Territorial Pissings

All of which is to say that the pages selected for inclusion seem to have no particular aim, no editorial strategy at all. And they don't need one. This is itself impressive. The four types of collecting progressively exchange intensity for duration; inevitably, your red-hot pop star is likely to draw collectors of the first two types, your canonical great artist the latter pair. Kurt Cobain, for the moment at least, has both intensity and duration. This goes a long way toward explaining Riverhead's readiness to fork over nearly $4 million for the rights to his journals. Right now there are Nirvana collectors of every kind wandering the landscape.

In the belly of the beast: a drawing from the Cobain Journals
photo: From Journals by Kurt Cobain, Courtesy Riverhead Books
In the belly of the beast: a drawing from the Cobain Journals

It won't be that way forever. The circumstances that make this book possible, when every kind of urge is at play, can only exist when an artist's place is unstable: one foot in the fire of celebrity and the other in history's eddying stream, the weight shifting moment by moment. And so inevitably that's what Cobain's Journals reveals: not a person but a moment. Not a new certainty about the true nature of its author, but an uncertainty about what he means to the world beyond him. It's an uncertainty one imagines he would have liked, had he not been a mayfly (the Greek word for which, a scholar would be sure to mention, is ephemeron). Like the suicide note which is markedly absent from it, the book has only the most false air of finality or completeness, unable to answer what comes next for all of us.

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