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Ongoingness

5 August 2018

From The Guardian:

For anyone who has ever kept a diary, Sarah Manguso’s Ongoingness (first published in the US in 2015) will give pause for thought. The American writer kept a diary over 25 years and it was 800,000 words long. She elects not to publish a word of it in Ongoingness. It turns out she does not wish to look back at what she wrote. This absorbing book – brief as a breath – examines the need to record. It seems, even if she never spells it out, that writing the diary was a compulsive rebuffing of mortality. Like all diarists, she was trying to commandeer time. A diary gives the writer the illusion of stopping time in its tracks. And time – making her peace with its ongoingness – is Manguso’s obsession. Her book hints at diary-keeping as neurosis, a hoarding that is almost a syndrome, a malfunction, a grief at having no way to halt loss.

. . . .

A good aphorism is a raft: it carries you. Even – particularly – bitter and twisted ones should have a perversely feelgood factor. In its concision, an aphorism could not be further from the unexpurgated journal Manguso wrote in the present tense – another denial of passing time. The best aphorisms are witty. When Oscar Wilde writes: “It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances”, he delicately tilts a thought on its axis, turning the received wisdom inside out. Dorothy Parker turns the tables similarly when she quips: “If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.” George Bernard Shaw’s “Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything” is a playful reminder of the tyranny of certainty expressed without doubt.

The need for comfort through language is implicit – and sometimes explicit – in Manguso’s work. A good aphorism will comfort: you might want to stick it on the fridge – or in your memory. Although she claims to have no fondness for beginnings and endings, her fear of formlessness is apparent. Perhaps she seized on the aphorism as a form of elegant punctuation, a new way to stop time with the (in every sense) arresting line. Both books are written in protest at the void and in fear of insignificance.

Link to the rest at The Guardian

PG notes the book is published by Graywolf Press, located in Minneapolis, Minnesota, “a nonprofit publisher of fiction, nonfiction, poetry, and genre-defying literature whose aim is to foster new thinking about what it means to live in the world today.”

Whatever else one might think of Graywolf Press, someone working on its behalf managed to get a review of a three-year-old book in The Guardian.

PG will comment further by way of an aphorism:

The only way to read a book of aphorisms without being bored is to open it at random and, having found something that interests you, close the book and meditate.

Prince Charles-Josef de Ligne
(1735 – 1814)
Austrian field marshal and writer

Non-Fiction

2 Comments to “Ongoingness”

  1. I’ve been keeping a diary for thirty years, and it’s only about 120,000 words, and growing slowly. She puts me to shame. I guess I need to get a more exciting life so I’ll have more stuff to record.

  2. Note to Ms. Manguso:

    Your use of the abominable non-word ‘ongoingness’ immediately triggers my notreadingness.

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