Monday, August 17, 2009

Towards Poetics of Diary: Diary as a Literary Genre

This year, I am discussing Samuel Pepys famous diary with my Second Year BA with Major English students and it is interesting to research this area. Teaching of literature at college is fun when you end up reading things that have no apparent connection with your research interests. I enjoyed the books like the Pilgrim's Progress, Kanthapura, The Story of my Experiments with Truth, Chaucer's Prologue and what not. These books, I dont think I would have read had I not been a teacher of literature. Samuel Pepys Diary is the latest addition to this list and it is as fascinating as it can be. However, I havent been able to lay my hands on sufficient amount of theoretical literature on diary as a literary genre. Hence, I had to do a bit of theorizing on my own, and here I share it with you (Hey! is it the Pepys Bug that I am addressing YOU my fictional reader in a particular way?). Obviously these theorizations are not original and I am sure someone must have addressed these issues somewhere. I would love to hear about the books which deal with these issues.

1) The diary raises questions about what is meant by literature in the first place. It challenges the wide-spread definition of literature as ` verbal art'. If `exhibitionability' is the chief, if not the central, characteristic of art, then the diary is meant SOLELY for the writer. In fact, it can be the polar opposite of art. There are diaries, of course, written with the intention of postthumous fame and a certain audience in the mind, but then, can they be considered diaries at all?

2) The diary functions on the condition of the absence of any human reader and the only true audience and addressee for the diary is the diary itself. Consider, generic conventions like addressing the diary as ` Dear Diary' or Anne Frank's naming her diary as ` Kitty'. I think this is the definining characteristic of the genre.

3) The diary challenges the established hierarchy of literary genres which gives poetry and fiction the top slot ( which is the number one: poetry or fiction?). It can claim, even if the claim is not always legitimate, to be more `authentic', ` true' and ` subjective' than poetry and fiction. The diary, which is actually a very marginal genre, has the potential of challenging the very centre of the canonical order of literature. It does not mean that the diary is a `truer' form of writing, but it only means that its claim to truth is more than those of other two genres.

4) Historically, two conditions are necessary for the genre of diary: a) literacy and, b) a crucial distinction between the public and the private domains. This co-incides with the rise of print capitalism and rise of individualism as an ideology. The process of construction of self as an autonomous self is intertwined with the rise of capitalism. Incidently, both poetry and fiction fall more squarely into `public domain' as do the other forms of `self-writing' like the autobiography and biography.

5) The diary is the ancestor of the recent genre of `blog' , but blog is again in the public domain unlike the diary and hence cant be really considered as contemporary form of diary. Probably the relationship between the public and the private domain has collapsed, thanks to the Internet and the Newer media like the TV and the mobile phone. And probably, thanks to the rise of new media newer forms of self disclosure like the ` User Generated Content' on Youtube , social networking sites and blogging have come to replace the diary. But people still write diaries, dont they? If they dont, I am planning to start one for a change...

6) Though the content of the diary is `personal', language, the medium is very much social and public.

7) The diary can be considered as a Language-Game in a Wittgensteinen way. That is, it functions only if you accept its rules. What are the rules of the game called `diary'? The assumption of truth? The assumption of the diary as the sole audience/reader? And intimacy with this reader?

8) The diary as a confessional genre, a therapy and catharsis of writing diary....


June Nandy Chaudhuri said...

Long back I read 'Shekhar ek Jeevni' by Agyeya and I was completely taken in by that style.

I always felt Henry Miller's books in the line of 'diary' genre...but I wasn't meant it that way.

Question is: Should the structure of 'Diary' be strictly maintained to write in that genre?

June Nandy Chaudhuri said...

Blog goes a step furthur than its ancestor (as you put it so aptly). Blogs, I feel has essentially a polyphonic evolves with multiple voices and thus the readers also become the author of that blog to some extent.

Leather Diaries said...

It is a very nice and good post. Keep up the good work

Anand Thatte said...

It also invokes a curiosity in reader's mind. It gives reader a feeling and pleasure of prying into somebody's very personal account. (Peeping tom pleasure). Hence at least creates interest in the begining.