Joan Didion

Dear Readers: Back after a very long hiatus, and with no promises that posting will be any more regular in the future than they have been in the recent past. But the tributes following Joan Didion’s recent death spurred me to the following reflection. As the post makes obvious, I found her authorial persona a bit much. My sense of her worldview is based primarily on the essays she would publish in the New York Review of Books on the culture/inner workings of Hollywood and of the American shenanigans in Central America and elsewhere.

The genre that best captures Joan Didion’s worldview is film noir.  She assigned herself the role of the tough, cynical but honest, detective; Raymond Chandler’s Marlowe.  The poor benighted souls driven by small-time greed and massive fear were accorded a measure of sympathy, but mostly deserved pity-inflected contempt.  The corrupt powers who pulled the strings behind the scenes were to be condemned as nefarious, but there was always a sneaking admiration for the grandeur of their schemes, the almost sublime scale of their desires.  That ambivalent attitude toward the powerful is one reason Didion slid so seamlessly from the political right to the left.  Her exposure, even condemnation, of the corrupt retained that slight hint of a desire to be one of their number.  And there was also the fact that the 1960s made it easy to trade in right-wing fantasies of communists in every cupboard for leftist obsessions (somewhat better founded) with the C.I.A., the Department of Defense’s funding of higher education, and corporate power along with bought politicians that did Big Business’s bidding.  “The Establishment” as con game, never showing the marks where the aces really were.  Didion offered to her readers the pleasure of being in the know, of joining the select few who knew the score. 

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