffer in different measure of narcissism schizophrenia and especially doubt -- but that's another question.

Meanwhile the real writer -- the one who sits down to write the novels or the poems - he remains silent because he doesn't need to talk in the diary -- talks in his fiction and in his poetry --

Now the problem of time.

Yes you are right, there is a difference between time in a diary and time in a novel --
By rule – by convention – by reflex -- or simply because those who write diaries never
wonder why they continue to enter their entries in chronological order -- putting a date to the first entry -- and then each time they open their diary they date the entry they are about to make thus establishing a chronology for their diary.

But – and that's an important but – did the writer who made the first entry in his diary really gave the real date of that day or he just put any date -- and same things for all the following dated entries -- it it well known that writers are liars and manipulators of time -- and of space too - but that's another story --

As for time in fiction -- the most interesting aspect of it is how fiction distorts abuses negates reverses transforms time -- making the story go forward in time or backward in time or making it stand still in time --

So one can say that the time in a diary pretends to be the real time -- but what is real time -- that's another story-- while time in fiction deliberately fucks up time – or what the great Beckett once called that great fornicator -- that double-headed monster.

Well that’s what I think – but of course – as it is well known – Federman always contradicts himself.

In any case – take it or leave it -- as the saying goes --

I don't know if Ionuţ Miloi answered your question, but if not, I still cannot say what age he is, but he's a man,
prenome Ionuţ (diminutif de Ion, John, Jean)

Best wishes from
vio(leta), another Romanian:)
Federman, you're one goddamned good writer. You curse yourself to a life of decapitated ontology, and I like that. Here comes the writer of diaries losing his head! That is the point you're trying to make, is it not? I wonder what Beckett would make of that. I wonder what Descartes would make of that - he did manage quite literally to get his head separated from his body in Sweden, and lo and behold, the head still awaits uniting with the rest. There is some irony in the irony of duality. Yet, it's 'the rest' that interests people. What do you whisper in Chut - send it over. Meanwhile, a related question: any connection with the French L'Oeuvre, which is famed for having written in its manchette (or ears in plain English; writing between the ears, not a bad idea at all, methinks) the word Chut! in retaliation to censorship. The French always liked to makeup their newspapers with (arr)resting aphorisms. Yours, "quite a woman and quite a scholar", Cam Elias
Camelia says, we have to make a comment on this conversation, so that's what I'm doing. Just trying to write something...

I think, as Federman wrote in the answer to Miloi, that there isn’t just one voice speaking in a diary because it is written from different point of views – anger, happiness, the writer, the private Mr. Jones, and this makes the Rimbaud quote Je est un autre viable.
However, it is also highly viable if we think of the conscious process of writing about oneself is, or for that matter telling other people who you are. You tell a certain story build on past events; we try to understand ourselves which makes us accentuate events that can explain why we are, as we are, why we reacted, as we did. I am created through my thoughts and while constructing myself I consider the situation – what is it good for me to tell the person across the table, what do I tell my boss and what is kept in silence. We construct a self portrait which will make us look just the way we find suitable. This could lead to another discussion, a bit different one, whether there is some kind of similar core in all those Is. I guess there will never be a closure to that discussion; it must me a question of belief.

And as for Federman’s remark about ‘real’ writers will remain silent and speak through there poetry or fiction – what about, for instance, Ginsberg (I’m writing about him). He kept a journal, but I don’t think this doesn’t make him a ‘real’ writer. I have this feeling it is just something you wrote, because you don’t keep a journal yourself:-)

Hello Raymond!

Camelia Elias says - a lot - in a short time. What I mean is that I followed her lectures in literature and
culture, here at Roskilde U. She is a very sharp and persistant professor and very determined to make us aquire a bunch of knowledge about the world and about culture - in every aspect of the term.
Bringing about the theme of identity along with autobiographies planned for the whole season of spring term, I felt at first like being hit by a stroke, but later on this particular theme showed me a world of diversity.
The title of our subject " I is another" was layed out so detailed and vividly that almost any student would become interested in studies of culture.
Her central feature toward the end of this season was then, rightfully, that you can be whoever you want to be, constructing yourself - in autobiographies as well as in the digitalized space. And in one lecture I turned from petrified to purified. The art of Diane Arbus was also vitalised by Camelia in her interaction with us, her students.
I understand that you know Camelia so I write you to hear about your viewpoints on publishing your self in cyber space.

Kind regards
Lotte Bech
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