So what then is this journal all about?

September 22nd 2011

Saturday, Bucharest, Romania

N.B. The two little paragraphs below are lifted from my journal which I have oftentimes been happy to share with you. They were drafted on a pleasant September afternoon in Bucharest in 2011. I hope one day to publish it if I can manage to get it into some controllable order. Here I was struggling with the definition of the journal which is a commixture of various literary types ranging from: autobiography, to memoir, to confession, to a history of surveillance, to travel journal, to dream analysis, and to storytelling. But the real question then, as indeed still is now, what is its authentic purpose and what are my true motivations?

… … … … … … … … …

Truth is the correspondence between language and reality, a simple definition which probably sits well with most. Then what of truth in literature?[1] How are we to understand metaphor, myth, or even fairy tale for instance? Is there a better example of the evident stresses that this ‘correspondence’ will often elicit than the battle over the exegesis of the biblical account of creation in the Book of Genesis? What is the cognitive value of this universal ‘story’ and what kind of ‘truth’ is it meaning to convey? And what of the ‘spiritual truths’ put in the mouth of the Starets Zossima by Dostoevski in his masterpiece The Brothers Karamazov? Or how ‘true’ is Plato’s famous allegory of the cave? An autobiography, a memoir, a life-journal, for example, to what extent are they both literature and science? And how long does a text or document maintain a stable and determinant meaning before the deconstructionists get to it and challenge its structures and propositions? These questions became especially problematic for me from the moment I made reference to method and hence appealed to one of the great canons of science.

One way to arrive at some kind of practical resolution is to think in terms of context.[2] In this specific instance the style and genre framing the journal (whether the narrative as a whole or its smaller constituent parts), would determine the exegetical approach that the reader is being asked to follow in the quest to interpret the text. That would assume, of course, that we have come to some agreement as to what we mean by text in the first place![3] As a case in point, it could mean that if the author makes reference to a “dream” then it is a “dream” and not a “vision”, this might seem to be a subtle distinction for some, but in-between a dream and a vision lies another world. So when Samuel Johnson writes “[t]he value of every story depends on it being true”,[4] it all comes down to how we comprehend ‘story’ and what we expect each time we turn the first page of a book. From the moment I reference this document as a life-journal the reader comes to it with certain well founded expectations. First of all, that it is a ‘true story’ which can be tested and weighed up against its fundamental expositions and that it is not a work of fiction (though there might be elements of fiction scattered throughout, i.e. segments of ‘magical realism’).





The soundtrack of our lives

Kiama, NSW

Songs, great songs, have the power to transport us back to significant years or moments in our lives. Some speak of this evocative effect as a ‘soundtrack’ which is embedded within us… and try as we might we can neither delete nor outrun it. At other times a song can prepare us for what is still ahead and make it more bearable, or force us to re-evaluate our relationships and even our beliefs. One of these “great songs” for a large number of people is Simon and Garfunkel’s The Sound of Silence.[1] The haunting and unforgettable lyrical ode to the deep aching of loneliness and insufferable loss: “Hello darkness, my old friend, I’ve come to talk with you again…” In 2013 the song was added to the National Recording Registry in the Library of Congress “for being culturally, historically, or aesthetically important.”[2] But even today it is being discovered anew outside any allegiances to genres. Why? It speaks to the core of our shared sense of alienation, of our needs and fears, of what we could confess to each other when down and vulnerable. It is a song with soul it has been somewhere said. “In restless dreams I walk alone/ Narrow streets of cobblestone…”

The song has been covered countless times, sometimes very well, other times brilliantly and yet on other occasions very poorly. Not surprisingly, it is one of the most-performed songs of the 20th century.[3] When I fall in love with a song I will invariably seek out covers, and quite often I am amazed at how beautiful and true to the spirit many of these covers are. Sometimes we find that the cover can be even more powerful (or at least equal) to the original, and here I am particularly thinking of Johnny Cash’s cover of Nine Inch Nails disturbing and yet surprisingly redeeming Hurt.[4] The covers of Paul Simon’s folk rock classic offered here are outstanding examples of how a great song can be reinterpreted to express different nuances or to reach a new audience without damage to the intent of the original. Of interest from these offerings below: a poetical reading from Leonard Cohen; a startling delivery from Sharleen Spiteri; and yet another from the heavy metal American band, Disturbed.

“We human beings are tuned such that we crave great melody and great lyrics. And if somebody writes a great song, it’s timeless…” (Art Garfunkel, b. November 5th 1941)

“Music is forever; music should grow and mature with you, following you right on up until you die.” (Paul Simon, b. October 13th 1941)

“This deep relation which music has to the true nature of all things also explains the fact that suitable music played to any scene, action, event, or surrounding seems to disclose to us its most secret meaning, and appears as the most accurate and distinct commentary upon it.” (Arthur Schopenhauer, 1788-1860)

On a personal note, The Sound of Silence has been on my ‘soundtrack’ since about the time of the First Gulf War (1990-91). When during those imperilled months I was preparing to leave for London and Madrid, to come face-to-face with a much smaller crisis of my own.

“But my words like silent raindrops fell, And echoed/ In the wells of silence…”


Paul Simon and Art GarfunkelPaul Simon and Bob DylanDisturbedMike Masse and Jeff HallSharleen SpiteriNouelaEmilίana TorriniLeonard CohenDana Winner


[1] The song was recorded and released by Columbia Records in October, 1964. It was included in Simon and Garfunkel’s first studio album, Wednesday Morning, 3AM. It was famously written by Paul Simon over a number of months.