The Paris Review

Weird Time in Frankenstein

In Elisa Gabbert’s column Mess with a Classic, she revisits canonical works of literature and addresses the anxiety of confronting the art of the past (and the past in general).

In her short nonfiction book Ongoingness—a single long, fragmentary essay—Sarah Manguso writes a meditative exegesis on her own diary, a document nearing a million words that she has added to daily, obsessively, for twenty-five years. This practice felt like a necessity, a hedge against potential failures of memory, and a way to process the onslaught of time: “I couldn’t face the end of a day without a record of everything that had ever happened.” It started when she was a teenager. She went to an art opening with a dear friend, drank wine from a plastic cup, looked at paintings—“It was all too much,” the moment was “too full.” She wouldn’t have time to “recover” from the beauty of the day, she realized, since tomorrow would offer only more experience: “There should be extra days, buffer days, between the real days.” (I’ve often thought there should be a little buffer between months: a monthend.)

When Manguso became a mother, this anxious relationship to time changed:

In my experience nursing is waiting. The mother becomes the background against which the baby lives, becomes time.

I used to exist against the continuity of time. Then I became the baby’s continuity, a background

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