Saturday, February 12, 2005

Moleskine notebooks and the failure of reality

I have a new large, ruled Moleskine notebook. The other one is nearly full. It is also falling apart. The pages have become detached from the oilcloth bound cover. It’s good that the attached elastic band holds them together, otherwise it would be difficult to carry. Also, the spine of the cover has split. I use shiny grey duct tape to secure it.

However, I am yet to write in the new one. I don’t want to leave unused pages at the back of the old one, even if this means inflicting more damage on it as I carry it around with me. And I carry it everywhere, if I have a bag.

Much as I like the notebook, I’ve never been able to use it in the way I’d hoped. There are nearly 190 pages of writing: short comments about a current project, quotations, ideas for blog entries, incomprehensible remarks from nowhere, even inadequate recollections of dreams. But nowhere are the flights of creativity imagined in the reverie of purchase. The most useful pages are those following the progress of close readings of, for example, Benjamin’s The Storyteller and Maurice Blanchot’s How is Literature Possible? Otherwise, I shall probably put the notebook on a shelf somewhere and never consult it again.

For some, Moleskine notebooks are a fetish. Perhaps they are still pursuing that reverie, or maybe the notebooks do actually engender work! To meet and fuel demand, Moleskine is producing ever new designs to appeal to specialities: the latest that I’ve noticed is a storyboard notebook - much to my despair, in fact, as storyboarding is part of my money-work and the reminder weighs me down.

Elsewhere, discussions abound with tips for maximum utilisation of their organisational potential. It’s fascinating. However, I notice that nobody mentions that most gel pen ink seeps through the silky pages and often stains the facing page too. This led me to use only pencil and ballpoint pens and to slip in a piece of kitchen towel to soak up wet ink.

Ooo, I just felt it then: the sensuous specifics of practical action! It is this perhaps that makes fancy notebook usage so contagious. There is the aura of getting things done.

For writers, this aura is a siren. The draw of the notebook is the idea that the accumulation of arcana might form part of the way toward a literary work; the achievement that opposes the insignificance and temporality the writer’s life.

We know, however, that it is not. It is a means of resisting the work of literature.

So what is that work?

Last week I became frustrated with Craig Raine for perpetuating the mythic opposition of word and thing, even if he argued that language is equal to the task of encompassing reality. Once again, the work of literature is seen at best as a means of keeping up with a dominant partner and, at worst, a flight from reality.

It would be more revealing to investigate how literature forms reality, and how we turn away from literature because it generates new worlds; that is, becomes the reality from which we seek truth and succour. Here, literature’s failure would be its terrible success – one we have yet to fathom.

Hence, perhaps, the attraction of a notebook. It keeps writing within the confines of humdrum life, and enables the writer to maintain in writing a relationship with himself, the dying animal, all the while alluding to that time of death, which never arrives.

This is too glib; the sort of thing I write in a notebook. A blog. It stops me writing, you know.


  1. Reminds me of a Jorgen Leth quote which is "the notebook is an improvement upon the art of living," or something similar. Perhaps here we find an insight into the stigma attached to starting a new book...

  2. Nice blog, I like Moleskines too.


  3. Anonymous12:45 pm

    What horrors did you inflict upon your poor Moleskine to create such damage? I carried around a Moleskine datebook in my pocket for a year and besides a slightly softer cover it is no worse for wear. Perhaps it is something to do with the size, I prefer the smaller plain pocket version. The Moleskine's durability has been one of the unclouded advantages of this notebook. Yours is the first I've heard of that took such a beating.

    On to pens. While I new use a Noodler's ink loaded Waterman fountain pen, I also use and support the use of Pilot G2 gel ink rollerballs. These archival quality pens ensure writing will last as long as the paper. While bleedthrough has never been a problem for me with black .5 or .7 G2s, the ink blotting problem is easily solved with a small piece of blotter paper tucked between the two most-recently written pages. I use a square of paper towel now since the ink blot problem is much more apparent with fountain pens.

    About writing itself, no Moleskine or fancy pen or ink will get you to write something creative. Only you can do that. While I am sure there are people who either have no interest in creative writing and very few have a real talent for it, writing, like painting or playing a musical instrument, can be a creative outlet for just about anyone and it costs far less than a Cello.

    There is only one real rule worth mentioning when it comes to creative writing:


    Nothing else really comes close to that level of importance. Sit down, think up a seed or a single sentence, character, or time period, and begin to write. It may end up being complete crap but out of a thousand words, one hundred may be worth while. The director Robert Rodregez one time said that every director has ten bad movies in him. The key is getting those ten bad movies out quickly so you can get on to the good stuff.

    If you simply have no desire to write, don't. It's hard work and if it's not fun, there is little reward. You may give it a try, however, and find it to be an outlet from the rest of your life worth digging into. I usually write 100 to 1000 words a day of creative nonsense and I love some of the stuff I come out with even if I am the only one to ever see it.

    Otherwise, toss the Moleskine aside and take faith that many people spent far more money on an unused piece of exercise equipment.

  4. Mike, contrary to the impression I give, I have actually written a great deal. Only not in the way I had imagined. What one imagines always outstrips what one can produce, yet I'm always searching for the door to let out the terrifying world in my head.

    Most of what I've written was written here, on a PC.

    As for why my notebook is in such a state: I suspect it might be in order to apply the wear and tear of the world to the words. Oh yes.

  5. How nice it is to see a Maurice Blanchot quote as the entre to a blog. I suffered through Blanchot in college. and felt tortured by the poor translations, his dispair, and how everything and nothing changes.

    I am also moved to say: that poor notebook. I did notice the "pilling" of ink and subsequent smears. Try a Ho-Tech-C pen. Or a fountain pen with Noodler's ink.



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