But in this case, Smith seems to have noticed that we’re on the verge of a reexamination of the diary form, mostly by women. In writing about her own “non-memory” and its relation to the diary, Smith is anticipating Sarah Manguso’s Ongoingness: The End of a Diary, which comes out next month from Graywolf. In that book, Manguso investigates her own diary, an 800,000-word document the maintenance of which is something like “spiritual practice.” Apparently, Manguso, like Smith, was thrown into a reconsideration of the diary form by way of her own lapse in memory:
Then Manguso became pregnant and had a child, and these two Copernican events generated an amnesia that put her into a different relationship with the need to document herself amid ongoing time.
Then, in April, novelist Heidi Julavits will release The Folded Clock, her own meta-diary project. Prompted by the rediscovery of her old diaries, Julavits decided to write a new one that would “chronicle her daily life as a 40-something woman, wife, mother, and writer.” Julavits, in this case, seems to have inverted Smith’s anxiety about the diary’s audience, choosing instead to write a new diary specifically for publication, one that uses a self-consciously confessional tone.
In either case, as I’ve now written several times, when it comes to contemporary literature — whether diary or autofiction — the oeuvre is now the soul. It’s up to the reader to decide if she can bear it.