Having closed the book in a rage, I decide to keep a journal (this entry) of my reading André Gide’s Journals. I started with the last volume because someone else has commandeered the first three volumes, and I’m not averse to reading someone’s thoughts from the the wisest, oldest part of their life first. Germany has invaded France, Gide gets whisked to safety by friends with a car. He continues to write his journal as if nothing is happening. He devours books in German, English, French, particularly appreciating Goethe, Mann, Kafka.
As I am reading, I collect bits that I particularly enjoy:
- I assume the profound and almost prophetic tone (in conversation) solely when I am not at all sure of what I am saying.
- I am merely beginning really to know how to learn, to take advantage. What joy I find in diligence! Had I shown the same zeal for learning in my childhood, where would I not be today!
- It is probably a little ridiculous at my age to still try to learn, and all this effort is quite useless; but the moment I am not stretching toward something, I become mortally bored and cease to enjoy life. My mind is not yet sufficiently at peace for [sleep]; still too curious, too greedy.
- The number of stupidities that an intelligent person can say in a day is not believable. And I should probably say just as many as others if I were not more often silent.
- Oh, why did I not put forth such an effort in my early youth! But at that time it seemed to me much more important to taste life directly, to push away the screen of books and everything education interposed that might hamper the sincerity and innocence of my vision. Was I wrong? I cannot get myself to believe so. And even if I thought so, what could I do about it? Nothing more useless than regrets.
Then I stumble. Oh no, what’s this? Gide betrays me with his virulent sexism. Another hero fallen from the clouds, tumbled down by his blinders, idiotically writing off half the human population:
There are always certain regards in which the most intelligent of women, in her reasoning, remains below the least intelligent of men. A sort of conventional agreement takes place, involving considerable regard for the sex “to which we owe our mother,” for many a lame argument that we should not accept if it came from a man. I am well aware that, nevertheless, their counsel may be excellent, but on condition that we constantly rectify it and expurgate from it that element of passion and emotivity which almost always, in a woman, sentimentalizes thought.
Godddamn you Gide. I finish 1940 and disgustedly close the book. What other landmines await me that will denigrate my sex unfairly, unnecessarily? Even in the brains of “geniuses” I cannot find refuge, must always watch my step. I’m not sure I’ll continue reading.
I decide to plow ahead after coming up empty with a stack of other books that awaited me. As we roll through 1941, 1942, 1943, the war becomes increasingly obvious in the journal, deprivation in food, bombing nearby. A notice is tacked up in Tunis, where Gide has taken refuge, notifying Jews that they will have to pay the sum of TWENTY MILLIONS to aid the victims of the Anglo-American bombings, “for which they are responsible.” Gide continues to read boatloads of books and have “charming lunches” with various friends. He devotes considerable space to describing his secretary, Victor, as a greedy, devious liar who seizes the best pieces of meat whenever he gets to the table. Gide also indulges in some vanity, saying he wished he had the hollow cheeks and prominent cheekbones he admired in a portrait of Delacroix.
Finished. The years between 1944-1949 included mere handfuls of entries with Gide neglecting his journal for long stretches of up to a year. I can sympathize. For the most part, the war ends without a mention, Gide happily reads on, mentions his health, finishes writing Theseus.
I have long ceased to keep my Journal. This was in great part because of the unbearable square-ruling of the last notebook (there were no others to be found), which forced me to write my lines too close together. But each time that I resume my Journal after a rather long interruption, I should like it to be in a somewhat different tone, and yet not an unnatural one, as when one changes interlocutors. And furthermore, I should like indeed not to repeat constantly the same things. Now, I long ago looked at myself from all angles; at least it seems to to me; and have inventoried my spiritual furnishings. No further great discoveries to be hoped fro from introspection. (1944)