The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates: 1973-1982

The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates: 1973-1982

by Joyce Carol Oates
     
 

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The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates, edited by Greg Johnson, offers a rare glimpse into the private thoughts of this extraordinary writer, focusing on excerpts written during one of the most productive decades of Oates's long career. Far more than just a daily account of a writer's writing life, these intimate, unrevised pages candidly explore her friendship

Overview

The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates, edited by Greg Johnson, offers a rare glimpse into the private thoughts of this extraordinary writer, focusing on excerpts written during one of the most productive decades of Oates's long career. Far more than just a daily account of a writer's writing life, these intimate, unrevised pages candidly explore her friendship with other writers, including John Updike, Donald Barthelme, Susan Sontag, Gail Godwin, and Philip Roth. It presents a fascinating portrait of the artist as a young woman, fully engaged with her world and her culture, on her way to becoming one of the most respected, honored, discussed, and controversial figures in American letters.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Writing is... a drug, sweet, irresistible, and exhausting," writes Oates in this fascinating and significant record of an artist's life. She was 34 when she began this "experiment in consciousness," which follows the gestation and writing of many of her most important works. Oates, readers come to realize, is intensely disciplined, exquisitely sensitive, unflaggingly-almost morbidly-introspective, concerned with philosophical issues, attuned to mysticism and acutely responsive to the natural world. Although she abhors being described as prolific, she writes daily, with feverish energy; she herself uses the word "obsessed." If a day or two passes when she isn't writing, she feels "profound worthlessness." Teaching, she reveals, is a vital component of her well-being, although it often leaves her exhausted. The journal records her relationships with contemporary authors, including Philip Roth, Susan Sontag, John Updike, Gail Godwin, Stanley Elkin, John Gardner and Donald Barthelme. She is candid about her "intensely" intimate marriage to Raymond Smith, her lack of maternal instinct and the hours she spends at the piano, an obsession almost equal to her writing. Overall, this journal immerses the reader in a complex, searching, imaginative personality-an artist who continues to refine her search for literary expression. 16 pages of b&w photos. (Oct. 2)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Kirkus Reviews
Tensions between public image and private self are engagingly acknowledged and analyzed in illuminating excerpts from journals begun during the second decade of this prolific author's remarkable career. Their emphases are predictable: the flood of writing Oates produced then and now (The Museum of Dr. Moses: Tales of Mystery and Suspense, 2007, etc.); speculations about the nature of the artistic process and the ways in which art has shaped her character and personality; family, friends and colleagues whose empathy and affection anchor her in a vividly experienced, evidently cherished everyday world. Readers who perceive Oates as a workaholic automaton may be surprised to encounter an author who, though formidably successful even this early in her career, felt unworthy of the acclaim lavished on her. Oates waxes rhapsodic about the sustaining pleasures of marriage (to her colleague and soul mate Raymond Smith), domestic routine (she's a conscientious if unadventurous cook and hostess), her teaching duties and burgeoning friendships with such notable contemporaries as John Updike, Gail Godwin, the late John Gardner and Susan Sontag, Anne Tyler, even the eternally prickly Norman Mailer. It's nice to know that she derives so much pleasure from teaching Alice in Wonderland to her Princeton students and from the experience of playing the piano and listening to her beloved Chopin. Naturally, she also chronicles her work: stories, poems, essays and reviews completed almost daily (or so it seems); wearying searches for appropriate form and rhetoric for the ambitious novels (The Assassins, Son of the Morning and Angel of Light) that many critics consider her weakest work; and a somewhat surprisingcommitment to reviving traditional narrative genres in her Gothic Quintet, which includes Bellefleur, A Bloodsmoor Romance and The Crosswicks Horror, the last-named long since completed but as yet unpublished. "Love. Friendship. Art. Work. These are my values," Oates says. Watching her juggle them in these replete pages is a stimulating experience.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780061745959
Publisher:
HarperCollins Publishers
Publication date:
10/13/2009
Sold by:
HARPERCOLLINS
Format:
NOOK Book
Pages:
544
File size:
699 KB

Read an Excerpt

The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates
1973-1982

Chapter One

1973

A journal as an experiment in consciousness. An attempt to record not just the external world, and not just the vagrant, fugitive, ephemeral "thoughts" that brush against us like gnats, but the refractory and inviolable authenticity of daily life: daily-ness, day-ness, day-lightness, the day's eye of experience.

When Joyce Carol Oates began her journal on New Year's Day, 1973, she was at the height of her early fame. Only weeks before, she had been featured in a cover story for Newsweek magazine, and after the appearance of her National Book Award-winning novel them (1969) and countless award-winning short stories, she had become one of the most widely discussed and controversial authors in the country, alternately praised and criticized for her violent themes, her turbulent artistic vision, and her immense productivity.

Her journal entries for this year, however, evince little regard for fame or the other trappings of literary celebrity. Instead, they show her sharp focus on the inner life, especially in the wake of a brief mystical experience she'd had in London in December of 1970, in which she had seemed to "transcend" her physical being. This crucial event in her life caused her to meditate on mysticism in general, to seek out writings on the subject, to visit the Esalen Institute and the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center in California, and even to consider writing a "mystical novel." During this year she is immediately concerned, however, with recording her work on new stories and on her novel in progress, HowLucien Florey Died, and Was Born; and with discussing her dreams, her reading, her travels, and her teaching.

This typically productive year was shadowed by the hostility shown toward Oates by a Detroit resident, here known as "A.K.," who remained angry over Oates's refusal to rig a positive review of his first novel in an influential publication; he even resorted to "stalking" her at the annual Modern Language Association convention at the end of the year. She was also troubled by the recurrence of a lifelong physical problem, a heart condition known as tachycardia. Even these negatives, however, provided opportunities for Oates to consider philosophical and personal patterns in her life experience by which she learned and grew.

At this time, Oates was living with her husband, the critic and editor Raymond J. Smith, in Windsor, Ontario, where she and he had been professors of English since 1968. Their riverside home was, according to Smith, "a highly romantic setting," and in her journal Oates often took note of her natural surroundings and of the ceaselessly flowing river as an emblem of human experience. . . .

January 1, 1973. . . . The uncanny calm of freezing, layered skies. Clouds opaque and twisted like muscles. Idyllic on the river, "unreal." On this New Year's Day I am thinking of another winter, three years ago, in London, when my life—the "field" of perceptions and memories that constitutes "Joyce Carol Oates"—was funneled most violently into a point: dense, unbearable, gravity like Jupiter's. Another second and I would have been destroyed. But another second—and it was over. . . . Query: Does the individual exist? What is the essential, necessary quality of (sheer) existence. . . . 
[ . . . ]

A journal as an experiment in consciousness. An attempt to record not just the external world, and not just the vagrant, fugitive, ephemeral "thoughts" that brush against us like gnats, but the refractory and inviolable authenticity of daily life: daily-ness, day-ness, day-lightness, the day's eye of experience.

The challenge: to record without falsification, without understatement or "drama," the extraordinarily subtle processes by which the real is made more intensely real through language. Which is to say, through art. To ceaselessly analyze the "consciousness" I inhabit, which is inhabited as easily and gracefully as a snake in its remarkable skin . . . and as unself-consciously. "My heart laid bare." The stern rigors of a confessional that is always in session but can promise no absolution.

"The only happiness lies in reason," says Nietzsche. "The highest reason, however, I see in the work of the artist, and he may experience it as such. . . . Happiness lies in the swiftness of feeling and thinking: all the rest of the world is slow, gradual, and stupid. Whoever could feel the course of a light ray would be very happy, for it is very swift . . ."

Nietzsche's loneliness. Stoicism; and then frenzy. (Doesn't stoicism lead to frenzy, in the end?) To aspire to Nietzsche's aloneness in the midst of love, marriage, family, and community. A feat not even Nietzsche himself could have accomplished.

The advantage of creating a personality, a meta-personality. The constant witness who refuses to be comforted—or deluded. Sharing in the emotions. Imposture. The sense of masquerade, carnival. Life as "Eternal Delight." (As I write this the sun appears—ghastly in the stony sky.) Detachment a trick of the nerves. Possibly a curse. The obvious disadvantage: the meta-personality takes on a life of its own, cerebral and cunning, contemptuous of the original self. Or: the meta-personality evolves into a curious tissue of words, "transcendent" while having no genuine existence at all.

Dreams last night of unusual violence. Premonitions . . . ? Preparations for the New Year . . . ? Woke exhausted, alarmed. The passivity of sleep is an affront.
[ . . . ]

Mimicry of death. Dying-out of consciousness. A friend saying, with an anxious smile, that he feared falling asleep, in a way—the extinction of personality. I thought, but did not say: Perhaps it's personality that then comes alive.

Tentative plans for John Martin at Black Sparrow Press to do The Poisoned Kiss, unless Vanguard objects. 1 John Martin's lovely books. . . . It would be appropriate for the Fernandes stories, which leapt out of the "left-hand" side of my personality, to be published by Black Sparrow on the West Coast, and not Vanguard in New York City.

My optimism today can't quite overcome the memory of those draining, bewildering dreams. The irony: one can experience in sleep tortures that, in ordinary consciousness, would be profoundly traumatic. And yet one isn't expected to take them seriously. . . . Madness, no doubt, begins in dreams. And spreads, and spreads, like oil in water.

The Journal of Joyce Carol Oates
1973-1982
. Copyright © by Joyce Oates. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Joyce Carol Oates is a recipient of the National Medal of Humanities, the National Book Critics Circle Ivan Sandrof Lifetime Achievement Award, the National Book Award, and the PEN/Malamud Award for Excellence in Short Fiction. She is the Roger S. Berlind Distinguished Professor of the Humanities at Princeton University and has been a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters since 1978.

Brief Biography

Hometown:
Princeton, New Jersey
Date of Birth:
June 16, 1938
Place of Birth:
Lockport, New York
Education:
B.A., Syracuse University, 1960; M.A., University of Wisconsin, 1961

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