It may be that only the truly self-absorbed can make art out of self-effacement. This at least is one of the suggestions of the first volume of Christopher Isherwood's Diaries, a whingeing, inward-bound mammoth of a book, where the author laboriously chronicles and inspects his every moment for changes in the moral and spiritual weather. Well, it can't be his every moment, but it feels like it. Here are a handful of phrases, literally taken at random: 'I have never been able to grasp any idea except through a person'; 'I've been looking forward to this outing for several weeks, and now that I'm here I find I'm bored'; 'A morning of pathological sloth. What brings on this disgraceful, paralytic laziness?'; 'Certainty my mind is softening, weakening. I have so little co-ordination that I putter around like a dotard'; 'I wish I could get rid of this tickling cough'; 'I do wish I didn't feel so fat'; 'Every day I feel worse. Miserable loneliness'; 'Elsa Lanchester to supper last night. Not a success. Don had fixed shrimp jambalaya and Elsa immediately said she couldn't eat garlic and implied a reproof because I hadn't remembered this'; 'Well, of course, everything is all right today - it really is, I believe.' Certainly anyone who has kept a diary or even a notebook has written stuff like this, except the bit about having Elsa Lanchester to supper, but then the question is: what else did we write?
LRB 2 January 1997 | PDF Download