4: Mourning Diary

Mourning DiaryMourning Diary by Roland Barthes

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Consists of the notes Roland Barthes took after the death of his mother, Henriette. She was widowed (via WWI, that recurring theme) when he was a baby and they lived together most of his life. The notes are transcribed as they were written, one note to a page. There’s a center insert with family photographs and scans of a few of the diary notecards.

(Sidenote: I didn’t realize Barthes had a brother. Specifically, a younger half-brother (Michel) born out-of-wedlock to his mother when Barthes was 12ish. This info seems to be elided from his standard bio; it isn’t on his Wikipedia page. Kinda weird, because reading MD, it seems like they were pretty close. Makes Mme. Barthes seem more human, less martyr, too!)

It’s likely the notes would have become the basis for a book but Barthes died (he was hit by a truck and succumbed to his injuries) only months after the diary stops. So what’s here are basically personal/private notes not written for a public audience. Except it’s Barthes, so…

At the same time, I think calling the diary whiny/self-indulgent (as I saw in some reader reviews) is silly because it’s a diary. If you can’t whine in your diary, please. 🙄

Some quotes:

In taking these notes, I’m trusting myself to the banality that is in me. (17)

Solitude = having no one at home to whom you can say: I’ll be back at a specific time or who you can call to say (or to whom you can just say): voilà, I’m home now. (44)

Depression comes when, in the depths of despair, I cannot manage to save myself by my attachment to writing. (62)

I have not a desire but a need for solitude. (91)

if these ‘changes’ … make for silence, inwardness, the wound of mourning shifts toward a higher realm of thought. Triviality (of hysteria) ≠ Nobility (of Solitude). (95)

M. and I feel that paradoxically (since people usually say: work, amuse yourself, see friends) it’s when we’re busy, distracted, sought out, exteriorized, that we suffer most. Inwardness, calm, solitude make us less miserable. (100)

Only I know what my road has been for the last year and a half: the economy of this motionless and anything but spectacular mourning that has kept me unceasingly separate by its demands; a separation that I have ultimately always projected to bring to a close by a book — Stubbornness, secrecy. (231)

Reading this got me thinking again about the difference between loss by death vs. loss by leaving again. When someone dies, those left behind still have their (good) memories. This, I think, makes it hard(er) to move on, because it’s possible to dwell in the past, in happy memories of the person who is gone. Whereas, when someone leaves, those left behind can’t dwell in the past—at least how they’d always remembered it—that’s gone. If it’s to be remembered, it needs to be reconstituted/reconstructed in a completely different way. So while death-loss drags you backward, leaving-loss pushes you forward. It almost forces you to move on, because there are no happy memories to return to.

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4 thoughts on “4: Mourning Diary

  1. kingmidget

    Seems to me that loss by death is easier to deal with than loss by leaving. Loss by death suggests the person who is lost left as a result of something out of their control. Whereas loss by leaving means the person is lost by their choice, which would raise a whole lot more issues. I would dwell a whole lot more in the past with somebody who chose to leave. Why? What did I miss?

    1. Theryn Post author

      I wouldn’t say one is easier than the other, but the way grief plays out seems to be somewhat different. Choice is definitely a part of it. But a person could choose to die (suicide) or leave not-by-choice (deportation, imprisonment). In those cases, though, perhaps feelings would be reversed from the ‘norm’. Everyone’s a unique snowflake, of course, but there do seem to be some patterns. Hmm.

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