PAST TENSE: The Cocteau Diaries, Vol. II by Jean Cocteau

PAST TENSE: The Cocteau Diaries, Vol. II

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Lush sequel to Volume I of Cocteau's Diary (1986), and winning complement to his Diary of an Unknown (p. 335). Cocteau's perspective is surprisingly but uncomfortably global in much of this diary, which spans nine months in 1953 and is limned with both existential and Cold War anxieties. ""Nothing but death in the press,"" notes the political cynic, who is predictably skeptical about the World Peace Congress in Vienna, stoic about the death of Stalin, and vituperative about Eisenhower's America, which ""has nothing to look forward to but ruin."" As usual, refuge and relief come in art--his and that of contemporaries who parade through the book on social calls. Colette comes for lunch; Somerset Maugham arrives to chat; Picasso, in constant crisis, calls for help; Tennessee Williams arrives--""always a little grasping--a little remote from whatever isn't sexual."" Prokofiev dies, and ""Another branch falls off my tree."" Fits of depression alternate with spasms of creative euphoria, and penicillin is prescribed to relieve occasional suicidal impulses. Having his films passed over by juries at Cannes provides reason for blasting Hollywood (""in the hands of idiots""), and familiar laments about genius undiscovered provide the book with the closest thing to a theme: ""Unknown and betrayed, that is the poet's fate."" Eminently readable, spiteful, quotable, insane, Cocteau's mental doodlings often have more intrigue than many writers' finished works. A tortured joy of a book, in solid translation.

Pub Date: Oct. 31st, 1988
Publisher: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich