BOOKLOOK°03: How Not to Live Your Life in Chapters

 
It is foolish to believe that life is divided into chapters or decades or defined segments; everything is more chaotic, there are cuts, interruptions, passages, decisive events, which I would call contretemps because they bring about both forward and backward steps in personal temporality.
— Ricardo Piglia, The Diaries of Emilio Renzi: The Happy Years
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I’ve always kept a journal or a diary for as long as I can remember, the process of recording and transcribing thoughts and ideas as natural as breathing for me. I’d even go as far as acknowledging that I am able to express myself better on paper, able to summon things from my subconscious that I otherwise wouldn’t even be able to speak of.

With renewal as foremost in mind, I wanted something that reflected the state of the new year: space and water, in a place I’ve called home for over a decade, the Bay Area. And to herald in 2019, I chose a book that also reflected the kind of introspection I aim for in my own life: Ricardo Piglia’s The Diaries of Emilio Renzi: The Happy Years.

The book is a compilation of the Argentine author’s diary entries, written as his alter ego Emilio Renzi in the second installment of what a “bibliophic trilogy.” From 1978 to 1975, Piglia recorded his essays and musings on Argentine politics and nationalism, on writing and surviving, on literature (and lots of it), on his work and the work of his peers, friends and heroes, of love and all the tensions in between.

 

Friday 14 

Series E. It is five in the morning, another hollow night, going from bar to bar. I always have the same conversations even though the friends sitting at the table are different. I go out and drink whiskey until dawn to erase some fixed ideas that have always pursued me, ones that I prefer not to name. A very cold night; I walked alone until I made it back to this corner by the window, through which the dawn air filters in. 

 

Much like Susan Sontag, the American essayist and one of my favorite writers, my first introduction to Piglia is through his diaries. And what a privilege to be in someone’s head even for a bit, to know what troubled or delighted them as they made their way into the world. That no matter how esteemed or revered they are in the public spotlight, they deal with the same problems most of us do: figuring out how to make rent, finding enough time to write, loss, heartbreak.

Piglia also wrote about the state of Argentine politics, with reference to Marxism, Peronism and the left. He also wrote about a lot of about Jose Luis Borges, the Argentine short story writer, essayist and translator. I loved that he also referenced Marcel Proust a lot, as well as American writers like Fitzgerald and Hemingway. At the same time he wrote about political and literary figures, there’s also something to be said of his critique.

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The mass media and journalists have found their hero in Hemingway. An image of the writer who doesn't write and spends his life off hunting in Africa or fishing for sharks. It has to do with a cult of personality, putting literary figures in the place of movie stars, so that what is valued is the picturesque aspect of their biographies. Underneath lies the superstition that life legitimizes literature and replaces it.

Soon there will be no need to write; it will be enough to lead a turbulent life and say you are a writer.

There’s one particular entry I love that Piglia intimated, where he wrote about sacrificing his life and time to write, so that later as the next person who picks up the book reads his words, they too might be inspired to continue the process.

Most of my journal entries are about the my never-ending to do list, my anxieties, doubts about myself, things that I read, things that I learn. It’s rare that I go back and reread my entries, because I’ve conditioned myself to just keep moving forward. But what I learned from Piglia is that there is beauty in slowing down, in looking back, and surprisingly, in not taking oneself so seriously.

 
Without meaning to, I turned my experience into a satire of life—in general in and in particular. Looking at yourself from a distance is enough to show you that irony and humor turn our stubbornness and departures into a joke.
— Ricardo Piglia, The Diaries of Emilio Renzi: The Happy Years