De@r World: Con­tem­po­rary Uses of the Di­ary by Kylie Cardell and The Lan­guage of Houses by Alison Lurie

Pasatiempo - - NEWS - — Jen­nifer Levin

by Kylie Cardell, Uni­ver­sity of Wis­con­sin Press, 182 pages

Whether writ­ten by a young girl hid­ing from the Nazis or by a young girl hid­ing her thoughts from her pry­ing fam­ily, a di­ary is usu­ally pre­sumed to be a form of pri­vate, unadul­ter­ated truth that is meant to be kept se­cret — at least un­til the keeper of the di­ary dies. There is a field of aca­demic lit­er­ary crit­i­cism de­voted to study­ing the per­sonal ver­sus pri­vate na­ture of the di­ary, its dif­fer­ent uses, and how it re­lates to other lit­er­ary forms of self-nar­ra­tive, such as mem­oir and au­to­bi­og­ra­phy. With De @ r World: Con­tem­po­rary Uses of the Di­ary , Kylie Cardell joins this con­ver­sa­tion in progress and at­tempts to cen­ter the di­ary, in its more public forms, as an in­trin­sic part of popular cul­ture. Cardell is a lec­turer in the depart­ment of English, cre­ative writ­ing, and Aus­tralian stud­ies at Flinders Uni­ver­sity in South Australia. This is her first book.

Cardell looks at venues for mak­ing a di­ary public, in­clud­ing pub­lished war di­aries by jour­nal­ists and those living in war zones as well as sex blogs and vis­ual or il­lus­trated di­aries. She be­gins by dis­tin­guish­ing di­ary from mem­oir, the lat­ter of which is more self­con­sciously crafted as a lit­er­ary nar­ra­tive to show a par­tic­u­lar as­pect of its au­thor. The di­ary, on the other hand, is present-tense, con­fes­sional, and un­con­cerned with be­ing well writ­ten. In the sec­ond chap­ter, “How to Be the Au­then­tic You: Ther­apy, Self-Help, and the ‘How-to’ Di­ary,” Cardell ex­plores the ac­tiv­ity of writ­ing to be­come a bet­ter, more spir­i­tu­ally whole per­son through struc­tured di­ary-work­book ex­er­cises that are com­mod­i­fied and sold as “cre­ativ­ity” to a public yearn­ing for in­sight into their au­then­tic self, such as Ju­lia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way . Sub­se­quent chap­ters look at the im­me­di­acy of war di­aries. Those writ­ten by jour­nal­ists tend to have more in com­mon with the care­fully honed re­demp­tion arc of mem­oir, and are of­ten meant to be pub­lished dur­ing the au­thor’s life­time as an (os­ten­si­bly) un­fil­tered com­ple­ment to their of­fi­cial re­port­ing. The au­then­tic­ity of di­aries or blogs writ­ten by Arab women living amidst con­flict — such as Bagh­dad Burning, the long-stand­ing blog of a young Iraqi woman who calls her­self River­bend — are of­ten ques­tioned by Western­ers in­sist­ing that such au­thors should not be able to write so well in English or have in­ter­net ac­cess. Fe­male sex blog­gers are of­ten as­sumed to be men, or eru­dite posers with too much ed­u­ca­tion to write at the same level the public be­lieves a gen­uine sex worker would. The in­ter­ac­tive, real-time na­ture of blogs extends the mean­ing of di­ary as some­thing shared rather than pri­vate. Since fic­tion also some­times uses the struc­ture of di­ary to cre­ate in­ti­macy be­tween the nar­ra­tor and the reader, the dif­fer­ence be­tween di­ary as a repos­i­tory and di­ary as a lit­er­ary ap­proach is also dis­cussed. The di­ary as a gen­dered form, usu­ally writ­ten by women, also comes up through­out the chap­ters. While there are many depths to plumb in

De @ r World , there isn’t much to grab onto. The book is self­con­sciously aca­demic. Though it pur­ports to an­a­lyze a pretty meaty as­pect of popular cul­ture — the blurry line be­tween pri­vate and public per­sona in on­line and pub­lished writ­ings, and the grow­ing em­pha­sis placed on first-per­son ex­pe­ri­ence in the face of the public’s in­creased ap­petite for in­ti­macy, paired with a de­mand for au­then­tic­ity — the book is dis­ap­point­ingly dry. It’s un­clear what a gen­eral au­di­ence is sup­posed to take from it or whether Cardell makes her point in the end, as she strays quite far from where she be­gan. For the most part, rather than Cardell’s thoughts, we are of­fered chap­ter af­ter chap­ter of her sources, which are ref­er­enced so of­ten that it makes read­ing the book for plea­sure nearly im­pos­si­ble. That said, the is­sues brought up are provoca­tive. The book might be suited to a read­ing group ready for a chal­lenge, as, like most text­books, De @ r World would re­ally be brought to life through dis­cus­sion. Aca­demic books have cer­tain ci­ta­tion re­quire­ments, but those re­quire­ments do not pre­clude writ­ing in a way that in­vites read­ers in. Here, warmer tone and dic­tion would have been ap­pro­pri­ate for the sub­ject mat­ter, as would an eye to­ward more fluid prose. That style is rarely pri­or­i­tized in aca­demic writ­ing is a pity. Mak­ing im­por­tant ideas slightly more ac­ces­si­ble to in­ter­ested read­ers out­side of the academy should be a re­quire­ment for pub­li­ca­tion, since it would in­di­cate an abil­ity to teach the sub­ject mat­ter to stu­dents. Per­haps the most stim­u­lat­ing as­pect of De @ r

World , and one prob­a­bly un­in­tended by the au­thor, are the ques­tions it might pro­voke for the reader, namely: What kind of di­ary is right for you? What comes across most clearly in the book is that there is no one right way to keep a di­ary. Record­ing daily ac­tiv­i­ties and thoughts — the mun­dane — is just as valid as writ­ing to heal your in­ner child, bear wit­ness to atroc­ity, or con­fess your sins.

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