Tuesday, March 18, 2008

The perils--and rewards--of reading before bed

{Tree of Crows, by Caspar David Friedrich}

From The Notebooks of Robert Frost (2007), edited by Robert Faggen
A book should chiefly represent a state the author was in while writing. Half the authors wrote in no particular state at all.
I don't know whether my state affects my writing, but my writing definitely affects my state, especially when I write--or even think about writing--just before going to sleep. On those nights, I'm doomed to dream in pages, words, and tangled sentences in need of an editorial machete. Usually little remains of my efforts on waking except the weariness I'd intended to leave behind.

Last night's book-induced restless sleep was, however, unusually worthwhile. An e-mail conversation with Ed Park had started me thinking about writers' notebooks, which made me perk up when I came across this line from John Aubrey's life of Thomas Hobbes
He walked much and contemplated, and he had in the head of his cane a pen and ink-horn, carried always a note-book in his pocket, and as soon as a thought darted, he presently entered it into his book, or otherwise he might perhaps have lost it.
That led me to Frost's notebooks, and this line:
These are not monologues but my part in a conversation in which the other part is more or less implied.
--and then to Lord Byron's journals, which reminded me that it was past time for bed:
Tuesday, December 7, 1813

Went to bed, and slept dreamlessly, but not refreshingly. Awoke, and up an hour before being called; but dawdled three hours in dressing. When one subtracts from life infancy (which is vegetation),--sleep, eating, and swilling--buttoning and unbuttoning--how much remains of downright existence? The summer of a doormouse.

So off to bed, where I dreamed about trolling the Internets in search of quotations about writers' notebooks to dress up some writing of my own. The dream Internet came through in spectacular fashion, offering up two slightly different epigrams from Aristotle:
The world is my notebook, and time is my pen.

The world is a notebook, and I am the pen.
On waking, I quickly used the waking world's Internet to confirm that Aristotle said no such thing--in his extant writings, that is. Who's to say that my dream Internet hasn't indexed the corpus of Aristotle's lost writings? Either way, it seems like a good night's work.

The Notebooks of Robert Frost
Maybe sometimes in the morning when I first wake up I am sometimes free


  1. When I was much younger, freshman at college, I dreamt that I wrote a novel based on the structure of LW's Tractatus Logico Philosophicus. Woke up & thought the dreamgods had given me a fantastic idea, but later found out that Dave Foster Wallace had done the thing already w/ Broom of the System.

    The apocryphal Aristotle quotes are too good!

  2. Wow--a Wittgenstein dream. And as a freshman! (You were clearly much farther along in your studies than I was at that point.)

    The problem with the Aristotle quotes (aside from that term, notebook, which he surely would not have used) is that Aristotle wasn't really an epigrammatist.

    So I've been thinking all day of who they might more properly be assigned to. Nietzsche? Pascal? Lichtberg? Kafka? Cioran? No one seems quite right. I suppose that since the Dream Internet said it was Aristotle, and the Dream Internet, like the Waking Internet, has never been wrong, I suppose I should just let the ol' Greek take the credit.