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DateLine Sunday, 25 May 2008





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Journals enrich literature

Almost everyone of us maintains some kind of diary - pocket diary, desk diary, appointment diary or just a small notebook to record the day’s events. Ordinary people write what they do or intend to do on a particular day in their diaries.

Sometimes they are short entries couched in code language or longer essays. Whatever it may be, diaries that contain records of your daily events are of no value to literary minded people.

Many literary men such as poets, authors and critics keep diaries for a different purpose. These diaries are popularly known as journals. Although the diary has largely been ignored as a subject for serious critical attention, some of the journals kept by men of letters have enriched literature in no small measure.

One criticism levelled against treating the diary as a piece of literature is that it lacks artistic intent and there is no effective communication. The argument is somewhat valid because this form of literature has no readership or audience. As a result, the person who keeps a diary may not be inclined to write in an organised way using a particular style.

Another objection to treating the diary as literature is its subject matter.

One who maintains a diary may not wish to write anything creative. Instead he will write his impressions or his personal experiences. It is a debatable point whether one’s personal experiences can be treated as literature.

Most diaries contain individual experiences or day-to-day events. That means it is a periodic production that lacks continuity. To a literary critic this will appear to be something strange because there may not be any significance in such entries in a diary on different topics not closely related.

Despite such negative criticism, the diary tradition is in existence. After reading many diaries or journals a critic can come to the conclusion that there is an artistic value in this tradition. Unfortunately, we have no access to many journals kept by eminent writers because they have not been published. That does not, however, mean that journals of high literary value are rare; they probably existed but were not published.

If you look at it closely, maintaining a diary is an important task performed by a writer. For instance, many leading writers who lived in the United States of America before the Civil War maintained diaries. Hawthorne, Emerson, Thorean, Lungfellow and Whitman kept journals. The practice of maintaining such a journals probably encouraged the next generation of writers.

Hawthorne, in fact, once advised a friend to write down his views in a diary. He believed that entries in a journal had an important and “graphic power.” Such writings helped the cross fertilization of novel ideas, concepts and techniques. In essence, such journals greatly helped in the development of literature.

Although the entries in a diary are more or less concerned with day-to-day affairs, an imaginative writer can make even an ordinary event appear important by the way he treats his subject matter. After reading Goethe’s diaries, Franz Kafka said that his stylistic skill could take a common event and “set fire to it.”

A journal usually contains the writer’s views on factual matters. However, the diarist can control the situation by streamlining his own actions. For instance, the writer creates a work of literary art every time he writes something in his journal.

As has been mentioned earlier, diaries are not written continuously. The writer may express his opinions on periodic events. However, this lack of continuity does not affect the overall quality of a journal if handled with care. Even a novel, for that matter, is not a product of continuous writing.

One notable deficiency found in most diaries is the gaps and omissions. Critics say even an eminent writer like Thoreau’s well-written journal had these weak points. Meanwhile, many diaries see the light of day only after the writer’s death.

The diary is then edited for clarity by a living writer. In the process what the reader gets is a kind of revised and edited diary which may lack the original fire in it. Sometimes, the revised diaries are given different titles.

For instance, Bradford’s diary was called “history.” Woolman’s diary was known as “autobiography” and Boswell’s diary was referred to as a “biography.” Parkman’s diary was revised similarly and was regarded as travel literature. What is more, Thoreau’s journal was called an essay.

Revised and non-revised diaries have their own merits and demerits. For instance, a revised version is like a well-arranged garden. But the non-revised diary can be compared to a meadow bubbling with its natural beauty.

Out of many well-known diaries of eminent personalities Henry David Thoreau’s “American Journal” is regarded as a classic. His words found in the journal will served to inspire many would-be diarists.

He said, “My journal should be the record of my love. I would write in it only of the things I love, my affection for any respect of the world, what I love to think of. I have no more distinctness or pointedness in my yearnings than an expanding bud... I feel ripe for something.”

Apart from diaries maintained by literary giants, many others such as philosophers and scientists have kept journals recording their thoughts. “Krishnamurti’s Journal” was written by the late Indian philosopher J. Krishnamurti.

The journal has now been translated into Sinhala as “Krishnamurtige Dina Satahan.” The Sinhala version retains the tempo and rhythm of the original that was written when Krishnaji was 85 years old. Most of the entries pay a glowing tribute to nature which supports human life on this planet.

Writing journals has other mundane benefits to the writer. Psychologists say that writing in a journal is a good form of therapy. When you feel angry or depressed, there is a need to ventilate your feelings.

Instead of making a confession to a priest or counsellor try to record everything in a diary. This is a proven method of unburdening yourself.Whether you are going to publish your diary or not, the pleasure you experience in writing is immense.

Another advantage is that you can rework the entries in a diary to write a short story or a novel. Some writers such as Theodore H. White have written best sellers using the material found in their own diaries.

For all budding writers journals open up a new world to play, experiment and to take risks. After making an entry in a journal you can re-read it after sometime and laugh at yourself! That means, you can write anything in a journal because you do so for your own enjoyment.

However, if you decide to publish it later, you may have to edit it.If you wish to become a writer, start recording your thoughts in a journal.

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