The Inexplicable Final Act of X (Part 3 of 3)
The significance of a diary cannot be overstated, and the conventional wisdom is that a diary is a fascinating "window" to a person's soul. Since most personal texts have a frank, intimate and transparent tone — in contrast to the self-conceptualized and self-protective language of more "official" resumes — they play very well into Homo sapiens' appetite for emotional voyeurism. That's probably the reason why the "Diary of Anne Frank" is the most translated Dutch book of all time. Since first published in 1947, it has been translated into 73 languages, and published in over 60 countries. More than 30 million copies of Anne’s diary have been sold. Canadian poet Leonard Cohen hyperbolically stated that a diary is "greater than the Bible and the Conference of the Birds and the Upanishads all put together; more severe than the Scriptures and Hammurabi’s Code; more dangerous than Luther’s paper nailed to the Cathedral door; sweeter than the Song of Songs; mightier by far than the Epic of Gilgamesh; braver than the Sagas of Iceland; more sublime than any Sacred Text; holier than the Bill of Rights; and more intense.”
However can we always "trust" the truthfulness of a diary, or its author for that matter? What about people who suffer from "split personality" mental condition that is referred in psychiatry as dissociative identity disorder, where within the same person exists two distinct personalities: often the good guy and the bad guy? I cannot resist myself from drawing a parallel to the "Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" novel by Robert Louis Stevenson which Indonesian translation I read about 50 years ago when I was an 8th grader. Isn't it possible that while X's diary pages portrays him as the good Dr. Jekyll, under the radar he was operating as the evil Mr. Hyde, plotting and planning his uxoricide, triple filicide, and homicide?
Enter American writer, filmmaker, and political activist Susan Sontag (1933–2004), who offered the other side of the coin. In “On Keeping a Journal" she wrote: "(It's) superficial to understand the journal as just a receptacle for one’s private, secret thoughts — like a confidante who is deaf, dumb and illiterate. In the journal I do not just express myself more openly than I could to any person; I create myself. The journal is a vehicle for my sense of selfhood. It represents me as emotionally and spiritually independent. Therefore (alas) it does not simply record my actual, daily life but rather — in many cases — offers an alternative to it" (emphasis added). There you have it; a diary can also be a reconstruction of reality. According to Sontag, a journal (or diary) is not necessarily just a receptacle for one’s private, secret thoughts. Instead, it's a medium to create its author, as an alternative to the existing one in daily life. "Confessions, I mean sincere confessions of course," Sontag even added, "can be more shallow than actions."
It took me just two days to translate X's diary. Little did I know that it would take me almost 20 years to finally understand — to a certain extent — the disconnect between X's "innocent" diary pages and his inexplicable horrendous act. Sontag's reference to the discrepancy between "shallow confessions" and "actions" surely speaks volumes. The possibility (I'm not a psychiatrist!) of a "split personality" mental disorder, where X hosted both the good personality of Dr. Jekyll and the alternative Mr. Hyde cannot be ruled out. Still, the understanding is incomplete: Why the paradox and contradiction? What is the underlying root cause? Even now I'm still struggling to understand it, as I was then.
[This is the end of a 3-part blog post.]
Johannes Tan, Indonesian Translator & Conference Interpreter