“Even before my body was an instrument for language it was an instrument for memory,” writes Sarah Manguso in this little book of musings on her relationship with time. With language, though, came the ability to record memory, to further the work of memory in replacing experience with a story about experience, with an ersatz 'experience' that relieves us from experience, a replacement that is, in effect, a form of forgetting, the substitution of experience with something more manageable, more assimilable. For much of her life, Manguso kept a diary, amounting eventually to more than 800 000 words, obsessively recording “what [she] could bear to remember and to convince [her]self that that was all there was.” In her diary she “files away the time that passes so I no longer need to think about it. The experience is no longer experience. It is writing.” Life as it was lived was influenced by the writing that might be done about it. Description, or the potential for description, began to cause that which was described. Time was pulled forward by the representation of its contents. Every detail recorded is an editing-out of all other possible details, each story is a deletion of all other possible stories, each path taken is a turning-away from all other possible paths. “I’d study photographs and gradually forget everything that happened between the shutter openings.” But how else may we be relieved of all those details, all those stories, all those paths, that burden us, threaten us, even, with their possibility? Manguso’s diary-keeping also arose from her desperate conception of time, from her addiction to beginnings and endings, from her inability to experience life as ongoing. “Something will happen,” she repeated to herself at a structural level. Manguso’s relationship with time changed following the birth of her son. As a new parent, and while nursing, she experienced “a new nothing, an absence of subjective experience.” Her grip, or stranglehold, on her experiences was loosened, softened, reformulated by her new role in the experiences of another. “I used to exist against the continuity of time. Then I became the baby’s continuity, a background of ongoing time for him to live against.” A reconfiguration of her attachments entailed a reconfiguration of Manguso’s world-view as well: “The experiences that demanded I yield control to a force greater than my will weren’t the beginnings or the ends of anything. They were the moments when I was forced to admit that beginnings and ends are illusory,” she writes.“I no longer believe in anything other than the middle.” No longer needing her diary to formulate experience (“Forgotten moments are the price of continued participation in life, a force indifferent to time.”), Manguso has become more aware of the ongoingness of time, the inchoate onward rush of all things for which linear time can never be more than “a summary”. Participation in life requires an acceptance of (even an enthusiasm for) mortality: “The best thing about time is the privilege of running out of it, of watching the wave of mortality break over me and over everyone I know. No more time, no more potential. The privilege of ruling things out. Finishing. Knowing I’m finished. And knowing that time will go on without me. A flash - and I’m gone, but look, the churn of bodies through the world of light.”
'This small-sized book has immense power. Marvel at the clarity and fire.' Zadie SmithSarah Manguso kept a meticulous diary for twenty-five years. 'I wanted to end each day with a record of everything that had ever happened,' she explains. But this simple statement belies a terror that she might forget something, that she might miss something important. Maintaining that diary, of eight hundred thousand words, became a daily attempt to remember, to fix the passage of time. Then Manguso became pregnant and had a child, and these two events caused a monumental shift that changed her relationship to time and to mortality, and also to her diary. Ongoingness is a beautiful, daring, honest and shifting work that grapples with writing, motherhood and time.