Ongoingness and 300 Arguments

Kate Kellaway in The Guardian:

For anyone who has ever kept a diary, Sarah Manguso’s Ongoingness(first published in the US in 2015) will give pause for thought. The American writer kept a diary over 25 years and it was 800,000 words long. She elects not to publish a word of it in Ongoingness. It turns out she does not wish to look back at what she wrote. This absorbing book – brief as a breath – examines the need to record. It seems, even if she never spells it out, that writing the diary was a compulsive rebuffing of mortality. Like all diarists, she was trying to commandeer time. A diary gives the writer the illusion of stopping time in its tracks. And time – making her peace with its ongoingness – is Manguso’s obsession. Her book hints at diary-keeping as neurosis, a hoarding that is almost a syndrome, a malfunction, a grief at having no way to halt loss.

As an essayist (for the New York Times magazine, the Paris Review, the New York Review of Books), Manguso makes it plain she cannot forget the book she may never write – it haunts her like a long shadow. This is referred to more than once in 300 Arguments, which is even shorter than Ongoingness – a collection of aphorisms (“Think of this as a short book composed entirely of what I hoped would be a long book’s quotable passages,” is one regretful example). A good aphorism is a raft: it carries you. Even – particularly – bitter and twisted ones should have a perversely feelgood factor. In its concision, an aphorism could not be further from the unexpurgated journal Manguso wrote in the present tense – another denial of passing time. The best aphorisms are witty. When Oscar Wilde writes: “It is only shallow people who do not judge by appearances”, he delicately tilts a thought on its axis, turning the received wisdom inside out. Dorothy Parker turns the tables similarly when she quips: “If you want to know what God thinks of money, just look at the people he gave it to.” George Bernard Shaw’s “Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything” is a playful reminder of the tyranny of certainty expressed without doubt.

More here.