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?

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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’).

[1] https://www.newyorker.com/culture/cultural-comment/truth-lies-and-literature

[2] https://www.etymonline.com/word/context

[3] http://kontur.au.dk/fileadmin/www.kontur.au.dk/OLD_ISSUES/pdf/kontur_07/jan_ifversen.pdf

[4] https://books.google.com.au/books?id=GFtVAAAAcAAJ&pg=PA61&lpg=PA61&dq

Lucio Dalla’s Caruso

Qui dove il mare luccica e dove tira forte il vento Su una vecchia terrazza davanti al golfo di Sorriento…
Here, where the seas shines, and the wind howls, on the old terrace beside the gulf of Sorrento…

On an afternoon in the summer of 1986 the Italian singer-songwriter Lucio Dalla (1943-2012) wrote what was to become one of the most beautiful and heartrending songs of recent times. It has been covered by an impressive number of the world’s finest singers on a diverse range of stages and in different tones. The song is the unforgettable Caruso.[1] The story behind its inspiration was revealed by Dalla himself in an interview he gave to an Italian newspaper. He relates a story told to him by the owners of a hotel in Sorrento where Dalla lodged for some nights.[2] It was the hotel where the great Italian tenor Enrico Caruso himself had stayed shortly before his death from peritonitis in 1921. He was aged 48. At the time he was suffering from pleurisy and empyema and was in awful pain. The celebrated Caruso was giving singing lessons to a young girl with whom he would become infatuated. Lucio Dalla stayed in the same room, the “Caruso suite”. It was this impromptu story, of an impossible love emanating from a dying man who looks into the eyes of a beautiful girl in full bloom, which inspired the singer-songwriter and registered the song into our imagination.[3]

E’ una catena ormai Che scioglie il sangue dint’e vene sai…
It is a chain by now that heats the blood inside the veins, you know…

I first heard Caruso from Pavarotti and Bocelli. It resonated deeply from the start for its mesmerizing melody and elegiac lyrics. Even so, it was only when I was older that it struck me for all of its other implications. This happened when I unearthed the breath-taking Lara Fabian who gives perhaps the most impressionable of all the performances. Mercedes Sossa, the legendary Argentine singer known as “La Negra”, is probably the most soulful. I listen to the song often. It transports me to different destinations. Not only as I grow older and consider the decay and ruin of my own flesh, but particularly when I reflect on the relationship I have with my wife and on the miraculous circumstances which brought us together.

Ti volti e vedi la tua vita come la scia di un’elica…
You turn and see your life through the white wash astern…

The English philosopher Roger Scruton who specializes in aesthetics (the study of beauty and taste) has recently published a marvellously engaging and intelligent piece on the BBC’s A Point of View where he considers what it is that makes for great music.[4] One of his key contentions is that good music is “a language shaped by our deepest feelings” and not “put together on a computer from a repertoire of standard effects”. Dalla’s delicate song in the celebrated tradition of the canzone Napoletana does sit comfortably in the first category.