Joan Didion

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I know there's an ILE thread on her already, but I had one of my favorite ILX conversations ever about her on ILB, on one of those rolling what are you reading this month threads. It was in part about evaluating her detachment. I'm going to quote it all, which may take several posts:

In September, I finished

Slouching Towards Bethlehem

The White Album

Joan Didion disappoints me - because she seems to offer so much, and is acclaimed in such encouraging quarters. I have read more of her than I have of most writers. But all four volumes I've finished haven't altogether convinced. Leaving aside the fiction, these two essay collections both strike me as immature, brittle, underachieved to a surprising degree. I like them too, in a way, like them a lot. But maybe I like the idea of them and of her, more than I like the actuality of what she has to say. She can be such a reactionary: never mind her essay on feminism, and her enduring fascination with military graveyards, the piece on LA traffic management seems to me just a slice of right-wing anti-statist satire. Maybe the title essay 'StB' is better; I read it with Dylan Live 1966 and a bottle of red wine, which went down pretty well. But even here, I think I was troubled by her relation to the people she wrote about. She wants to appear so wise, and for others to appear so foolish, as they bob amid her cool simple sentences. But after a while this technique doesn't seem so wise - it seems evasive, egotistical, snide. I am trying to think of pieces I liked. 'On The Morning After the Sixties' - in theory; but even that is rather reactionary. 'The White Album' itself: maybe that's as good as she gets? And the last piece in StB, on NYC - that moved me some.

She has been fortunate in her admirers.

-- the pinefox (the pinefox), Thursday, 9 November 2006 14:18 (11 months ago) Link

That is pretty much my own response to Didion. When I first started to read her, I thought I had discovered a writer I was going to really love. She seemed to have all the talents needed for a great essayist -- perceptiveness, elegance of style, clarity of exposition. But doubts started to creep in early -- as you say, the fundamental problem is her relation to the people she writes about: unless they qualify as part of a narrowly defined group of "people who matter", she treats them with a kind of patrician contempt, or with the cold detachment of a zoological observer who has identified specimens whose bizarre behaviour may have something of interest to tell us about our own species.

-- frankiemachine (frankiemachine), Sunday, 12 November 2006 16:48 (11 months ago) Link

"the cold detachment of a zoological observer who has identified specimens whose bizarre behaviour may have something of interest to tell us about our own species."

this is appealing! but i'm not entirely sure it's fitting.

didion's detachment is maybe a result of attempting to write her depression, not eliminate it from the written account of her experiences. whether that's right or not i dunno. her isolation is troubling but sorta compelling. her isolation from haight-ashbury kids, the suggestion that there is no 'movement', is convincing to me. but then her isolation from/dismissal of the feminist movement i find slightly repugnant, hard to process.

i'm not entirely sure who those people-who-matter are meant to be, seeing as how they don't seem to include any of the artistic figures or politicians she's written about. (that i've read her writing about.)

(maybe i think i'd prefer your metaphor if you worked aliens into it. she sometimes seems to be looking upon the human species like a zoological observer from mars.)

-- tom west (thomp), Sunday, 12 November 2006 17:00 (11 months ago) Link

She wants to appear so wise, and for others to appear so foolish, as they bob amid her cool simple sentences.

This is not how I read her. i think she's hyper-aware of the "problem" of a journalist's detachment from her subjects and she's really worried about the condescension inherent in romanticizing them (compare her to Capote on this, for example). She often strikes me as really sympathetic to those she writes about, especially when they're women, for example in "Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream" (I love that essay) and the one about Joan Baez. But it's an intellectualized, detached sympathy for sure: I think that that's in part a function of her personality (she's often talked about her shyness and how hard calling up people for interviews is for her) and in part an ethical decision. again, compare "Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream" to In Cold Blood on this.

-- horseshoe (horseshoe), Sunday, 12 November 2006 19:06 (11 months ago) Link

her isolation is troubling but sorta compelling

well, because it's honest!! right?

-- horseshoe (horseshoe), Sunday, 12 November 2006 19:08 (11 months ago) Link

i like hyper-aware of the problems as a reading of the thing a whole lot, actually.

-- tom west (thomp), Sunday, 12 November 2006 19:40 (11 months ago) Link

I don't want to get into attacking Didion for the sake of it - for as I say, I have put a lot of time into reading her and at one level, I seem to like her quite a lot. Yet - this discussion stimulates.

The claim that her style of presenting other people might be caused by shyness or depression / mental problems seems to me probably true - mainly because she virtually says as much early in both collections/ But the fact that we might be able to *explain* the style doesn't *justify* it, does it? If reader A says 'I don't like William Burroughs' incoherent, babbling writing', and reader B says: 'you have to understand that this is because he took lots of drugs' - then reader B is correct, but the claim doesn't necessarily make Burroughs any better.

I agree that it's hard to say who does 'matter' in her world, except perhaps soldiers.

re. her relation to the 1960s counter-culture: I don't think she says 'there was no movement' - if anything she says it's more political and more dangerous than the media understand? But she does make it seem ... weak, foolish, immature, half-baked. She seems sceptical about it. I don't think there's anything wrong with that: I think it must be an important truth about that culture - and perhaps her judgement thus endures better than more excitable ones.

BUT - she also writes about the period in apocalyptic terms. Here's the first paragraph of that essay:

The center was not holding. It was a country of bankruptcy notices and public-auction announcements and commonplace reports of casual killings and misplaced children and abandoned homes and vandals who misspelled even the four-letter words they scrawled. It was a country in which families routinely disappeared, trailing bad checks and repossession papers. Adolescents drifted from city to torn city, sloughing off both the past and the future as snakes shed their skins, children who were never taught and would never now learn the games that had held the society together.

And there's more of this in the intro the book, I think; so, she is prone to sensationalism herself?

Horseshoe says that JD is 'ethical' compared to Capote because he romanticizes violent criminals and she remains detached. In that kind of case, this surely makes sense. But -- not all of the people she writes about are violent criminals! There's no need to remain so detached from them - and there must be a middle ground between romanticization and the way she deals with them, which too often seems contemptuous to me.

And she *does* romanticize John Wayne (and co? I think) - in an essay which might have seemed original and distinctive before David Thomson wrote, but now seems somewhat second-hand and limited.

I don't think we should get fixated on this particular problem with Didion, when I think there are others. But I guess a lot of it does come to down to a) banality; a failure to tell us anything really incisive or thought-provoking: as though 'blank' reportage is always enough; b) a sense of superiority, a much too frequent implicit sneer; c) the reactionary attitudes mentioned above. In truth, I still think Amis on Didion is a more compelling piece than any piece I've read by Didion. Gosh, do I really think that? I fear that I do.

-- the pinefox (the pinefox), Monday, 13 November 2006 13:19 (11 months ago) Link

well yeah i have the same problems with didion - but doubt you're right about amis, but eh (i mean, 'implicit sneer' is surely his default tone) - but i think the best pieces are where her detachment seems to interact with the subject matter in interesting ways - like, when WSB writes about societal mechanisms of control in his uh fragmented style, that works for me. when he writes about cats, it doesn't.

-- tom west (thomp), Monday, 13 November 2006 14:42 (11 months ago) Link

NB, re. Amis: I'm not defending Amis tout court! I'm just saying his one piece on Didion is very good; it stands up to a remarkable number of readings. And maybe it is, ironically, an analysis of and verdict on aspects of Amis too.

-- the pinefox (the pinefox), Monday, 13 November 2006 14:52 (11 months ago) Link

And she *does* romanticize John Wayne (and co? I think) - in an essay which might have seemed original and distinctive before David Thomson wrote, but now seems somewhat second-hand and limited.

Fair enough: she does romanticize Wayne, but she doesn't really have a choice; he sort of comes pre-romanticized for her and for her readers, which is pretty much what that essay's about. I've never read Thomson, though, so I can't speak to that essay being derivative. I find it insightful.

I wasn't trying to suggest that Didion isn't romantic in some larger sense; it's completely true that the passage you quoted is apocalyptic-sounding, as is a lot of StB. I don't find that "sensationalistic" (I'm sure they felt like pretty apocalyptic times!) and I don't think it changes the fact that she is committed to registering the isolation of the reporter vis-a-vis the subject. To me, this keeps the people she writes about real and protects them somehow.

I can't help feeling that you and I are characterizing her writing in an entirely opposite way, Pinefox, so maybe there's nothing more to say. I will admit that the new journalism of that period makes me really uncomfortable, even when it's written beautifully, as Capote's work usually is, and I view Didion as an antidote because she's so scrupulous. And she writes beautifully.

I'm really glad this came up; it's making me want to reread her. Maybe I'll have more to say once I do.

-- horseshoe (horseshoe), Monday, 13 November 2006 17:17 (11 months ago) Link

In case I haven't made it clear: the particular quality of Didion's detachment that I admire is her refusal of the novelistic gesture of "getting inside people's heads." Is this what makes her seem sneering to you, Pinefox?

-- horseshoe (horseshoe), Monday, 13 November 2006 17:20 (11 months ago) Link

also, in StB, her larger project is to paint her culture broadly. maybe the sense some of you get that nobody matters to her is a result of her use of individuals as illustrations of some cultural happening? Rather than as just individuals? that's a fair critique, but it doesn't really bother me.

-- horseshoe (horseshoe), Monday, 13 November 2006 17:24 (11 months ago) Link

I'd be very interested in reading Amis's essay (although as a general rule I find Amis much more irritating than I find Didion). Barbara Grizzutti Harrison's essay on Didion is the negative one I tend to think of - vicious, but largely convincing.

http://www.writing.upenn.edu/~afilreis/103/didion-per-harrison.html

-- frankiemachine (frankiemachine), Monday, 13 November 2006 18:43 (11 months ago) Link

wow. that is some mean shit.

-- horseshoe (horseshoe), Monday, 13 November 2006 19:47 (11 months ago) Link

and I think her reading of "Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream" is entirely unconvincing.

I really don't get the "cold, cold heart" school of criticism. (I heard a professor once complain about Jane Austen for similar reasons. which seems to be entirely missing the point.) does it get applied to male writers, too?

-- horseshoe (horseshoe), Monday, 13 November 2006 19:53 (11 months ago) Link

Aren't those Didion articles for the Saturday Evening Post or something? I think they're bluddy brilliant. I always think about her when I am in shopping centre car parks.

-- PJ Miller (PJ Miller 68), Tuesday, 14 November 2006 09:08 (11 months ago) Link

horseshoe, Monday, 5 November 2007 18:36 (eleven years ago) Permalink

Horseshoe: I agree that Didion seems scrupulous - esp. compared to some clearly over-self-obsessed people. But I'm not sure she *is* that scrupulous. The point about getting into people's heads - well, interesting. Yes, in a way the externality probably contributes to the sense of disdain. But that tactic is defensible. The real problem, maybe, is a bit different: her way of delivering sour pay-offs and implicit put-downs, and of setting people up. I don't think she does just report neutrally and accurately - which is the impression the prose gives at one level. I think she arranges things so that other people seem foolish; and as I said earlier, after a while this doesn't seem so impressive on her part.

Distant but at least topical comparison: Borat - taking c.2 hours of footage and showing 30 seconds to make passer-by / real person look sillier than they really did.

I was not saying that Didion was derivative of Thomson - he comes after her and reveres her. Just that once you've read him, her take on movies doesn't seem so great. Though I don't mean 'In Hollywood', which is kind of interesting - though also sneering and nasty.

Once again: I quite agree that Amis *in general* is annoying - the point is about this particular essay, and the valid or at least interesting things he has to say in it.

-- the pinefox (the pinefox), Tuesday, 14 November 2006 15:41 (11 months ago) Link

That essay on her IS nasty! But nice (for thread purposes) the way it connects her with Salinger, in the first para!

-- the pinefox (the pinefox), Tuesday, 14 November 2006 15:45 (11 months ago) Link

Actually, can someone write that Didion-as-Borat sketch? I see great comic possibility, but not the time to do it. I'll expect it on this thread by c.9 tomorrow morning.

PS / I have to countenance the possibility that LATE Didion - much admired, Indian summer, crowning moments of career etc - might be better than early.

-- the pinefox (the pinefox), Tuesday, 14 November 2006 16:15 (11 months ago) Link

it does seem that you might like late didion better, pinefox!

-- horseshoe (horseshoe), Tuesday, 14 November 2006 16:47 (11 months ago) Link

I not like "Magic Think Year" so much like "Bethelehem Slouch" or "White Book".

-- PJ Miller (PJ Miller 68), Wednesday, 15 November 2006 14:03 (11 months ago) Link

how are people with 'political fictions' and 'miami' and the sept 11th pamphlet?

-- tom west (thomp), Wednesday, 15 November 2006 17:01 (11 months ago) Link

I started reading the 9/11 pamphlet at Accentmonkey's house, and my response was infuriation at its unbelievable political naivete. (As in: 'a few weeks after 9/11, I started to feel disturbed.... Something about the atmosphere of feverish patriotism just wasn't quite right.... I wondered if there were things the government wasn't telling us....') It might have been faux-naivete, but that didn't seem to work too well either.

Thomson adores Democracy.

I have Where I Was From on a shelf at home. I have heard good things about it, which may be better than reading it. I have found it difficult to bring myself to read about Didion's ancestors. I like the cover, though. It is nicely designed and she looks good on it.

-- the pinefox (the pinefox), Wednesday, 15 November 2006 17:23 (11 months ago) Link

It is nicely designed and she looks good on it.

This is her appeal in a nutshell.

-- PJ Miller (PJ Miller 68), Wednesday, 15 November 2006 17:48 (11 months ago) Link

You are being too sarcastic, PJ. Whether you (or I) derive much pleasure or insight from Ms. Didion, no one can make a long writing career by connecting to readers only through their book designs and author's mug shots. Someone is reading her with real appreciation. You can argue that it is misplaced, but not that it doesn't exist.

-- Aimless (Aimless), Wednesday, 15 November 2006 18:31 (11 months ago) Link

horseshoe, Monday, 5 November 2007 18:38 (eleven years ago) Permalink

I know that was self-indulgent of me, but partly I want to lure the pinefox back, because I love Didion, but his criticisms of her were good and provocative. Anyway, I don't expect people to necessarily respond to or even read all of that, but I thought it would be nice to have an ILB Didion thread.

horseshoe, Monday, 5 November 2007 18:40 (eleven years ago) Permalink

We do miss Mr. P. Fox.

Casuistry, Monday, 5 November 2007 21:04 (eleven years ago) Permalink

He was a fine pox, that pinefox.

Casuistry, Monday, 5 November 2007 21:04 (eleven years ago) Permalink

I can't believe I was so hard on poor old Joan.

the pinefox, Wednesday, 7 November 2007 13:05 (eleven years ago) Permalink

My fundamental reaction to the thought of her, to the sight of her books, to her name in the press, is, always, positive - as in fact I repeatedly say above. It's just that the books themselves didn't quite seem to measure up to that. But as I also repeatedly say (do I ever do anything but repeat my own repetitions?), she has been fortunate in her admirers.

the pinefox, Wednesday, 7 November 2007 13:08 (eleven years ago) Permalink

hi pinefox!

horseshoe, Friday, 9 November 2007 01:54 (eleven years ago) Permalink

i thought Play it as it lays was rather good, but i've not read any of her other novels

swinburningforyou, Friday, 16 November 2007 20:00 (eleven years ago) Permalink

two years pass...

bump

i have zero interest in her fiction but everything else is great. agree with the pinefox that her bit on the diamond lanes is one of the few places where her slip shows. disagree with the pinefox on "The Women's Movement." boo hoo hoo it's "reactionary" -- it's also quite OTM in some uncomfortable ways.

the barbara grizzuti harrison piece might seem more "mean" if it weren't so just simply obtuse. hate to speak ill of the dead but jeez, sorry JD doesn't write about class the way you want her to but IT'S PRACTICALLY ALL SHE WRITES ABOUT so wtf do you want from her?

also goddamn right she uses style as argument. this is not a revelation THIS IS THE GODDAMN POINT.

anyhoo, possibly Our Finest Living Writer imo so.

all yoga attacks are fire based (rogermexico.), Saturday, 19 June 2010 23:34 (eight years ago) Permalink

Her disinterest in literature is a problem, but as a journalist she's about the best we have.

Filmmaker, Author, Radio Host Stephen Baldwin (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Sunday, 20 June 2010 00:28 (eight years ago) Permalink

lol i love how i started this thread basically to stalk the pinefox. where u been, man?

horseshoe, Sunday, 20 June 2010 02:00 (eight years ago) Permalink

Our Finest Living Writer

otm

finest novelist too, she is without peer

get your bucket of free wings (underrated aerosmith albums I have loved), Sunday, 20 June 2010 02:02 (eight years ago) Permalink

You are allowed to say that, because she is a very good writer with an excellent prose style. Luckily, you are not allowed to be entirely right. Such matters are never decided, even a century after the fact.

Aimless, Sunday, 20 June 2010 18:38 (eight years ago) Permalink

srsly though can anyone explain to me what's "convincing" about the BGH piece other than the deliberate misreading/professional jealousy aspect?

all yoga attacks are fire based (rogermexico.), Sunday, 20 June 2010 20:37 (eight years ago) Permalink

three months pass...

this is apropos of nothing but something else on ilx just reminded me of it. i remember, a couple of years after reading the white album, remembering the essay about aspiring starlet dallas beardsley, who had an appetite for stardom at the time of didion's piece, was poised to break into hollywood any way she could. with the benefit of thirty five years having elapsed between writing and reading, i was able to look her up and see whether she made it in the movies: imdb. it seems like a kinda poetic extra supplement to the story.

FORTIFIED STEAMED VEGETABLE BOWL (schlump), Friday, 1 October 2010 21:38 (eight years ago) Permalink

'style as argument'? But does Didion have a good style? Yes and no.

the pinefox, Saturday, 2 October 2010 07:45 (eight years ago) Permalink

Her style is very controlled and it achieves passion only in moments where it designedly and dispassionately takes control of the passions of the reader. This is an interesting trick that she does rather well, although you needs must be susceptible to her approach for it to work as she intends.

As for whether this is "good style" I would say yes, but, for me, good style is any style that embodies the intentions of the author and connects with the intended audience. For example, Dr. Suess has an excellent style. What would be a good style for a non-fiction author is almost certain to be an ill-style for a gothic-horror author.

Aimless, Saturday, 2 October 2010 16:50 (eight years ago) Permalink

one month passes...

she has a new memoir coming out next year - blue magic, i think, about aging (will just defer to the blurb on the back to see how a didion book spells ageing) - and an article about it linked to goodbye to all that from slouching toward bethlehem, which i haven't read for ages. i am not a writer so this isn't from the position of being envious of her craft, but man, reading her is just such a rich experience; she triggers the pangs you ordinarily get of wistfulness or regret but without the character of those, squaring some event in the context of her age, of who she was, making whatever you're reading about totally subject to all of these other influences

inimitable bowel syndrome (schlump), Friday, 12 November 2010 13:32 (eight years ago) Permalink

oh man great news! I would give almost anything for another novel but I think The Last Thing He Wanted is probably gonna be it for Didion's novels.

honkin' on joey kramer (underrated aerosmith bootlegs I have owned), Friday, 12 November 2010 13:36 (eight years ago) Permalink

oh it's blue nights, though - dang - was already pumped for blue magic

honkin' on joey kramer (underrated aerosmith bootlegs I have owned), Friday, 12 November 2010 13:41 (eight years ago) Permalink

Awesome.

Miss Garrote (Eric H.), Friday, 12 November 2010 13:43 (eight years ago) Permalink

joan didion takes on miles' blue moods. my mistake.

the last thing i heard - which might've been c/o the site linked above - was that she was writing notes or something for a hbo biopic on katherine graham. which i'd love to see. but yeah pretty jazzed. i think she probably has a fair amount of newish uncollected writing sitting around, also - i saw her read prepared remarks, around the time of the last election, and would love to read her recent stuff.

still haven't read the novels ...

inimitable bowel syndrome (schlump), Friday, 12 November 2010 15:01 (eight years ago) Permalink

oh yeah also worth plugging: that site also links to her paris review interviews, which just became freely available as part of their site re-jig

inimitable bowel syndrome (schlump), Friday, 12 November 2010 15:03 (eight years ago) Permalink

yeah they're great (like everything else she's involved with)

just sayin, Friday, 12 November 2010 15:10 (eight years ago) Permalink

i started play it as it lays a few years ago and didn't know how iago was, so gave up disheartened on line two. probably ready for a rerun.

inimitable bowel syndrome (schlump), Friday, 12 November 2010 15:13 (eight years ago) Permalink

- didn't know who iago was -

inimitable bowel syndrome (schlump), Friday, 12 November 2010 15:13 (eight years ago) Permalink

I do like her essay 'goodbye to all that'
and Blue Magic or Blue Nights are pretty good titles
maybe she'd at least be better on ageing than Amis (M)
or then again, even, maybe not!

the pinefox, Saturday, 13 November 2010 00:00 (eight years ago) Permalink

It's not Didion book related, but I'm loving this:

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1979/aug/16/letter-from-manhattan/

Didion's takedown of Woody Allen, after he went serious in the 70s.

Romeo Jones, Thursday, 18 November 2010 00:09 (eight years ago) Permalink

i love her dearly and am a bit disheartened by the pinefox's indifference! just reread all of slouching towards bethlehem and read play it as it lays in the last month. i keep meaning to start the white album but i almost don't want to run out of vintage didion so quickly so i'm putting it off.

i think there's a lot more emotion in her writing than people assume -- that hatchet job linked to upthread makes no sense at all to me. i've never gotten the sense that didion's laconic style was meant to signify condescension toward her subjects. that essay on self-esteem is one of the most succinct and powerful essays i've ever read.

the only other thing i've read is political fictions, which is great and all but hasn't stuck with me like the earlier stuff (except for the review of newt gingrich's book, so hilarious mean it's almost hard to get through).

(The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Thursday, 18 November 2010 23:52 (eight years ago) Permalink

- didn't know who iago was -

That's ok. He is among the most impenetrable of Shakespeare's characters.

Aimless, Friday, 19 November 2010 01:43 (eight years ago) Permalink

It's not Didion book related, but I'm loving this:

http://www.nybooks.com/articles/archives/1979/aug/16/letter-from-manhattan/

Didion's takedown of Woody Allen, after he went serious in the 70s.

― Romeo Jones, Wednesday, November 17, 2010 7:09 PM Bookmark

This is great and unfair at the same time. If it were written by anyone less than Joan Didion it wouldn't work. Yes, Woody Allen films have a certain quality of being stuck in a hyper-precocious adolescence at times, but that's also part of their charm, and I don't buy that she's uncharmed by them. Besides, I think it's a little disingenuous for a professional serious essayist to criticize someone for pondering meaning. I mean most people go to offices every day and do work they don't even like -- they stopped sitting in cafes with notebooks a long time ago.

I get the feeling "I'm too mature for this" has been her posture for a lot of her life -- though it's exactly that posture that makes Slouching Toward Bethlehem so sharp.

portrait of the artist as a yung joc (Hurting 2), Friday, 19 November 2010 03:51 (eight years ago) Permalink

Didion's political writing -- Miami, After Henry, Political Fictions -- was immensely influential on me.

look at it, pwn3d, made u look at my peen/vadge (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 19 November 2010 03:54 (eight years ago) Permalink

As a novelist, though, she gives the impression that she hasn't read a new one since college.

look at it, pwn3d, made u look at my peen/vadge (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Friday, 19 November 2010 03:55 (eight years ago) Permalink

JD, I don't think my feeling is indifference - more repeated disappointment. I think I've written this up so many times over the years, on this board, that I probably shouldn't go over it again. But to recap, I think she's been lucky in her admirers (including, maybe, you!); I think she radiates a kind of glamour and cool; I think she writes about interesting subjects sometimes; she always seems like someone that one would be interested in and want to read.

But I also think, in practice, that her level of actual insight isn't often that high; her prose is unadventurous, a mannerism that stops her needing to try things, find words, take risks; and yes I think 'condescension' / superiority / 'I'm too mature for this' is far too much a default setting in her writing. Also I've read 2-3 novels and they really weren't worth much more than a dime - I couldn't see why she persevered with them.

And yet, I still think of her as a writer that I like.

(I only say all this again cos the admirable JD prompted it)

the pinefox, Friday, 19 November 2010 11:41 (eight years ago) Permalink

thinking about the prose again: how many great phrases, striking bundles of words, do you come across in reading Didion? can anyone remember any? I think perhaps she has little lyric sense; there isn't much semantic bounty or verbal music; she's the opposite of a Pynchon (whom I also frequently find exasperating for other reasons); and writing in her sort of plain style has been a way of legitimating this - or has sealed it, encouraged it to happen, put her unseen lyric gift to sleep.

the pinefox, Friday, 19 November 2010 11:49 (eight years ago) Permalink

one month passes...

hey team didion: can anyone point me in the direction of a all-of-a-sudden-while-at-my-folks-place-for-the-holidays-very-relevant JD quote i'm looking for? there's something - it coulda been in the last one - that she said about using the best plates, and how everyday is the day you should use the best plates. is this ringing any bells? she may have the edge over me in having phrased this well.

thank you in advance from me and my plate hoarding family

schlump, Saturday, 25 December 2010 17:21 (seven years ago) Permalink

two months pass...

Did you ever find that?

the pinefox, Tuesday, 8 March 2011 13:18 (seven years ago) Permalink

I've been reading her Paris Review interview to celebrate Pancake Day. She says certain things with a very impressive all-American coolness. But she also says things that aren't very impressive.

She says that when she's writing a novel, she starts the day by retyping the whole thing from p.1, or p.20 or so. That makes it seem the more remarkable that her novels don't seem to include any good writing - unless it was all excised by the endless rewriting.

Her interviewer crawlingly says that DH Lawrence 'didn't know anything about women at all'. Didion says: 'No, nothing'.

Now, I don't like Lawrence. In some ways he is among my least favourite writers. But he was a human being in the C20 who was married to a woman and travelled the world with her; who had intense relations with his mother and perhaps other women. He wrote a lot about women (and men). Is it plausible to say of such a person that he 'didn't know anything about women at all'? What kind of discriminate literary judgement is this? You might as well say I don't know anything about books at all, even though I've lived around them all my life.

Of course, the duller truth is that women are different from one another. You can know one woman, and not know another. You can know some things and not others. That was probably the case with DHL.

My contribution for International Women's Pancake Day.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 8 March 2011 13:24 (seven years ago) Permalink

You might as well say I don't know anything about books at all, even though I've lived around them all my life.

maybe you don't!

i don't know; it seems a fairly standard hyperbolic statement. we could translate it as "d.h. lawrence's work takes a great interest in the relations between the sexes, but that interest, which qualified him as a remarkable writer on the subject to his contemporaries, makes him seem all the more egregious on the subject today; and it's fair to say that he seems entirely wrong-headed on the subject of women."

or we could accept the shorthand in its cattiness; it's not really joan didion's job, or anyone's -- unless, say, they're a lawrence scholar, or writing a survey of twentieth-century fiction -- to be immediately responsible to have developed opinions about d.h. lawrence ready and to hand.

thomp, Tuesday, 8 March 2011 14:06 (seven years ago) Permalink

well, I think it is true that most of us are ignorant in lots of ways about physical objects and processes (including eg books). This is a condition of which I always feel fairly aware.

But again, there are lots of things to know about books, levels of knowing. There are some things that I know about some books. It wouldn't be plausible to say I don't know anything about any books.

I think your paraphrase is very convincing, and much more sophisticated and interesting than Didion's / interviewer's statement (because you posit a connection between DHL's strong interest and his possible errors) -- until the last clause. I don't know whether we can assume that he seems entirely wrong-headed on this subject. We'd probably need to work a bit to remind ourselves exactly what he did think or say.

Again, I feel a bit doubtful that there is a 'subject of women' - that idea seems like part of the problem. But, maybe DHL did believe in it, and maybe that could be one way that he was wrong.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 8 March 2011 14:13 (seven years ago) Permalink

It wouldn't really have struck me much (these interviews are full of daft put-downs etc) - but she just doesn't come across very well in the interview as a whole. I always feel that Didion thinks she's a much better writer than she is - a strange effect.

But there is a fine sentence or two about sunsets on the West Coast which exemplify her American authority.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 8 March 2011 14:19 (seven years ago) Permalink

that's probably a pretty canny thing to say, and a good point from which to start investigating the subject of 'lawrence and women', if we choose to, if we're in some place to do so.

on the other hand, i don't really see that a passing topic (books didion wrote on as an undergraduate!) in an interview about writing nonfiction is a place where said subject really needs to be investigated: it seems a ridiculous level of precision to demand of anyone, that anything said about anything needs to hew that true to reasonable statement, to accuracy of expression. i'd probably have to give up on ever talking about books again, if that were the case.

(xpost)

barthelme put 'all the paris review interviews' on a list of things his students should study. i feel like they belong on a list of things no one that wants to write should ever, ever read, almost.

thomp, Tuesday, 8 March 2011 14:23 (seven years ago) Permalink

Didion is one of my favorite journalists and stylists, but I've long suspected she hasn't read a novel since the sixties.

Rich Lolwry (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Tuesday, 8 March 2011 14:25 (seven years ago) Permalink

This is what Didion said that made a bit of an impression on me.

"There's always something missing about late afternoon to me on the East Coast. Late afternoon on the West Coast ends with the sky doing all its brilliant stuff. Here it just gets dark."

A positive thing to do with Didion would be just to quote lines she's written that one thinks are good.

the pinefox, Tuesday, 8 March 2011 16:37 (seven years ago) Permalink

Great quote. The Year of Magical Thinking is a wonderful place to start. The deep seriousness actually goes with gusts of adventure, even fun, occasionally.Especially when she dreams about swimming with her daughter, or (apparently in the real-life waking world)exasperates a doctor with her self-taught sense of medical author-a-tah (as South Park's Cartman would put it). She's getting out of the house!

dow, Sunday, 13 March 2011 20:17 (seven years ago) Permalink

Although gravity (with those gusts) might be a more accurate description than "deep seriousness."

dow, Sunday, 13 March 2011 20:21 (seven years ago) Permalink

her novels don't seem to include any good writing

off-sides!

horseshoe, Sunday, 13 March 2011 20:35 (seven years ago) Permalink

Didion is one of my favorite journalists and stylists, but I've long suspected she hasn't read a novel since the sixties.

I think her position is "if I've already got Henry James and Joseph Conrad what do I need with other authors"

five gone cats from Boston (underrated aerosmith bootlegs I have owned), Sunday, 13 March 2011 20:36 (seven years ago) Permalink

my gf takes that line. it's kind of infuriating but also kind of impossible to argue with

thomp, Sunday, 13 March 2011 20:37 (seven years ago) Permalink

also i resent the parallelism between didion and thompson even though, yes, again, she's not wrong, because didion is a much greater writer. i think that's why she meant so much to me when i first read her, yes she's a woman, but she's also a woman who wrote circles around her male cohort, which felt like a vindication to me. this is very petty, obviously, and i wouldn't presume to generalize it to other female Didion fans.

I don't disagree, but the parallel is one of popularity, and power over the imagination of readers, and invention of an image of the writer. They're comparable on those terms. Didion wrote circles around Thompson, but Didion created "Didion" in the same way Thompson created "Thompson" (and Hemingway created "Hemingway"), and those creations have a life independent of the books. I read the article as an attempt to explain the phenomenon of "Didion".

If you restrict your attention to the writing alone -- which is the right thing to do I suppose -- then all that remains a complete mystery. And then you have to explain why Didion caught the public imagination more than Janet Frame, for example, who was a better writer still.

i mean caitlin flanagan is kind of mean-spirited

Well, maybe she is. I don't know, I've read only a few things by her. I can tell you this, though: if you grew up at that time, place and milieu, then the world will forever be letting you down.

alimosina, Sunday, 5 February 2012 17:03 (six years ago) Permalink

that all seems otm (i've never read janet frame!) i meant to indicate my own investments in didion which i think reveal that it's kind of silly to talk about her appeal to women as uniform.

the only part that doesn't seem otm is this: if you grew up at that time, place and milieu, then the world will forever be letting you down. but maybe i just don't know what you mean.

horseshoe, Sunday, 5 February 2012 17:21 (six years ago) Permalink

It's not important, but CF's early biography and mine are identical (except for gender). It's a leap from there to understanding her presuppositions, but I imagine that I can.

alimosina, Sunday, 5 February 2012 18:36 (six years ago) Permalink

has her newt gingrich piece been linked here lately

junior dada (thomp), Monday, 6 February 2012 20:41 (six years ago) Permalink

max linked it in i think the primary thread

horseshoe, Monday, 6 February 2012 23:42 (six years ago) Permalink

two weeks pass...

finished blue nights after taking it out from my library

they put an insert slip in the front of the book that sez "Help other readers! Evaluate this book" & has rows headed by: age/gender - comment - rating (out of ten)

i wrote - 32 M - made me terrified of ageing - 7/10

johnny crunch, Thursday, 23 February 2012 22:23 (six years ago) Permalink

three weeks pass...

this is sad but i lol'd at this

I've been trying to fight my way through this because of the book tour. I don't actually want to do the book tour, because it's tiring and ... it's a book tour. Then I keep thinking: If you didn't go on the book tour, you would have failed, and so this question of doing the thing -- going to the airport, getting on the airplane, going to Toronto, where you don't want to go ever in your whole life -- is on some level necessary. Otherwise you have failed yourself.

http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/jacketcopy/2012/03/joan-didion-cancels-la-appearance.html

buzza, Wednesday, 21 March 2012 05:19 (six years ago) Permalink

two weeks pass...

just picked up blue nights from the lib. i accidentally requested the large print edition, and it's all a bit distracting to have the book in such huge font, and with boldface in lieu of italics.

rayuela, Wednesday, 4 April 2012 15:32 (six years ago) Permalink

no she insisted it be published like that, it's to make its insights into ageing more tangible

john-claude van donne (schlump), Wednesday, 4 April 2012 17:29 (six years ago) Permalink

the audiobook is narrated in the tone of voice you would use to speak to an elderly, hard-of-hearing father-in-law

john-claude van donne (schlump), Wednesday, 4 April 2012 17:29 (six years ago) Permalink

I wasn't crazy about BN :(

Exile in lolville (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 4 April 2012 17:32 (six years ago) Permalink

how so, alfred? not that you can't differ, only a friend read it & seemed to not like it for the exact reasons i thought it was really successful

john-claude van donne (schlump), Wednesday, 4 April 2012 17:38 (six years ago) Permalink

She's often at her most powerful inserting those perfectly timed caesurae. A few motifs here are sensual (e.g. the fried chicken). But she didn't transform the material like its predecessor did.

Exile in lolville (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Wednesday, 4 April 2012 17:40 (six years ago) Permalink

i'm liking it so far. had to stop reading on the train because i was getting too emotional. same thing happened to me when i tried to read magical thinking on a plane. should just read it at home with my cat.

rayuela, Wednesday, 4 April 2012 17:44 (six years ago) Permalink

mmm. sensual is a good way to put it. the friend who wasn't so into it talked about being bemused by things like seeing her red shoes at the altar, why that was relevant, radiant. i think it really neatly succeeded at two things; first, though it wasn't intending to, painting a kind of elliptical portrait of quintana through those fragments, fleshing out these parameters that she existed in between, unavoidably conjuring someone, half-sullen and always young. and secondly phrasing all of those recollections, sensuous or stray, as what they were to didion, now; incomplete, snatched memories, every part of the thing itself gone, each remembrance the only clay she had left to play with*. & i felt it was more about those than the first thing, that inasmuch as we were meant to be responding to what she remembered it was just as a solipsistic thing, displaying what that debris was to JD.

xp, i can see how reading it in public might be kinda trying, rayuela

*i just read this daniel clowes thing, where he talked about his mother dying, how it'd be like if someone told you you could never see the ocean again - could have fun, but just would never see the ocean. i've never read proust or anything but i like those things that are trying to process what memory feels like, where it fits.

john-claude van donne (schlump), Wednesday, 4 April 2012 17:55 (six years ago) Permalink

two weeks pass...

finished reading 'the year of magical thinking' just now and i liked it quite a bit, much more than i have anything else of hers. there are places where i think its sort of clunky or flaccid but the spell she casts over her life was so immersive and resonant to me the the dinners at candide with wasp dougherty the faded spode china the rewrites at the wilshire and the flights to cartagena and they way it flowed around her mourning, her daughters illness... she herself hints that shes romanticizing things but it reads like an elegy for a disappearing american leisure class. im not sure its supposed to, and the parts directly dealing death are good but seemed less vital than the other stuff, this idea of a life of grace and good linen

Lamp, Tuesday, 24 April 2012 05:33 (six years ago) Permalink

i found the 'we tell ourselves stories in order to live' collection and 'blue nights' in a thrift store (the same one where i got 'the year of magical thinking' so i guess someone was cleaning house) and im fairly impressed so far. i went to the park after work and sat in the grass and read the first three essays in 'slouching', it sortof kills me that she opens with that yeats poem. i think i can see some of what max and horseshoe are talking about upthread like there are some lines like the one about 'going back to hairdressing college' or the way she repeats and dissects the stories of the cast and crew on the john wayne western that would seem condescending bordering on cruel out of context but become almost admiring in the flow of the essay.

like shes so clear-eyed and cool and ambivalent as a way of managing this deeper despair. her description of the california mindset and california lives you can just ~~feel~~ her paying the wages of national headache and notional dread, its so brittle but precise.

Lamp, Thursday, 26 April 2012 01:25 (six years ago) Permalink

Wait till you get to the political content in Miami and After Henry -- her peak.

Exile in lolville (Alfred, Lord Sotosyn), Thursday, 26 April 2012 01:27 (six years ago) Permalink

things have been in and out lately and i got sort of tired of her reactionary bad temper and cold, nervous fingers picking at the embroidery of other peoples lives but man 'goodbye to all that' is just so fantastic i read it and gave up. i had already read about the 50 yards of theatrical silk somewhere else, probably here itt but who knows, but the essay accumulates so many similar details that match exactly my own experiences and feelings and articulates these all so clearly and rightly that i felt displaced, unmoored. so ive just sorta put her aside and gone back to struggling through the second half of 'underworld', so it goes.

Lamp, Friday, 4 May 2012 06:47 (six years ago) Permalink

I can't believe I was so hard on poor old Joan.

haha oh man

'the white album' for all its flaws detachment isnt really one. its voyeuristic w/out being insightful, theres a sense of her saving all her compassion for herself, of a despair bordering on the theatrical, the self-regarding. but its also incredibly compelling as a way of documenting the depressive state. or something.

Lamp, Friday, 4 May 2012 20:47 (six years ago) Permalink

i finally finished 'we tell ourselves stories in order to live', i liked the political stuff w/o thinking much about it i could sort of wave it away and see it outside myself, like as 'stuff' i guess. there are a lot of good posts early in this thread i feel late the party or like im wearing last years clothes now but im glad i finally read her and made my testament

Lamp, Tuesday, 15 May 2012 06:32 (six years ago) Permalink

i really enjoyed yr posts lamp, thought i couldn't quite figure out what was motivating you to continue so thoroughly while ambivalent about her. particularly enjoyed this as it has the kind of drunken gallop of a david lehman poem:

finished reading 'the year of magical thinking' just now and i liked it quite a bit, much more than i have anything else of hers. there are places where i think its sort of clunky or flaccid but the spell she casts over her life was so immersive and resonant to me the the dinners at candide with wasp dougherty the faded spode china the rewrites at the wilshire and the flights to cartagena and they way it flowed around her mourning, her daughters illness... she herself hints that shes romanticizing things but it reads like an elegy for a disappearing american leisure class. im not sure its supposed to, and the parts directly dealing death are good but seemed less vital than the other stuff, this idea of a life of grace and good linen

― Lamp, Tuesday, 24 April 2012 06:33 (3 weeks ago) Bookmark Flag Post Permalink

blossom smulch (schlump), Tuesday, 15 May 2012 10:17 (six years ago) Permalink

seven months pass...

http://www.euronews.com/images_news/img_606X341_ikea-monkey-canada-toronto-1112.jpg

amirite?

jed_, Wednesday, 19 December 2012 01:35 (five years ago) Permalink

lmao

max, Wednesday, 19 December 2012 01:36 (five years ago) Permalink

i cannot, in all honesty, take credit for this observation.

jed_, Wednesday, 19 December 2012 01:41 (five years ago) Permalink

one year passes...

not too far from the madding crowd?

http://payload59.cargocollective.com/1/4/128429/3489413/6a00d8341c526553ef0131100836a6970c-800wi.jpg

dow, Friday, 11 July 2014 22:46 (four years ago) Permalink

five months pass...
one month passes...

Didion on Salinger, 1961:

However brilliantly rendered (and it is), however hauntingly right in the rhythm of its dialogue (and it is), Franny and Zooey is finally spurious, and what makes it spurious is Salinger’s tendency to flatter the essential triviality within each of his readers, his predilection for giving instructions for living. What gives the book its extremely potent appeal is precisely that it is self-help copy: it emerges finally as Positive Thinking for the upper middle classes, as Double Your Energy and Live Without Fatigue for Sarah Lawrence girls.

bit of a singles monster (Eazy), Sunday, 1 March 2015 18:29 (three years ago) Permalink

ouch

flopson, Sunday, 1 March 2015 19:07 (three years ago) Permalink

ms. didion has her standards

Aimless, Sunday, 1 March 2015 19:11 (three years ago) Permalink

terrible review imo, but i'm biased

(The Other) J.D. (J.D.), Sunday, 1 March 2015 19:15 (three years ago) Permalink

Well, "Franny" zings collegiate male dorks, bulls-eyes, yet almost in passing, in a way that probably got even collegiate male dorks going, "ooooo, zing!" At a time when very few other male writers were doing that, it seems. At the same time, with the same effective understatement, he shows the quiet breakdown, the implosion of Franny. She can't tell her ahole boyfriend (who's snobbish with a jock classmate, then crude & irritable with her) what's wrong; she has to excuse herself to go collapse in the Ladies Room, in a lady-like way.
But in "Zooy," she's lying on the couch, mostly just listening while her older brother casts about, lecturing and telling anecdotes and trying to find just the right thing to snap her out of it. So yeah, that's where the self-help bit comes in, but I also take it that Salinger is lecturing some of his followers, incl. correspondents and people showing up on his doorstep, about not getting too hung up on idealism and questing etc. lecturing himself too, maybe.

dow, Sunday, 1 March 2015 19:48 (three years ago) Permalink

I found "Zooy" somewhat off-putting even in high school, even though I could be like that with my own sister (and the letter he reads from Budd put me off reading Seymour: An Introduction Raise etc to this day, alas). So can barely imagine how a young woman in 1961 might have been put off by it, but still think she's a bit too harsh (despite readily acknowledging the power of his writing).

dow, Sunday, 1 March 2015 19:55 (three years ago) Permalink

letter from Buddy, that is, one of their older sibs (F and Z are the youngest of their tribe, which we now learn includes several characters in the previous Nine Stories, my fave JD by far. Wonder what Didion thought of it?)

dow, Sunday, 1 March 2015 19:58 (three years ago) Permalink

eight months pass...

I checked out Play It as It lays from the library a couple of days ago, but not sure when, or if, I'll launch into it.

Aimless, Saturday, 21 November 2015 04:27 (three years ago) Permalink

I don't think that Didion statement on Salinger is very wrong.
But I think Salinger was a better novelist than her.

the pinefox, Saturday, 21 November 2015 13:46 (three years ago) Permalink

In one sense, the book is "about being older," she said, and the knowledge accruing from that.
Which was what? an interviewer asked.
Didion's answer made her sound like a child once more, heeding her mother's warnings. "Be a better person," she said. And then, as if the weight of all her losses was borne in upon her--her father's false-cheery calls for a drink, her mother's sad indifference, the valleys' rage to incarcerate the state's kids: "Nobody can ever be nice enough."

johnny crunch, Wednesday, 2 December 2015 01:14 (three years ago) Permalink

she was beginning research on a book abt kobe bryant in fall 2003!

harrison ford flew her to la on his private plane when quintana suffered her fall, etc

johnny crunch, Wednesday, 2 December 2015 01:55 (three years ago) Permalink

http://blog.nola.com/susanlarson/2009/04/large_joangroup.JPG

jd lookin like poochie

crime breeze (schlump), Wednesday, 2 December 2015 03:35 (three years ago) Permalink

five months pass...

Started to put this on the ILE Didion thread, but here tis:
"California Notes" (from unpublished coverage of the Patty Hearst trial for Rolling Stone; the genesis of Where I'm From, she says here)
http://www.nybooks.com/articles/2016/05/26/california-notes/?utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=NYR%20Didion%20California&utm_content=NYR%20Didion%20California+CID_971bb5f3e315687e7e3154ac1d117c1e&utm_source=Newsletter&utm_term=California%20Notes

dow, Wednesday, 4 May 2016 22:52 (two years ago) Permalink

Where I Was From, that is.

dow, Wednesday, 4 May 2016 22:54 (two years ago) Permalink

i'm really unmotivated to finish play it as it lays for a book club that is stagnating partly because of my lack of enthusiasm. the occasional moment of dark humor offers some respite but the rest is so thin that when it tries to be somewhat serious it falls pretty flat. also, weirdly conservative and maybe not-so-weirdly homophobic?

map, Wednesday, 4 May 2016 23:02 (two years ago) Permalink

i know it's really short, i could finish it in an hour, i need to just suck it up for the sake of friendship instead of procrastinating for another week.

map, Wednesday, 4 May 2016 23:03 (two years ago) Permalink

nine months pass...

South and West, ehhh---maybe? Long-ass intro re current political:
https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/forgotten-accounts/

dow, Monday, 20 February 2017 19:16 (one year ago) Permalink

eight months pass...

new Netflix doc on her by griffin dunne up tday

johnny crunch, Friday, 27 October 2017 15:17 (one year ago) Permalink

three weeks pass...
five months pass...

An essay on Didion:

And here I remember the manifold ways in which Didion’s image has been co-opted by our literary and cultural landscape, the tote bags, the Netflix documentary, the essay collection and even a writing contest at the University of California at Berkeley named after what is perhaps Didion’s most famous essay, “Goodbye to All That.” “Goodbye to All That” is a fine piece of writing, but to rest her reputation on this and The Year of Magical Thinking and two or three other selections from Slouching Towards Bethlehem and the first sentence of The White Album is, in a career as formidable and disruptive as Didion’s, not only to deflate her accomplishments but to cast her unwittingly into that most plaintive and immovable invisibility: the invisibility of the thinker whose ideas are hidden in plain sight.

https://www.dropbox.com/s/ygpk64d9dwxn4hm/Joan%20Didion%20-%20A%20Travelogue.pdf?dl=0

didionfan, Thursday, 10 May 2018 18:19 (seven months ago) Permalink


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