Burn the Diaries by Moyra Davey


Green Apple Books (San Francisco)


Not so long ago I was discussing with a friend the anxieties that arise from keeping a diary. She admitted that out of the blue one day the idea of her own mortality came upon her like a bolt of lightning and she phoned her mother with these instructions: “Burn my diaries.” Her mother acquiesced but didn’t act quickly enough. My friend’s fear that her diaries be read—and these details of her life revealed, from the mundane to the sordid—filled her with so much horror that she flew home to complete the task herself. Instead of burning them, however, she used a paper shredder to render years of writings on her life unreadable.

Davey, on the other hand, says, “I think of burning, but I prefer the image of burial and water, as either of these seems slightly less absolute.” Meanwhile, her estranged best friend Susan, who takes up a lot of space in the book and whose funeral Davey did not attend, “made a bonfire of all her diaries.” If we are so afraid to be unmasked, why then do we bother to record at all? But record Davey does, beginning, and perhaps ending, with her somewhat inexplicable fascination with, and at times disdain for, the works of Jean Genet, and her more tangible admiration for Violette Leduc, who she finds “vastly more compelling” than Genet. Then why is Genet the star here? That is a question that Alison Strayer’s contribution, which comprises the latter half of the book, tries to answer.

I wandered through Davey’s book in a bit of a trance, and indeed it is written in a dream-like, fragmentary style, and interspersed with images of Davey’s own photographs. Burn the Diaries is about how we are changed by the books that we read, and how the books that we read change the way that we write, and even the way that we process our lives. Davey has presented to us her own diary, and in order to do so she could not burn it.


Burn the Diaries is published by Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania / Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig, Vienna Dancing Foxes Press and distributed by DAP/Artbook.com.

$27   PB   104 pages with 38 color illustrations  ISBN: 978-0-985337-72-8   Pub date: August 2014