Wednesday April 1st, 2009

A Series of Defeats

cheeverjournalsContinuing to read John Cheever’s journals, I’m reminded of this thought from George Orwell:

Autobiography is only to be trusted when it reveals something disgraceful. A man who gives a good account of himself is probably lying, since any life when viewed from the inside is simply a series of defeats.

Cheever certainly doesn’t shy away from defeat. “I seem, after half a lifetime, to have made no progress, unless resignation is progress.” That’s an entirely representative line. He views his work badly in relation to that of Norman Mailer and Saul Bellow, among others, and he reads himself with a consistent disappointment: “The stories didn’t seem too good.” And: “I fail to see any signs of maturity, of increased penetration…” Then there are longer explorations of the same theme, like this one:

As I approach my fortieth birthday without having accomplished any one of the things I intended to accomplish — without ever having achieved the deep creativity that I have worked toward for all this time — I feel that I take a minor, an obscure, a dim position that is not my destiny but that is my fault, as if I had lacked, somewhere along the line, the wit and courage to contain myself competently within the shapes at hand. I think of Leander and all the others. It is not that these are stories of failure; that is not what is frightening. It is that they are dull annals; that they are of no import; that Leander, walking in the garden at dusk in the throes of a violent passion, is of no importance to anyone. It does not matter. It does not matter. . . .