The Blue Notebook
It occurred to me that I came to work for Jack, without knowing why, because I wanted to have my deep private preoccupations about art, about literature (and therefore about life), about my refusal to write again, put into a sharp focus, where I must look at it, day after day.
I have been discussing this with Jack. He listens and understands. (He always understands.) And he says: ‘Anna, communism isn’t four decades old yet. So far, most of the art it has produced is bad. But what makes you think these aren’t the first steps of a child learning to walk? And in a century’s time …’ ‘Or in five centuries,’ I say, teasing him — ‘In a century’s time the new art may be born. Why not?’ And I say: ‘I don’t know what to think. But I’m beginning to be afraid that I’ve been talking nonsense. Do you realize that all the arguments we ever have are about the same thing — the individual conscience, the individual sensibility?’ And he teases me, saying: ‘And is the individual conscience going to produce your joyful communal unselfish art?’ ‘Why not? Perhaps the individual conscience is also a child learning to walk?’ And he nods; and the nod means: Yes, this is all very interesting, but let’s get on with our work.
Reading all this mass of dead literature is only a small part of my work. Because without anyone intending it or expecting it, my work has become something quite different. It is ‘welfare work’ — a joke Jack makes, I make; and also Michael: ‘How is your welfare work going, Anna? Saved any more souls recently?’
Before I start on the ‘welfare work’, I go down to the washroom, and make up my face, and wash myself between my legs, and wonder if the decision I have just come to, to leave the Party, is because I’ve been thinking more clearly than usual, out of the decision to record everything about today? In which case, who is that Anna who will read what I write? Who is this other I whose judgement I fear; or whose gaze, at least, is different from mine when I am not thinking, recording, and being conscious. And perhaps tomorrow, when that other Anna’s eye is on me, I will decide not to leave the Party? For one thing, I am going to miss Jack — with whom else could I discuss, and without reservations, all these problems? With Michael, of course — but he is leaving me. And besides, it is always in bitterness. But what is interesting is this: Michael is the ex-communist, the traitor, the lost soul; Jack the communist bureaucrat. In a sense it is Jack who murdered Michael’s comrades (but then so did I, because I am in the Party). It is Jack who labels Michael a traitor. And it is Michael who labels Jack a murderer. And yet these two men (if they met they would not exchange one word out of mistrust) are the two men whom I can talk to, and who understand everything I feel. They are part of the same experience. I stand in the washroom, putting scent on to my arms, so as to defeat the smell from the stale leak of blood; and suddenly I realize that what I am thinking about Michael and Jack is the nightmare about the firing party and the prisoners who exchange places. I feel dizzy and confused, and I go upstairs to my office and push away the great piles of magazines: Voks, Soviet Literature, Peoples for Freedom Awake! China Reborn, etc., etc. (the mirror into which I have been looking for over a year), and I think that I can’t read this again. I simply can’t read it.