In the past two years, The New Diary, how to use a journal for self-guidance and expanded creativity, originally published in 1978, has sold in two major Asian markets, China and Korea, an interesting development for a book that is 34 years old. The foreign rights having reverted to the author, the agents in Korea and China had to contact me. They communicated to me the great interest in diary writing now in Asia. (Indeed, in Korea The New Diary has been in print for years, though because there was previously no copyright agreement with the U.S., my publisher nor I had any knowledge of it.)
This keen interest in diary writing indicates a major cultural change in Asia. I wrote in The New Diary that journal writing evolved principally in western cultures, because since Athenian Greece, our tradition has been one of individualism, “Know thyself.” Not so in Asia, where a collective mentality has historically prevailed. As Asian cultures have grown more “modern” and capitalistic that communal orientation has changed.
I have to assume that the popularity of diary writing signals the rise of individualism in Asia, and is popular because it is the best way to know yourself, how you are unique as an individual, what are your true desires and needs, what are your chosen limits. It enables you to become articulate about yourself so that you can communicate more clearly and intimately with others, but it is a tool for going within, not for the collective. My friend and fellow diary pioneer Christina Baldwin has devoted herself to “Circle Work” which takes what we’ve learned about good communication with self into the collective sphere, and I’ve expanded my interest to autobiographic narrative that is meant to communicate something of value to others.
The philosophic question I’m left with is: Can the Asian cultures who are discovering “self” gain the benefits of looking within, without losing the strength of communalism? Or are we all headed, West and East, for forms of capitalistic totalitarianism where you are allowed to “know yourself”, but lose the power of collectivity that comes from individuals identifying with the well-being of the whole? Or, as Christina and I have been attempting, will new tools of communication offer a synthesis? Whether the Internet and blogs and self-publishing are a communication tool for synthesis, between valuing the self and valuing the other, remains to be seen.
—Tristine Rainer, Founder CAS