Didion white album essay


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The producer suggested that he borrow one from the Buffalo Springfield, who were recording in the next studio. Krieger shrugged. Morrison sat down again on the leather couch and leaned back. He lit a match. He studied the flame a while and then very slowly, very deliberately, lowered it to the fly of his black vinyl pants.

Manzarek watched him There was a sense that no one was going to leave the room, ever. The 60s- the decade she lived through and therefore, as a writer, wanted to chronicle- end before she can understand what's happening, and then all that's left are some Scientology tracts and a copy of Stranger in a Strange Land in a closet in an abandoned seaside home. But isn't that the way time always seems to pass? Didion has a cold detachment that is sometimes condescending and off-putting in my opinion, at least. She has a certain way of dryly quoting others that seems to expose the hidden vacuity at the center of their endeavor, and this sometimes seems unjustified.

In "Good Citizens" for example, she describes being at a club owned by supporters of Eugene McCarthy about a week before the California primary: The Beverly Hills Eugene's, not unlike Senator McCarthy's campaign itself, had a certain deja vu aspect to it Well okay, but there's no pleasing some people.


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What kind of light would have been sufficient to avoid cliche? And is it really so bad if a light helps to facilitate a "good talk"?

Joan Didion on Morality and Self Respect

Maybe you had to be there, but I just don't get it. Meanwhile, if a reader like me happens to really like Escape from Freedom by Erich Fromm, he's left to shrug his shoulders and understand that he's just not sophisticated enough to know why we should all instinctively roll our eyes at the mention of Erich Fromm- fair enough if you think he's worthless, but maybe you should engage with him, explain why.

It serves here as lazy shorthand for something that I think you would have had to be part of this particular milieu to get. At her worst, I remember that Didion was a big influence on Bret Easton Ellis- on his laconic style, which has always seemed derived from the assurance that nothing really matters, nothing means anything, and it would take too much energy to look into anyway. On the other hand, it is this same detachment that allows Didion to write so lucidly about folly, about sound and fury signifying nothing, about people who seem to be refugees from their own time- like the young professionals at something called The Jaycees' 32nd Annual Congress of America's Ten Outstanding Young Men: There was the belief in business success as a transcendent ideal.

There was the faith that if one transforms oneself from an "introvert" into an "extrovert", if one learns to "speak effectively" and "do a job", success and its concomitant, spiritual grace, follow naturally It was a cry in the wilderness, and this resolute determination to meet head-on was a kind of refuge. Here were some people who had been led to believe that the future was always a rational extension of the past, that there would ever be world enough and time for "turning attention", for "problems" and "solutions.

It occurred to me finally that I was listening to a true underground, to the voice of all those who have felt themselves not merely shocked but betrayed by recent history. It was supposed to have been their time. It was not. Or the leader of a Pentecostal church, busy getting his followers ready for a drive from California to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, where God has promised they'll be safe from a coming earthquake, in "Notes Toward a Dreampolitik": He seemed to be one of those people, so many of whom gravitate to Pentecostal sects, who move around the West and the South and the Border States forever felling trees in some interior wilderness, secret frontiersmen who walk around right in the ganglia of the fantastic electronic pulsing that is life in the United States and continue to receive information only through the most tenuous chains of rumor, hearsay, haphazard trickledown In the interior wilderness no one is bloodied by history Or fans of biker movies, in a passage that wouldn't have been out-of-place in Hunter S.


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Thompson's Hell's Angels. There is always that instant in which the outlaw leader stands revealed as existential hero. There is always that "perverse" sequence in which the bikers batter at some psychic sound barrier, degrade the widow, violate the virgin, defile the rose and the cross alike, break on through to the other side and find, once there, "nothing to say" In short, she's very attuned to the dissonance among ideology, action, and the psychological motivations that drive people towards those actions, very good at something she ascribes in "The White Album" to Evelyn Waugh: "scenes of industrious self-delusion, scenes of people absorbed in odd games.

In Didion's case, she explains in "In Bed" that she suffers from migraines that leave her totally incapacitated multiple times a week, and in "The White Album" that it is during her period of existential crisis that she is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis.

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Pain is isolating. Pain, unless perhaps you are a Buddhist monk or MMA fighter, engenders solipsism. This is a very unpleasant thing to think about, but there seem to be many factors that complicate the idea that we are free to choose our orientations towards life. As Didion writes, "my body was offering a precise physiological equivalent to what had been going on in my mind. The more I read of Didion, the more I thought that her occasional tone of condescension might be the result of identification. This seemed confirmed in the short and moving "On the Morning After the Sixties", in which the explicit subject is separation between the individual and the outside world, the passage of time and history: I am talking about If man was bound to err, then any social organization was bound to be in error.

It was a premise which still seems to me accurate enough, but one which robbed us early of a certain capacity for surprise We were silent because the exhilaration of social action seemed to many of us just one more way of escaping the personal, or masking for a while that dread of the meaningless which was man's fate. To have assumed that particular fate so early was the peculiarity of my generation We would live outside history.. I'm glad that I reread this essay as well.

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On my first reading, I assumed that I was reading an argument. Now I see that it's an exploration of a worldview perhaps the hardest one to see, the most mysterious- one's own, not arrived at through any conscious or self-contained process , one that she has more ambivalence about than I first realized, although she does take a stance: Only one person I knew at Berkley later discovered an ideology, dealt himself into history, cut himself loose from both his own dread and his own time.

A few of the people I knew at Berkley killed themselves not long after. Another attempted suicide in Mexico and then, in a recovery which seemed in many ways a more advanced derangement, came home and joined the Bank of America's three-year executive training program. Most of us live less theatrically, but remain the survivors of a peculiar and inward time. If I could believe that going to a barricade would affect man's fate in the slightest I would go to that barricade, and quite often I wish that I could I'm not sure it's the right one. When I compare her with a contemporary like Mailer, they seem like two sides of the same coin.

Mailer threw himself into everything, tried to be everywhere, participated in the game to the fullest.

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In other words yes, perhaps it's all a game- might as well go for broke. Or as Mailer once put it, "a true actor enjoys his life in any station. Flip the coin a second time, however, and maybe you get Chomsky or Baldwin on the other side. In this case, Didion's worldview could seem especially impoverished. Protesting Vietnam, for instance, may not have changed man's fate in the sense she's talking about, and in fact I don't believe that anything can, but it did change the fates of individuals.

And yes, it's probably true that any social action I ever take part in will be "just one more way of escaping the personal"; but even if that's the case, even if Didion has correctly pinpointed the genesis of all human endeavor in a desperation to escape which sounds uncannily like Erich Fromm, by the way , maybe in some cases the variant of escape is more important than the motivation.

There is something distasteful about her formulation: "Yes, I would risk my freedom and my life trying to better society with the rest of you, if only I weren't smart enough to realize it's all for naught I can empathize with her, which I think is why I found this short 4 pages essay so affecting. I would also like to join the world, the barricade, deal myself into history, sit down at the table with Mailer knowing the stakes, knowing that I might be wrong- what else is there to do?

But I also share Didion's hesitation- you might be wrong.

Notes on “The White Album”

In the similarly short "At the Dam", she tells us that, at seemingly arbitrary moments in her life, she receives visitations from the Hoover Dam; in New York, in Los Angeles, it materializes in front of her, and she hears the turbines. On one visit she visits the dam, that is , she writes, I walked across the marble star map that traces a sidereal revolution of the equinox and fixes forever, the Reclamation man had told me, for all time and for all people who can read the stars, the date the dam was dedicated.

The star map was, he had said, for when we were all gone and the dam was left. Of course that was the image I had seen always, seen it without quite realizing what I saw, a dynamo finally free of man, splendid at last in its absolute isolation, transmitting power and releasing water to a world where no one is. And that is about as good a description of her writing as I can imagine. View all 7 comments. This seems to me, even today, a very important and accurate assessment of not only what happened within various egalitarian movements in the last half of the 20th century, but a shift that occurred on whole societal, generational levels in America.

After that midpoint in the book, pretty much every essay contains little revelations, little personal thunderstorms and continental illuminations.

Joan didion white album essay summary

Didion does such a great job of balancing the internal and the external, the personal and the social, the personal and the political. She rarely seems angry; she often seems disappointed. Her prose is never shaken this woman can write a hell of a balanced, beautiful sentence , but what we are given as her personality often seems on the verge of tearing in the winds of her times. Speaking of, wind is an important element in this collection.

The Books: The White Album: ‘The White Album’, by Joan Didion | The Sheila Variations

Wind blows from the Pacific through an open hotel room window as she anticipates a tidal wave and a possible divorce in Honolulu. Wind stirs up debris in the streets of Bogota. Wind blows and stokes fires across southern California that heat to such an extreme that birds explode in mid-air. Wind ripples the surface of the ocean as she observers a diver submerging into cold water thick with kelp. Wind has aided the coastal fires in coating the surface of the water with soot.

The elements are ever present and interactive. Light and water on the beaches of California and Hawaii coddle the idle survivors of old money. She is a great observer of rain, rain and its antithesis, dust. She is a master at uncovering the telling detail of a scene, and this includes the obscure detail ferreted out that in brief is revelatory of someone or something's broader historicity.

Her voice is always re-centering in the human, the cultural, the societal- the orientation of the individual in respect to the massive undulations of the country and the epoch. A military graveyard attendant. Radical activists.

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