“[Manguso] has written the memoir we didn’t realize we needed.” —The New Yorker
In Ongoingness, Sarah Manguso continues to define the contours of the contemporary essay. In it, she confronts a meticulous diary that she has kept for twenty-five years. “I wanted to end each day with a record of everything that had ever happened,” she explains. But this simple statement belies a terror that she might forget something, that she might miss something important. Maintaining that diary, now eight hundred thousand words, had become, until recently, a kind of spiritual practice.
Then Manguso became pregnant and had a child, and these two Copernican events generated an amnesia that put her into a different relationship with the need to document herself amid ongoing time.
Ongoingness is a spare, meditative work that stands in stark contrast to the volubility of the diary—it is a haunting account of mortality and impermanence, of how we struggle to find clarity in the chaos of time that rushes around and over and through us.
“Bold, elegant, and honest . . . Ongoingness reads variously as an addict’s testimony, a confession, a celebration, an elegy.” —The Paris Review
“Manguso captures the central challenge of memory, of attentiveness to life . . . A spectacularly and unsummarizably rewarding read.” —Maria Popova, Brain Pickings
The subtitle of Manguso's elegant, slim meditation is both deceptive and true. Though she despises endings time, she reiterates, is not a journey from one fixed point to another but rather a never-ending continuum she wants to explore what it means to end something that for so long made up a crucial part of her identity: for 25 years, Manguso kept a diary, a document that's now more than 800,000 words. Rather than just recording momentous events, she admits that "I couldn't face the end of a day without a record of everything that had ever happened." Curiously, this new volume, which is not the diary an afterword discusses her decision process whether or not to excerpt it but a reflection on the process itself and what it meant to her to be so focused on documenting and giving meaning to moments that might, in fact, have no meaning. It would be too simplistic and nothing about Manguso's prose, despite its sparseness, is simple to conflate her role as a mother with her changing views on the nature of time and the meaning, or lack thereof, of moments. Structured somewhat like a prose poem there's more white space on each page than there is text Manguso's essay is both grounding and heady, the spark of a larger, important conversation that makes readers all the more eager for her future output.