Every journal is disingenuous, with its dirty little shard of buried arrogance. The best of them--Sylvia Plath's come to mind--frankly acknowledge the author's own ambitions, so that the tension between the private nature of the journal and the public nature of its publication somehow falls away. That's fine--it's not the most interesting tension that journals provide, and the journals of writers are often about the movement from private to public anyway, or at least from the mind to the page. Plath's journals, even at their dullest, have an intensity lent not only by her grisly celebrity death but by her inquisitive eye, an eye that develops from one journal to the next, and you know where it ends, in the tart beauty of lines like--from "Lesbos"--"the fluorescent light wincing on and off like a terrible migraine."

The journals of writers you don't know have to work much harder, since they can't benefit from the amplifying context of fame. They stand alone. They make their own case for their own project, and that project is almost always the examined life. The chief pleasure of Guy Gauthier's journal, which covers five years in the 1970s and is published under the title Water & Earth, is that the writer, then in his 30s, can't seem to decide which kind of examined life he wants to lead. There's an interrogation of God that has echoes of Flannery O'Connor's letters; there's spiritual meandering that recalls Hermann Hesse's Siddhartha; there's the pull of bohemian life (the '70s theater world so affectionately but accurately lampooned by Wilton Barnhardt in Emma Who Saved My Life); there's even some Henry Miller-style sexual voraciousness, plus ambivalence about which gender to do it with.

Gauthier often agonizes about fixing moments in time, about the gap in time between seeing or feeling and writing; in one very funny entry he attempts to close this gap by writing while simultaneously getting a blowjob from his girlfriend.

But it's the aspiring mystic who makes the most frequent appearances, and the resulting mix of the profound and the inane seems to be a truth more true of journals than any other form of writing. It's a form that tolerates these wild swings, even as the reader grows a little weary. Some of his insights border on the magnificent (as a revelation, which sweeps him when he's on the toilet, that it is better to live in the body than in the mind), and others (a long, long meditation on the question of what a pipe really is) make you want to take him aside and say, No more pot for you, buddyroo.

So you do get swept up in the current of his inquiry, although it doesn't seem to develop in any kind of logical way--and of course, it doesn't have to, since this is a journal and not under any kind of narrative obligation, and it isn't out of step with Gauthier's spiritual ambitions (to look directly at unadorned reality) that a book should avoid traditional resolution.

That said, Gauthier's writing is strongest when he turns his attention from the higher plane to the details of life: liverwurst sandwiches, his cat's annoyance at the typewriter ("He can see what I'm really doing: making noise"), the banal cruelty of a friend to the friend's girlfriend. These details make a better case for reality than the mystical inquiry does; sometimes a journal tells even its own writer more than he wants to know.

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