Mar. 14th, 2011

sakurablossom: a ginger girl sitting on a dirt road, staring at the horizon (tower library)
[personal profile] sakurablossom
Pillow Talk
By the tenth century, the idea of journals and diaries had spread through the world like wildfire, even to the far reaches of Japan. The ladies of the Japanese court kept "pillow books," little notebooks they hid from the world under their pillows. In these diaries, they wrote about court gossip, of course, but they also recorded their innermost secrets, their hopes and dreams.

We don't know for certain why pillow books were so popular, but we can guess that, living in such a male-dominated environment, these journals gave the ladies of the court a means of self-expression. The diary would not judge them and would not spread gossip. They could write anything they wished within the pages of their book without fear of recrimination from anyone. In the pillow books that still exist, we have an excellent source of information about the Japanese royal court and court life.

Perhaps the most famous pillow book, Makura no Soshi/The Pillow Book of Sei Shonogon, was written around the beginning of the tenth century. Full of mischievous reflections and anecdotes about court life, it is considered one of the masterpieces of Japanese literature.

Royal Chroniclers
While the ladies of the Japanese court were reporting gossip, writing poetry, and delving into their souls, European royalty fell in love with the idea of recording the minutiae of their reign. They felt the world should know everything possible about them. They were, after all, leaving their mark on the world through their conquests and political intrigues. A chronicle would ensure that people would remember them and their exploits for a very long time. To achieve their immortality, they hired scribes who recorded everything: births, deaths, coronations, marriages, journeys, and edicts.

The Middle Class Rises
During the Middle Ages, a new economic class rose from the ashes of feudalism. Merchants, craftsmen, physicians, and scholars developed into this new thing called a middle class. Wealthier and better educated than generations before, more among them learned the art of writing, and they put this marvelous new skill to use as each profession and trade developed a new type of journal.

Like their counterparts in Japan, women of the Western world began keeping journals, such as the one penned by Margery Kemp (1373-1440), a lady of the middle class. An earthy tome, the author set down on paper a complaint about local churchmen for their treatment of her. I wonder of Geoffrey Chaucer knew Margery. She would have been the perfect model for the Wife of Bath in his Canterbury Tales.

Samuel Pepys, an English diarist known for his diary, The Diary of Samuel Pepys, gave us an intimate look into England's upper-class life during the 1660s.

French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal (1623-1662) is known as the inventor of an adding machine as well as the developer of the modern theory of probability. He made extensive use of his journals to think through his concepts and work his theories, and design his mechanisms. Check out his book Mind on Fire: A Faith for the Skeptical and Indifferent, for insight into Pascal's mind.


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