When I was about 14, my burning ambition was to grow up and be a major French intellectual. I pictured a life filled with endless discussion, obscure interests, a library full of dense, musty tomes, and a garret apartment somewhere in Paris ... the kind that was charmingly dirty and lit by a large, many-paned skylight. It would be furnished only with an antique folding camp bed, a decrepit leather chair, and stacks and stacks of books. I would live on baguette, buttered radishes and chamomile tea. Every evening, I would wander out into the Parisian night, descending into a red-lit world of seedy bars to meet my compatriots for endless expostulations and bottles of red wine. During the day, I would write furiously, expounding insightfully on topics ranging from Russian fairy tales to post-colonial Africa, participating in barbed exchanges with the cultural heavyweights of a previous generation. I would make no money - I would scorn money - but somehow I would have the perfect wardrobe, clothes that manifested the structural rigor of my thinking and my obsession with detail.
To quote Levi-Strauss, it was a mania for 'chasing after vestiges of a vanished reality' - except for me, it was a reality solely of my own construction, no more real than leprechauns.
What sort of diary should I like mine to be? Something loose-knit and yet not slovenly, so elastic that it will embrace anything, solemn, slight or beautiful, that comes into my mind. I should like it to resemble some deep old desk or capacious hold-all, in which one flings a mass of odds and ends without looking them through. I should like to come back, after a year or two, and find that the collection had sorted itself and refined itself and coalesced, as such deposits so mysteriously do, into a mould, transparent enough to reflect the light of our life, and yet steady, tranquil compounds with the aloofness of a work of art. The main requisite, I think, on reading my old volumes, is not to play the part of a censor, but to write as the mood comes or of anything whatever; since I was curious to find how I went for things put in haphazard, and found the significance to lie where I never saw it at the time.
Don't be amazed if you see my eyes always wandering. In fact, this is my way of reading, and it is only in this way that reading proves fruitful for me. If a book truly interests me, I cannot follow it for more than a few lines before my mind, having seized on a thought that the text suggests to it, or a feeling, or a question, or an image, goes off on a tangent and springs from thought to thought, from image to image, in an itinerary of reasonings and fantasies that I feel the need to pursue to the end, moving away from the book until I have lost sight of it. The stimulus of reading is indispensable to me, and of meaty reading, even if, of every book, I manage to read no more than a few pages. But those few pages already enclose for me whole universes, which I can never exhaust.
Why didn't she try collecting something? It didn't matter what. She would find it gave an interest to life, and there was no end to the little curiosities one could easily pick up.
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