Session 12

[Kurt Cobain's Diary]

Lecture 12
Prison Notes

Anthology texts to read:

  • Jack Henry Abbott: from In the Belly of the Beast (1981)
  • Kurt Cobain: from Journals (2002)
  • Donald Keene: from Modern Japanese Diaries (1999)
  • Wole Soyinka: from The Man Died: Prison Notes (1971)


WORDS suck. I mean, every thing has been said. I cant remember the last real interesting conversation ive had in a long time. WORDS arent as important as the energy derived from music, especially live. I dont think ive ever gotten any good descriptions from lyric sheets, except WHITE ZOMBIE whose lyrics remind me that theres only so many words in the English language, and most good imagery has been used, as well as good band names, LP titles and not to mention the bloody music itself. GEE, I dont want to sound so negative but were dealing with the MELVINS. IN one live MELVINS performance you wont be able to understand very many words, as is with any band) but you will FEEL the negative ENERGY. Music is ENERGY. A mood, atmosphere. FEELING. The MELVINS have and always will be the king pins of EMOTION. Im not talking about fucking stupid human compassion, this is one of the only realistic reminders that every day we live amongst VIOLENCE.

There is a time and place for this music. So if you want to shake your groove thang to simple primal rock, then go see a fucking bar band! The MELVINS aint for you. And they probably dont want ya.

Like I said im not too hip on lyrics, so I didnt ask them about lyrics. Aparently their lyrics are almost equally important as the music. In their case I have to agree, even though I can hardly decipher any of the words, I can sense they display as much emotion as the music and therefore I hypocritically plead to you "BUZZ". On the next record have a lyric sheet, and if you need, have an explanation for every line. Im shure a lot of kids would dig it. man.

Speaking of BUZZ, he looks better in an afro than that guy in the movie CAR WASH. Im thinking he should take advantage of this blessing and be the first to go beyond the hip hops shaved symbols and architectured genious of scalp artistry and SCULPt a wacky far out cactus or Bull Winkle antlers.

He writes the songs, riffs first, lyrics second and goddamn is they good! Hes an all around nice guy.

DALE lost weight, bleached and chopped his hair. He plays even harder and an all around NICE GUY.

LORI kicks John Entwistles butt, and is all around nice guy.

They enjoy the GYUTO MONKS , Tibetan Tantric choir.

One of the only forms of religious communication in which I have been emotionally affected by along with the MELVINS and uh maybe the STOOGES or SWANS raping a slave EP'. The only good thing MICKEY HART ever did was to bring this sacred group of monks on a tour in which lve heard from many, seemed like an impersonal circus or freak show. Oh well they needed money to build a new monestary. They probably didnt notice the yochie dead heads hanging out in the audience. yuk!

The special technique in the monks vocalization is a long study of producing three notes or a full chord in the form of long droning chants. It makes for a soothing eerie feeling.

- Kurt Cobain: Journals (London: Viking, 2002): 59.

So now, having spent much of the past three months discussing a number of texts from widely differing cultural backgrounds, united not by genre but by the assumption of day-to-day, quotidian immediacy and accountability in their processes of production - that, and the (possibly subjective) elements of crisis or disruption which I've identified as crucial to their creation - I guess the time has now come to ask the question where the diary is going now, at the beginning of the twenty-first century? Has the inventions and proliferation of the web-log and the personal phone made the idea of a personal journal obsolete?

It's perhaps heartening to acknowledge, then, that when I look at some of the literary successes of the past few years, I see:
  • Experiments in style and format (but not subject-matter) such as Mark Z. Danielewski's horror novel House of Leaves (2000) or Craig Thompson's graphic novel Blankets (2003)?
  • Blurring of genre / style boundaries in texts such as Alan Moore's graphic novel The Lost Girls (2006) or W. G. Sebald's Austerlitz (2001)?

According to Johnny Truant, the tattoo-shop apprentice who discovers Zampanò's work, once you read The Navidson Record,

For some reason, you will no longer be the person you believed you once were. You'll detect slow and subtle shifts going on all around you, more importantly shifts in you. Worse, you'll realize it's always been shifting, like a shimmer of sorts, a vast shimmer, only dark like a room. But you won't understand why or how.

- Mark Z. Danielewski

In Thompson's composition process, pages are initially composed

... in a very illegible form, a shorthand where words and pictures blur into alien scribbles ... I'm working with words and pictures right from the beginning, but the picture might not look any different from a letter, because they're just a bunch of scribbles on a page.

- Craig Thompson

Truth is a well-known pathological liar. It invariably turns out to be Fiction wearing a fancy frock. ... Self-proclaimed Fiction, on the other hand, is entirely honest. You can tell this, because it comes right out and says, "I'm a Liar," right there on the dust jacket.

- Alan Moore

Every river, as we know, must have banks on both sides, so where, seen in those terms, where are the banks of time? What would be this river’s qualities, qualities perhaps corresponding to those of water, which is fluid, rather heavy, and translucent? In what way do objects immersed in time differ from those left untouched by it? Why do we show the hours of light and darkness in the same circle? Why does time stand eternally still and motionless in one place, and rush headlong by in another? Could we not claim, said Austerlitz, that time itself has been nonconcurrent over the centuries and the millennia? It is not so long ago, after all, that it began spreading out over everything. And is not human life in many parts of the earth governed to this day less by time than by the weather, and thus by an unquantifiable dimension which disregards linear regularity, does not progress constantly forward but moves in eddies, is marked by episodes of congestion and irruption, recurs in ever-changing form, and evolves in no one knows what direction?

- W G Sebald

I don't know if it's really the job of critics - especially Academic ones - to be prophetic, but I guess I'm putting my money on the second of these alternatives.

In that sense, then, the diary - as the most self-undermining and potentially genre-bending literary genre in existence - might be said to have plenty of tricks up its sleeve still.

As for crises, I think it's fair to say that we're unlikely ever to be free of them - whether they come in the form of personal or collective devastation. All I can pray is that you may be spared some of their worst manifestations in your own lives.

As a wise man, from a wise and ancient culture, once said: "Live long and prosper." Another one of his mantras: "The needs of many outweigh the needs of the few," I'm not sure I can so wholeheartedly endorse.

That, at any rate, has been (for me, at any rate) the message behind this course as a whole: respect for individual rights and peculiarities, however extreme a manifestation they may find.

[Donald Keene: Modern Japanese Diaries (1999)]

Workshop 12
Contemporary Extremities

The windiest militant trash
Important Persons shout
Is not so crude as our wish:
What mad Nijinsky wrote
About Diaghilev
Is true of the normal heart;
For the error bred in the bone
Of each woman and each man
Craves what it cannot have,
Not universal love
But to be loved alone.

– W. H. Auden, "September 1, 1939."
In The English Auden: Poems, Essays and Dramatic Writings, 1927-1939, ed. Edward Mendelson (London: Faber, 1977): 246.

After a brief discussion of the prescribed texts, followed by any final seminars scheduled for this week, we'll move onto your responses to the writing exercise below as a way of preparing you for the last two assignments, due in next week:

Exercise 12:
Tracing the Line of Desire

You’ve now compiled a number of journal entries (which you should be in the process of revising), and have a research essay to write as well.

In pairs or three discuss the following questions, before reporting back to the whole group:

  • Trace the line of desire. What are your pieces about?
  • What do your characters (whether it be yourself, or someone else) want, what do they need?

If they don’t want or need anything, then you don’t really have a story.

Next week:

Both the Course Journal and the Research Essay are due in at the Department on Tuesday, 28th October (the day after Labour Weekend).

[Jeffrey Archer: Heaven: A Prison Diary, vol. 3 (2006)]

No comments: