Re: Guest Post - Joan Didion

1

This is good.

http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/01/the-autumn-of-joan-didion/308851/?single_page=true

Esp this line:

Somebody holds the door open for Lily in a hardware store, and she thinks she has a very complex situation on her hands.


Posted by: bjk | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 12:42 PM
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I really enjoy Joan Didion, and liked the White Album (the essay about shopping mall design sticks in my memory) but I had a friend who had exactly the same reaction that you did.

I think that what you respond to as being
reactionary is her being (a) not all that political (note that when she does start covering politics explicitly in the essays collected in Political Fictions she's clearly coming to it as an outsider) (b) generally cranky. She's a curmudgeon -- which does make her conservative in many ways, but isn't the same thing as being reactionary.

But I'm sure there are other people who are more familiar with her than I am. I haven't read the linked essay, nor have I read her books in a while.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 12:45 PM
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I ... think I always knew this? I've tended to perceive Didion as lofty, for lack of a better word. Perhaps what you gesture toward with "condescending".


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 12:52 PM
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I hate to say this, but she was born in 1934: it would have been an uphill climb for her to look favorably on the women's movement. Not that all women born and raised in that era looked upon feminism disapprovingly, but social conditioning is a powerful thing.

I hope this doesn't sound a snotty thing to say.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 12:56 PM
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I think I already said my piece about Didion.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 1:09 PM
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Joan Didion should be forced to read The Year Of Magical Thinking every year for the rest of her life as penance for everything bad she's ever done. I've heard Play It As It Lays is good. The first couple pages had some good prose in them, but I wound up buying something else that day.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 1:17 PM
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(a) not all that political

I think this is an important point. Didion studies and writes* about place and mood much more than does about politics and process. I think she's an absolutely master of conveying subtle elements of scene throughout the essays White Album. Also, I'm pretty sure that she found the various flavors of hippies surrounding her at the time pretty annoying -- at best -- and had real questions about what the fuck they were doing to themselves and the culture. I don't recall whether she lumped all lefties in with the hippies, but given her overall lack of nuance when it came to politics, I wouldn't be entirely surprised if she did.

* Wrote, I suppose, as I haven't read anything she's written in recent years.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 1:19 PM
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add an "in" somewhere up there


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 1:20 PM
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If you write about place and mood in a politician's house, you are writing about politics. I can't speak to the essays. I do think I ought to read Play It As It Lays one of these days.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 1:24 PM
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Yup, that's why I said "much more." But given that I haven't read the essay in years, and you haven't read it at all, we're probably not likely to have the world's most nuanced conversation about it.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 1:29 PM
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I read and enjoyed (mostly for its evocative descriptions, rather than any particular analysis or argument it may have contained) Slouching Towards Bethlehem a while back but I've been reluctant to read more Didion out of a sense that it might be all downhill from there.


Posted by: essear | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 1:31 PM
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Incidentally, Didion is one of writers for which I've bothered transcribing a passage on unfogged.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 1:32 PM
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The passage linked in 12 is interesting and may explain a lot of this other stuff about her.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 2:01 PM
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This seems like a reasonable place to discuss the illiberal adopting hippie style, or possibly the children of the hippies subsiding into rentiers. I don't know if Didion would have come up with a good name but she could have told us exactly what they wear.

Nasty crunchies seem just like the median mean Victorian to me -- obsessed with purity and health of food but for their immediate family only. Maybe I can repopularize the an anti-saleratus diet.


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 2:11 PM
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Never read much Didion, and not much inclined to pick it up. Read the Flanagan piece linked above: good God there should be stronger warnings about things like that.

The monochromatic use of 'liberal' in the OP is kind of jarring to me. Maybe it's a word that really does need to be retired for a decade or two, replaced with the various terms that capture less comprehensively the spectrum from center-right to Marxist (and obviously, tangents like the hippie thing).


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 2:12 PM
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(15 posted without having read 14. Maybe 'hippie' should be retired for a while as well.)


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 2:14 PM
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The monochromatic use of 'liberal' in the OP is kind of jarring to me.

Yeah, me too. I'm actually not really sure what JRoth means by it.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 2:15 PM
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It's a strong essay. My take from it is that Didion is annoyed by people who conflate one concept for another, because she is intellectually honest and perceptive. One might believe that women holding careers is a good thing in the abstract while also believing that the proletariat is ever always getting fucked without thinking that those are actually the same idea, and that they don't conflict at the edges.

I liked this quote: "The rhetorical willingness to break eggs became, in practice , only a thrifty capacity for finding the sermon in every stone."

Didion is a good writer. Intellectual dishonesty makes her angry. When one is frustrated one sometimes doesn't know who to be angry at, yet something needs to be said against the tiresome bullshit stories which inform us all of today's culture trend.

But the conflation of marxism and feminism didn't help the marxists or the feminists and one wonders if that wasn't always the point.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 2:17 PM
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15.1: The name itself is the warning, Charley.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 2:19 PM
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15, 17: Yeah, me too. I figured, okay, there are at least two pieces of bait in the OP: the final question, obviously, and the reference to "actual liberals". Do I feel like taking either of them up?


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 2:26 PM
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I wish people more often wrote to tell me why they weren't writing.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 2:32 PM
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I'm frequently jarred by things that have become common usage -- terms like hippie and liberal being applied far beyond my idiolect -- and don't assume anything is meant by them.

JD is right, istm, about the Marxists searching through the 60s early 70s for a pony they could ride into the corral, and continually being disappointed. That feminism could be that pony was laughable, imo, from the moment first proposed. So JD seems to me to be beating straw persons -- not unlike the America hating friends of her parents that Flanagan flogs in her piece. I don't find victory over straw a praiseworthy triumph for intellectual honesty.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 2:35 PM
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This essay by David Ulin in the CJR riffing off of Slouching in not half bad.

I think it's three-quarters good! And I'd never seen it before, so thanks. I also think that writing about a writer like Didion is hard, because the bar for prose is set so terribly, scarily high.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 3:15 PM
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I fucking loved the linked OP Didion.

Think Progress

Page opened, title and picture, and I slapped myself.

I was also immediately reminded of Episode 1 of Maison Ikkoku, because that scene is nearly replicated with a woman-while-working, played to comic effect at the young man's expense. "Stop looking at her ass, Godai".

I think Rumiko Takahashi might have gotten along with Didion.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 3:19 PM
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victory over straw is rather like shooting fish in a barrel, but as I didn't make the straw, I can't be blamed for the cleanup.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 3:21 PM
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Is what Didion should have titled her essay!


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 3:22 PM
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I see now from perusing the archives that it was Witt who ruined Joan Didion for me. Thanks Witt!


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 3:36 PM
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22: not unlike the America hating friends of her parents that Flanagan flogs in her piece.

Hmm, I missed that, did I read the same piece that CC did? I'll admit to not having read it that closely--am not going to be that interested in any opinion of Flanagan--but I did like the firsthand stuff on Didion's return to Berkeley. And even a blind pig finds an acorn every once in a while, Digby catches Cokie Roberts* doing so wrt voting rights.

*In some respects Didion's political and cultural stance reminds me of Roberts' (if Didion chose to express them with banal lack of insight on radio and TV news programs where she inexplicably was featured).


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 3:37 PM
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28: I blame society.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 3:38 PM
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And of course I was reminded of the ThinkProgress piece by this in the Didion.

Even the brightest movement women found themselves engaged in sullen public colloquies about the inequities of dishwashing and the intolerable humiliations of being observed by construction workers on Sixth Avenue. (This grievance was not atypic in that discussion of it always seemed to take on unexplored Ms. Scarlett overtones, suggestions of fragile cultivated flowers being "spoken to," and therefore violated, by uppity proles.)

which made me laugh. The whole piece made me laugh. And the TP piece did make me feel guilty.

Is Didion one of those High Culture Conservatives that some of us find attractive? You know, Waugh, Graham Greene.

"As it happens I am comfortable with the Michael Laskis of this world, with those who live outside rather than in"

"...maintaining the basic notion that keeping promises matters in a world..."

And this is half of what Maison Ikkoku is about, a boy becoming someone who can make and keep promises. The other half is about a too young widow.

Liberal or conservative, feminist or rape culture?


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 3:43 PM
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29: I was unaware she had become a cultural pundit, so she's one for one in my book, which is generally ignorant of annoying bullshit.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 3:44 PM
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31: funny, I was just reminded of the fact that some women are rich.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 3:45 PM
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Don't tie Didion to her time and place too much.

Like Waugh and Greene, she will find her fallen world, her world fallen. And it's hard to be good, so hard we almost have to lie all the time.

Maybe that's her, maybe the world is always fallen, maybe both.

Better than "we're great, it's all the fault of those bad people over there"

Ar least better for me, in some weird sense of better.

I just saw the movie, three or more times, but I loved Play It As It Lays.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 3:55 PM
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28: Anytime, Walt.

On the OP and 17, I'll probably regret this, but I've certainly encountered the kind of self-identified liberals who are SO preoccupied with superficial liberal tics that they fail to actually, you know, practice liberalism.

E.g. somebody who spends a lot of time policing other people's language but drives a massive car even for nearby errands, pays their babysitter/housekeeper crap wages, maintains a huge chemically enhanced lawn in the midst of a drought, and so on. That's what I took JRoth to be referring to.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 4:37 PM
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I wrote a couple responses to 35 and then deleted them after thinking more about it. Suffice it to say for now that I'm not sure "liberalism" is the best term for the standard you and JRoth would like to hold these people to.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 4:48 PM
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I liked The White Album. Even the Women's Movement piece. I especially like the devastating obituary about Bishop Pike.

What struck me most about that Women's Movement piece, though, was the lack of empathy. Didion went to university (Stanford) and then spent about a decade doing the bohemian thing in New York before getting married and having kids. Although it wasn't made explicit in the essay, it seemed pretty clear that many of the women she was criticizing had gone straight to married/kids and only now later in life - enabled by the women's movement - were getting a chance to engage in the sort of self discovery and opportunity to live for themselves rather than for everyone else that Didion had had as a matter of course.

It seemed a bit harsh to be mocking them for wanting the same things that she had enjoyed.

Of course, I think empathy is not really Didion's forte. Sharp observation yes. Empathy no.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 4:51 PM
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Stanford

Actually, UC Berkeley. Hence the "return" in the Flanagan piece.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 5:00 PM
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empathy is a necessary condition of sharp observation, with the happy corollary that the cruelest people are often ineffective.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 5:03 PM
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Like Voldemort getting his ass handed to him by three teenagers.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 5:16 PM
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37.2, 37.3: The clubwomen (half a generation older than Didion) who wouldn't call themselves feminists come off a bit the same way. In their case they were richer than the strident people they're mocking. On the other hand, the clubwomen consolidated gains the suffragettes had made, and often did good social work, and it might have been true that they could do so because they were using proper social forms. Is there a theory of social change alternating between the radical and the tactful?


Posted by: clew | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 5:32 PM
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41: the old policy of magnanimity and cruelty.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 5:48 PM
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Does Didion describe herself as a liberal? Obviously she's (more or less) culturally a liberal, but I don't think that's what she would call herself.


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 6:09 PM
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29.last - See the nepotism thread; the rise of Cokie Roberts is quite explicable.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 6:41 PM
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44: hah!


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 6:43 PM
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Nepotism and the Mayan calendar. Either explain it just fine.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 6:57 PM
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Nobody talks about the Mayan calendar anymore. I bet if the world did end in 2012, everybody would remember it.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 7:16 PM
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44: Oh yeah, knew that. In fact given that Boggs was a member of the Warren Commission yet apparently skeptical of its results (and died in an Alaskan plane crash in the early '70s), some conspiratists like this one say she was paid off with good positions...


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 7:22 PM
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47: Maybe it did, and that's why no one is talking about it.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 7:24 PM
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Mr. Magic Bullet is just down the street from my bar.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 7:26 PM
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The coroner, not the stripper.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 7:31 PM
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He's buried in Montgomery County Pa., unless you are applying Specter's nickname to Wecht.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 7:31 PM
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As I see that you are.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 7:33 PM
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Maybe. Old white guys look pretty much the same.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 7:33 PM
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That essay on the women's movement is a pretty spectacular display of condescension.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 7:37 PM
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53: Specter was a stripper?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 7:37 PM
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I read Slouching Towards Bethlehem for a class at Berkeley. The instructors decided we were running out of time so instead of discussing it as planned, we continued discussion of an earlier reading. I was kind of annoyed because I wanted to talk about it. Now I don't have much to say, not having thought about it often since then, though I remember enjoying it more or less.

This concludes my insightful comment on the book.


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 7:51 PM
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My insightful comments concluded a few years ago. I'll let yinz know if I might start again.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 7:59 PM
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Miles Davis was terrible to the people around him, Celine and Hamsun collaborated during the war. Didion is a fantastic writer, her personal politics are for most of her essays besides the point. Even though those politics make this particular essay unreadable. Her work is uneven, and for me maddening because the insightful pieces segue so smoothly into crud.

I haven't read the Year of Magical Thinking, seems best to wait until being at least being retired. I thought Where I was From was better than Slouching....


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 8:14 PM
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Collaborated with who? Each other?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 8:17 PM
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Whom?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 8:21 PM
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Huh, I didn't know that Cokie Roberts was Hale Boggs's daughter.


Posted by: teofilo | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 8:24 PM
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Leaving bar. Tempted to see if "Loving you" is on the jukebox.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 8:24 PM
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whenever my pieces segue into crud I know it's time to get a new battery for the damn thing.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 8:25 PM
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I've always liked Joan Didion a lot, but it never for a moment occurred to me to think she was a 'liberal'. I suppose you could call her a conservative, but in a way that has zero to do with the political movement 'conservatism' in the U.S. She observes a fallen world with the lofty and disapproving eye of one who is less fallen. She is above the masses. Bob called her a 'high culture conservative' in the British sense, but she's not nearly as nasty as some of those characters, who really did hate wogs and women. Her scorn falls on all equally, including powerful men. And to her credit she never let herself get driven so crazy by the hippies that she took the 'intellectual' road to neoconservatism. She turned on Reagan right away and 'Salvador' is a savage take on U.S. foreign policy. I've rarely seen her be soft on anyone.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 8:35 PM
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OK, now I see how I commented into the 2-year-old cover band thread. It was NickS's link's fault!


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 9:29 PM
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Damn his eyes!


Posted by: nosflow | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 9:33 PM
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y'all are messing with my head again.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 08-25-13 10:21 PM
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58

I appreciate your use of Pittsburghese.

Hamsun and also Celine I assume collaborated with the Nazis. Or maybe you already knew that and your humor went over my head.


Posted by: Britta | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 12:57 AM
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18: It's a strong essay. My take from it is that Didion is annoyed by people who conflate one concept for another, because she is intellectually honest and perceptive.

Funny. It seems to me like an incredibly weak essay written by someone who's conflated the "women's movement" with a string of unpleasant quotidian moments stitched together to represent the whole without any reference to its actual accomplishments (let alone any leavening positive characteristics, God forbid), who is being intellectually dishonest and unperceptive about the source of her own resentment. I did not previously know that Joan Didion was socially paralytic, a "Goldwater girl" and "Nixon voter" and closely identified with a fashion-obsessed style formed by her time at Vogue: but after having read that essay, none of those factoids referenced in the largely-admiring piece linked at 1 comes as a surprise.

If conservatism born in that era was the politics of resentment, and I think there's a good case that it largely was, then it stands to reason that fashionably ornamental subalterns like the Joan Didion would represent, or at the very least come to represent, an apolitics of resentment. The thing about resentment is that we can all identify with it -- but as a dominant trait in someone's character it's unpleasant, and produces unpleasant people and an unpleasant deformation of the intellect. I don't really know what it means to call someone with that nature a "High Culture" anything; Didion is clearly a polished prose stylist, but I don't think that's the same thing.


Posted by: | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 1:32 AM
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(The above comment is mine, and the slight incoherency suggests it's time for bed. But I hope the general point comes across relatively intact.)


Posted by: Lord Castock | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 1:35 AM
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58: I was attempting a small joke.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 4:30 AM
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Or rather, 69.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 4:32 AM
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Hitler is no joke, Moby.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 5:02 AM
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There has seldom been an author so evocative of the unspeakable.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 5:09 AM
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There has seldom been an author so evocative of the unspeakable.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 5:09 AM
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As you can see.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 5:13 AM
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70.2: you really need to read most anything she wrote after 1980. You're making her sound like just another neoconservative, and she definitely is not that. 'High culture conservative' makes sense for her -- she's tough-minded and deeply sophisticated, but also very hierarchical and judgmental. But she never put her intellectual gifts in the service of simple resentment of the left the way the neoconservative right did, she turned the same judgmental quality on the right as it advanced.

As for the feminism piece, it's unfair and even contemptuous in spots, not a great piece. But it does also predict something about the way 'sex and the city' consumerist feminism elbowed aside radical feminism as the movement grew more mainstream.


Posted by: PGD | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 6:02 AM
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Hm. I've never thought of "neoconservatives" as having put their gifts in service of simple resentment, that having been the signal trait of regular Goldwater conservatives that has identified the mainstream "movement" ever since. I thought the innovation that earned the "neo-" appellation was the combination of extreme Straussian moral, um, pragmatism with a quasi-revolutionary rhetoric of elevated moral certainty that paid lip service to some typically progressive causes like the Rights of Women (adopted of course strictly for purposes of war profiteering). The aesthetics of the Project for the New American Century.

I'm not accusing Didion of that; just FWICS of plain old Nixonism. In fact it sounds rather fitting that she turned fire on the Reaganites to some extent later on, in the sense that that's exactly what Tricky Dick would've done if he'd still been fit for public consumption. But sure, perhaps she does qualify as "deeply sophisticated" in some sense -- I don't know.


Posted by: Lord Castock | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 6:27 AM
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(There's a collection of J-Diddy essays online here.)


Posted by: Lord Castock | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 6:34 AM
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Sometimes contempt is called for. Didion is annoyed with those who conflate feminism with other social movements if only because it resulted in ridiculous sentences and a rhetoric which seeks to aggrandize ones own problems, which is the essence of annoying. When you force people to deal with your straw men you annoy them. Ultimately, you will turn those who simply want to enjoy themselves away from your movement.

Didion has contempt for those who consciously form all argument from the vantage point of self-interest. And she is right to have that contempt, and without it she would not write such pretty prose.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 6:37 AM
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I want to meet her just so I can see how she reacts to being called J-Diddy.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 6:38 AM
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81.2: But again, this "contempt" seems perfectly self-serving in much the way Didion is professing to be annoyed by. It relieves her from the concern of having to actually analyze or confront the "movement" with any accuracy, providing instead permission to simply indulge at length a shallow, rather poisonous resentment of women whose real sin appears to have been having a confidence she didn't and getting to transgress boundaries she wouldn't or couldn't. If she lands an occasional blow on something that looks like Actual Feminism in the process, it would seem largely incidental.

That kind of contempt seems actually perfectly useless to me, and in fact injurious. Any piece about the Women's Movement that actually uses scare quotes thus:

But of course something other than an objection to being "discriminated against" was at work here, something other than an aversion to being "stereotyped" in one's sex role.

... is being written by a smart person who has made themselves into a moron.


Posted by: Lord Castock | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 6:51 AM
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Making yourself into a moron means you don't have student loans from the MBA program.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 6:56 AM
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My take on it was that Didion was not actually expressing contempt for feminism -- for the idea of equality -- but for a particular type of writing about feminism which was perhaps more prevalent in the era of her essay, which conflated feminism with marxism for some strange rhetorical goal which was never met, and which was, for her, very frustrating to read.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 6:58 AM
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I think this is something fiction writers whisper to themselves every night as they fall asleep, trying to convince themselves of its truth:

...for fiction is in most ways hostile to ideology...

Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 6:59 AM
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Conceivable objections to her argument would be that (a) people weren't really conflating marxism with feminism in the way she characterized them as doing, or (b) that marxism and feminism are actually concomitant in all respects. I would not make argument (b) successfully, and I don't have the knowledge base to make argument (a). Lord Castock are you trying to make argument (a)?


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 7:01 AM
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for fiction is in most ways hostile to ideology

Wrong. Hostile to dogmatism, but that's a different thing.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 7:02 AM
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85: Maybe I'm stupid but I gave up the essay in frustration because it's never particularly lucid about what or who it is arguing against. It seems like a vague gesture against imagined idiots.


Posted by: Yawnoc | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 7:09 AM
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85: I think that would have been a more manageable subject -- although even confined to a subset of Marxist-Feminists her views would still qualify as uncharitable and hostile to the point of caricature -- but AFAICS the essay she wrote is purporting to be about "The Women's Movement" in general, and I don't think her mention of Marxism really constitutes a cohesive analytical argument as such. More an item in a laundry list of silly, childish traits of The Women's Movement which obviously had to have been in the main about silly, childish things since it could have had no actual sexism or discrimination or stereotyping to cope with.

As analysis, my conceivable objection to this position is that it is actually incredibly fucking stupid. As rhetoric-of-resentment it is of course quite well-packaged and executed, but bad for you.


Posted by: Lord Castock | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 7:10 AM
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89: I think that is precisely its function. And it invites the reader in to substitute for its vaguely imagined idiots whatever specific idiots its gestures bring to mind for them.


Posted by: Lord Castock | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 7:12 AM
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Looks like I will read it again, but also looks like it can be read in opposite ways.

1) I read the Didion as saying feminism in practice wasn't "Marxian" enough. It used the language of social revolution for bourgeois hegemonic lifestyle objectives. But I cannot deny this is "She agrees with me!" stuff.

2) Shulamith Firestone did not become the new Lenin.

3) Didn't we just have this same argument about the late 60s LGBT movement, starting radical, becoming accommodationist and conservative? Maybe not here.
Also, I think at CT, I said the hippies wanted to end all wars, not just pull out of Vietnam and move into Iraq (Hi Matt! Hi Ezra!)

Reformism, almost by definition, is in with the new boss.

4) To Didion's credit, she saw all this at the beginning. See discussion of the speech John Lewis wanted to give in 1963, and the way leadership (including MLK) pulled him back, and well, the partial failure of the CRM.

5) Lenin also saw the problem with the Mensheviks. It's a talent.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 7:24 AM
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Well, let's imagine a world in which Joan Didion is primarily motivated to write a coherent essay, and is not trying to fool everyone into resenting each other. Let's imagine a world in which there is some distance between Joan Didion and Sean Hannity.

It could very well be that, in that world, Joan Didion would know that there was not, by the 1970s, a single coherent thing called The Women's Movement, and might, in using that term, be meaning to call into question the legitimacy of individual writers who had adopted it as their own.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 7:26 AM
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I don't think the essay (like IIRC most of Didion's work) is meant as an ideological critique of the feminist movement. It's meant as an expression of discomfort with political ideology generally for its dehumanizing aspect. Specifically here it's an evocation of fear that the movement (then) seemed to be careening wildly between weird Marxist overstatement that was untenable and unsustainable, and a kind of banal consumerist feminism that was not very attentive to the actual status of really-existing women at the time. She was probably right about that at the time. It's not "Nixoninan" because she refuses to slide into simply being a reactionary -- for that she would need to be suggesting that there is some traditionalist/authoritarian/patriarchal alternative that she prefers to what she is critiquing, which she never does. In general, it's certainly very far from her strongest piece, in part because her writing seems so clipped and the targets not fully described, and the framework not really thought out.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 7:29 AM
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How about we imagine a world in which Joan Didion is primarily motivated to write a coherent essay and nearly all the land in the world is covered by water?


Posted by: Opinionated Kevin Costner | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 7:30 AM
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Let's imagine a world in which Lord Castock recognizes the difference between Joan Didion and Sean Hannity. I'm pretty sure we actually live in that world, so it should be easy.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 7:30 AM
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Well, let's imagine a world in which Joan Didion is primarily motivated to write a coherent essay, and is not trying to fool everyone into resenting each other.

This is an interesting response actually. Anything putting Didion in the same group as Caitlin Flanagan is on the wrong track.


Posted by: Cryptic ned | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 7:34 AM
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Woah, I remember reading this description of lesbianism, and I forgot that it was from this essay:

Increasingly it seemed that the aversion was to adult sexual life itself: how much cleaner to stay forever children. One is constantly struck, in the accounts of lesbian relationships which appear from time to time in the movement literature, by the emphasis on the superior "tenderness" of the relationship, the "gentleness" of the sexual connection, as if the participants were wounded birds. The derogation of assertiveness as "machismo" has achieved such currency that one imagines several million women to delicate to deal with a man more overtly sexual than, say, David Cassidy. Just as one had gotten the unintended but inescapable suggestion, when told about the "terror and revulsion" experienced by women in the vicinity of construction sites, of creatures too "tender" for the abrasiveness of daily life, too fragile for the streets, so now one was getting, in the later literature of the movement, the impression of women too "sensitive" for the difficulties and ambiguities of adult life, women unequipped for reality and grasping at the movement as a rationale for denying that reality.

Caitlin Flanagan couldn't have put it better.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 7:38 AM
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I don't read the essay as conservative except in the sense that it's sort of an indiscriminately irritated gesture. There are clearly specific things about the women's movement as it then existent that bothered her, but she didn't really bother to parse them out.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 7:40 AM
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I've finally read the essay to the end, and it is a terrible fucking essay. Anyone who's defending it is out of their minds. The final 4 paragraphs are not about Marxism at all, but a total attack on women who have the temerity to want to be Joan Didion. I guess there's only room for one.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 7:41 AM
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I find myself agreeing with almost everyone, but mostly with Castock -- that is, Castock's analysis is straightforwardly right, but everyone else has a point. Didion's dismissing the women's movement because it's made up of silly people who don't have any real problems. And that's cheap and stupid and you can apply it to any movement -- most people are silly, and most people who have the spare capacity to be involved in politics can be characterized as not having any real problems. Didion's understanding Marxism isn't derived from her experiences as a member of the exploited proletariat, after all.

On the other hand, her aesthetic distaste for particular feminists is a reaction with its own validity, and if you read the piece with what is probably more charity than it deserves, you can read it for that, and ignore the poorly founded nature of how it purports to apply to the women's movement generally.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 7:44 AM
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Kobe thanks you for freeing him from any angst he felt for not bothering to read the essay.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 7:46 AM
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98: The derogation of assertiveness as "machismo" has achieved such currency that one imagines several million women to delicate to deal with a man more overtly sexual than, say, David Cassidy.

Wrong on that point as well, J-Diddy!

[Shirley] Jones also says her stepson David Cassidy was definitely his father's son. According to the tell-all, both Cassidy men were very well endowed. "David's brothers called him Donk, for Donkey," she writes.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 7:48 AM
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My take on it was that Didion was not actually expressing contempt for feminism -- for the idea of equality -- but for a particular type of writing about feminism which was perhaps more prevalent in the era of her essay, which conflated feminism with marxism for some strange rhetorical goal which was never met, and which was, for her, very frustrating to read.

I don't think it was just things she was reading (though it was partly that), but her take on a particular "scene" that, in Joan Didion style, she dropped into for a little bit and then took as emblematic of both a social movement and the state of the culture as a whole. Specifically, she's talking about the "radical", largely academic New York feminists groups associated with Shulamith Firestone and the Redstockings (especially Firestone's book, "The Dialectic of Sex").

On that topic, I thought N+1 had an interesting couple of roundtables a year ago by particpiants in that scene on Firestone's legacy.


Posted by: Criminally Bulgur | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 7:53 AM
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98 -- that's not a description of "lesbianism" but an expression of contempt at the idea that women should seek out and affirmatively choose to be in lesbian relationships because they are more "gentle" and "tender" and therefore feminist, which if you think about it is both a pretty ridiculous idea and one that did have some currency at the time.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 7:53 AM
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Oh, hey, this is up now. Sorry about the overuse of "liberal" there; I guess I didn't reread carefully enough, and I thought that the usage in the first para was to something we've discussed enough that I didn't need to be super-precise.

I"m only 20 comments in, so maybe it's been covered by now, but just to clarify/expand for myself:

Essentially, take anyone who reliably votes Democratic (but might be amenable to Susan Collins types) and would be on the left end of the spectrum in most high end country clubs, and put them in one of these towns where they sell t-shirts reading "Peoples Republic of [Town]", and before long you'll hear much more spirited rants about drum circles and laws about plastic bags than you'd ever hear about, say, George W. Bush.

It's the spirit behind hippie-punching, but where that practice seems to be about intentional political positioning ("I'm about to say something left of center, but don't worry, I'm not one of those"), the thing I'm getting at is more visceral. There's a whiff of, "I don't agree with Republicans, but at least they're not hippies."

On Didion herself, I didn't realize she was quite that old and likely to be of a different era; in the titular essay, she talks about hanging around a recording studio with the Doors, which doesn't seem like something that a 35-y.o. who (kind of) looks down on baby boomers would have done.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 7:55 AM
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women should seek out and affirmatively choose to be in lesbian relationships because they are more "gentle" and "tender" and therefore feminist, which if you think about it is both a pretty ridiculous idea and one that did have some currency at the time.

I dunno, that sounds like a pretty good idea. Men treat women quite badly, to a first approximation. Why not try the other side?


Posted by: Bave | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 8:00 AM
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107: Asked and answered.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 8:07 AM
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Why not try the other side?

I think this goes in the crossword thread.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 8:11 AM
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107: It becomes ridiculous if you, like Didion, assume that the issue is that men are unappealingly forceful and rough in a way that's displeasing, as opposed to there being any meaningful ill-treatment based on gender roles. She's listening to people saying lesbianism is a feminist choice because men are often abusive, and hearing it as lesbianism is a feminist choice because beards are scratchy.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 8:22 AM
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106: you sure it's not just the narcissism of small differences?


Posted by: Josh | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 8:25 AM
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There are significant problems with the idea that lesbianism is a feminist choice because men are often abusive, of course. But Didion wasn't addressing this fairly.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 8:27 AM
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Maybe it's a word that really does need to be retired for a decade or two, replaced with the various terms that capture less comprehensively the spectrum from center-right to Marxist (and obviously, tangents like the hippie thing).

I am defensively fine with it after my Marxier-than-thou friend quoted that stupid, smug Phil Ochs song at me one too many times. I sometimes wonder what my politics would be like if I could stand being condescended to.


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 9:15 AM
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I would like to stab Phil Ochs' corpse through its dark heart, just to be sure.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 9:19 AM
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The Phil Ochs-style usage really does make it hard to use the word. I think of myself as a liberal -- to the left of most people I ever meet in person, but not actually putting what I think of as an acceptable amount of energy into either working for or educating myself about seriously leftwing causes. But it's impossible to use the word as a self-description around someone who uses it to mean "Someone who claims to be sensibly leftist, but actually they're a terrible person and they suck."


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 9:27 AM
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her aesthetic distaste for particular feminists is a reaction with its own validity

"Aesthetic distaste" is very apt. I think the essay expresses her aesthetic revulsion at the unseemliness of a certain kind of political theatre.

Hippie-punching? Sort of, but that's not quite it. I think CB has it right in 104: she's reporting on a particular early 1970s radical-feminist "scene" (but conflating that scene with a much larger movement, obviously).


Posted by: Mary Catherine | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 9:28 AM
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113, 115: But you get to retain moral superiority since he refers to the DAR as "dykes of the American Revolution."


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 9:32 AM
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Let's imagine a world in which Lord Castock recognizes the difference between Joan Didion and Sean Hannity.

In that world I suppose we can ignore comment 91.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 10:14 AM
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Didion's dismissing the women's movement because it's made up of silly people who don't have any real problems.

I'm feeling trolled again and I like it (again). Just to throw it out there, the rhetorical move, "so this is feminism" might be intended to make one question whether "this" is "feminism" and not to make one decide to hate women again, because some of them have written incoherent sentences equating laundry with slavery.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 10:22 AM
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Or to put it another way, let's imagine there is this thing called marxism, which, however, you feel about it, is a coherent concept regarding redistribution of wealth. Now let's imagine there is another thing, called feminism, which essentially demands equal rights for men and women. It is also a coherent idea. In putting one of these concepts exclusively in the language of the other, one might end up thinking and saying a lot of things which are incoherent, and that bothers someone like Didion perhaps even more than it should.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 10:26 AM
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106: Presumably, but it tends to translate to bad politics; as I say, it's a tendency that supports hippie-punching, even if it isn't the same thing.

Why don't center-right people rant about far right people would be my other question. I mean, maybe they do, but I've never caught wind of it. There's certainly a history of business elites and religious populists not getting along, but I don't think that's really analogous; those are people with completely different... everything, really, who happen to be members of the same coalition. What I'm talking about is more someone getting profoundly irritated by someone else with basically congruous weltanschaung and policy priorities but distinct external expression of the same. Which, yes, narcissism of small differences, but it seems mostly to reside on this side of the political spectrum.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 10:29 AM
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||

I'm giving blood and the guy next to me is watching some sort of TV movie about George W Bush on 9/11. WTF?

|>


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 10:32 AM
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121: Perhaps intellectual honesty is a strength which, for whatever reason, is more often exhibited by the left than the right these days, and not something to attack a writer for exhibiting.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 10:35 AM
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Why don't center-right people rant about far right people would be my other question.

Far right people certainly rant about center-right people.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 10:36 AM
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Mostly I'm just relieved that my irritation with this essay is justified, per 101. I'm going to give Slouching a go, but I'm open to ignoring her from here on out.

BTW, I don't think I made clear: I didn't necessarily expect Didion to be some sort of leftist (I'm not sure what I expected), but A. she seemed like an important writer to a lot of feminists (note Kate Roiphe's appearance in Caitlin's article), and B. people talked about her getting on Reagan. The sum of which was to make me expect a more congenial viewpoint.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 10:37 AM
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I suppose it would be nice to find one's opinion's justified by the votes of others, regardless of their merit, but that is the sort of thing that makes Didion write her essays.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 10:39 AM
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124: Huh. I took this as mostly humorous, but it makes me wonder whether there is something that, at least in America, makes most people look down on those to their immediate left. Leftists look down on liberals, but that's because there's no one to their lefts.

Or not.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 10:39 AM
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123: Having read the essay, as well as several others, I'm not willing to credit Didion with so much Intellectual Honesty that she had no choice but to shit on radical feminists.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 10:43 AM
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A leftist is a species of animal residing on the left, next to which there is no more left, huh JR?


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 10:43 AM
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127: I wasn't being humorous. Or at least I wasn't trying to be.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 10:45 AM
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I read Slouching for the first time yesterday, and found it wasn't as annoying as I thought it might be.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 10:45 AM
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128: Yes, the fact that you have read several essays does make me want to revisit your argument. But having read the essay we are talking about, I can explain that Didion is frustrated with feminists who demand that their ideology be put in terms of marxism, and that everyone agree with it, because it results in people saying stupid things. Try reading it again with that in mind.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 10:46 AM
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Because I'm a feminist, it's hard to read the news without noticing that Republicans who don't want to do things like shut down the government in a tantrum against Obamacare are sharply denounced by those farther to the right.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 10:49 AM
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Yeah, the far right is in the process of purging the center right from their party. The relevant difference between the left and the right is the center right doesn't seem to spend much time or energy attacking their extremists.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 10:49 AM
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134: Probably because the extremists have fucktons of money.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 10:50 AM
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The center-right spends a fair amount of time denouncing people who are as far right as Shulamith Firestone is far left.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 10:59 AM
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I'm not trying to troll you JRoth, truly I'm not. But what strikes me about 127 is that 'look down on' subsumes a number of things including 'has contempt for' 'views with alarm' 'considers their most dangerous enemy' 'is disappointed they can't take the additional small step to see that we're right' and 'likes to make fun of.' I'm sure folks can think of more, some weaker or more positive, some stronger and darker.

Most of these won't apply to any given person/tendency on the spectrum as they consider some other person/tendency. But I think it as valid as 127 to say that radicals look down on moderates and that moderates look down on conservatives. And that radicals look down on conservatives and vice versa.

No matter where you are, it's not just the people to your immediate right who look down on you -- it's everyone. Have a nice day.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 10:59 AM
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Fucktons of money, the ability to knock out an incumbent in a primary, and the steely determination to protect democracy even when others give up and stop asking for video footage of the president's birth.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 11:01 AM
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The center-right spends a fair amount of time denouncing people who are as far right as Shulamith Firestone is far leftHitler as liberals.


Posted by: Eggplant | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 11:05 AM
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The center-right spends a fair amount of time denouncing people who are as far right as Shulamith Firestone is far left.

Really? They must do their denouncing very quietly. Or maybe I just don't read/watch the right news venues.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 11:05 AM
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And on the right, what makes someone an extremist is the willingness to do battle with the near enemy as well as the far enemy.

Moderate left is probably correct that there are votes to be had to its right from fighting with the far left (probably even a net plus), and moderate right is probably correct that there aren't so many votes to be had to its left from fighting the far right, and certainly not a net plus. There's no left Limbaugh.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 11:06 AM
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Which isn't to say that it's not perfectly possible to develop a marxist feminism which is highly creative and perfectly coherent. Sheila Rowbotham, Hilary Wainwright, Lynne Segal and Margaret Coulson are among the British examples that spring to mind of women who were active during the period Didion is writing about.

Possibly there were fewer such in the US, given the toxic influence of Maoism on American marxism in the 70s and also the greater influence of separatist trends, but it isn't a good idea to generalise.


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 11:09 AM
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she seemed like an important writer to a lot of feminists (note Kate Roiphe's appearance in Caitlin's article)

The conclusion there is fine, but I'm not sure that I would base it on the opinion of a writer best known for a book asserting that date rate is something feminists largely invented.


Posted by: snarkout | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 11:10 AM
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142 > 132


Posted by: chris y | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 11:10 AM
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I mean, Shulamith Firestone is very very very far left! The equivalent isn't Chris Christie denouncing Rand Paul, it's Chris Christie denouncing David Duke, which sort of thing does happen pretty regularly.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 11:11 AM
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How many times did Shulamith Firestone come within a couple of percentage points of winning a state-wide primary?


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 11:13 AM
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E.g., sample Firestone passage copied from Wikipedia for maximum laziness. This isn't just "let's all have universal healthcare."

So that just as to assure elimination of economic classes requires the revolt of the underclass (the proletariat) and, in a temporary dictatorship, their seizure of the means of production, so to assure the elimination of sexual classes requires the revolt of the underclass (women) and the seizure of control of reproduction: not only the full restoration to women of ownership of their own bodies, but also their (temporary) seizure of control of human fertility - the new population biology as well as all the social institutions of child-bearing and child-rearing. And just as the end goal of socialist revolution was not only the elimination of the economic class privilege but of the economic class distinction itself, so the end goal of feminist revolution must be, unlike that of the first feminist movement, not just the elimination of male privilege but of the sex distinction itself: genital differences between human beings would no longer matter culturally. (A reversion to an unobstructed pansexuality Freud's 'polymorphous perversity' - would probably supersede hetero/homo/bi-sexuality.) The reproduction of the species by one sex for the benefit of both would be replaced by (at least the option of) artificial reproduction: children would born to both sexes equally, or independently of either, however one chooses to look at it; the dependence of the child on the mother (and vice versa) would give way to a greatly shortened dependence on a small group of others in general, and any remaining inferiority to adults in physical strength would be compensated for culturally. The division of labour would be ended by the elimination of labour altogether (through cybernetics). The tyranny of the biological family would be broken.

Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 11:14 AM
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he reproduction of the species by one sex for the benefit of both would be replaced by (at least the option of) artificial reproduction: children would born to both sexes equally, or independently of either, however one chooses to look at it; the dependence of the child on the mother (and vice versa) would give way to a greatly shortened dependence on a small group of others in general, and any remaining inferiority to adults in physical strength would be compensated for culturally. The division of labour would be ended by the elimination of labour altogether (through cybernetics)

And there was me assuming the SF fan artificial womb thing was pure sexism. hmm, you live and learn. also, Red Plenty cybernetics love. And McManusism.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 11:20 AM
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There's no left Limbaugh.

Al Sharpton, Noam Chomsky, maybe Amy Goodman.

I like Amy Goodman, and reading Chomsky is sometimes informative.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 11:20 AM
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I really hope I don't have to live through the cold war between McManus Thought and Halfordismo.


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 11:21 AM
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Far right people certainly rant about center-right people.

Far right people apparently even have a cute name for center right people, which I just read last week: RINO. Republican In Name Only.


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 11:24 AM
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142: Here I will bow to superior knowledge. It still seems to my less informed mind that, in feminist marxism, one runs into the problem of rich ladies who want to keep their status and things, and men who resent their wives and bosses in equal part.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 11:26 AM
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149 -- Those folks are hardly opinion leaders in the same league as Limbaugh. Nancy Pelosi, Chris Van Hollen, Max Baucus: these folks (from different spots on the spectrum) have never spent even a single minute worrying about offending Chomsky and how that might affect their electoral prospects.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 11:30 AM
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129: I was being a bit facetious there.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 11:33 AM
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Chomsky is more appreciated in Hollywood.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 11:35 AM
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137: Yeah, there are lots of ways that people view other people as inferior. Didion's way, as I read it, was of the particular type that we've all witnessed: I'm pretty sure that I wrote "drum circle" up above to identify the flavor. Is that somehow not clear? That there's a distinctive sneer that people use when they talk about, for lack of a better term, drum circle lefties? It's not the same thing that Erick Son of Erick feels for Hunstman (or probably Boehner at this point).

I'm dubious about text's preferred reading because I caught a whiff of it in all of the essays that I read before I got to this one.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 11:41 AM
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156: I'm a bit confused. You smelled the meaning of the essay we are talking about in all these other essays you've read? In that case, wouldn't you have gotten it?


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 11:45 AM
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The sum of which was to make me expect a more congenial viewpoint.

You might try Political Fictions. There is a fair amount of shooting fish in barrels, but I also remember a number of genuinely entertaining insights and thoughts.

||

OT, it surprised me to see Tim Burke get angry.

As always, Matthew Yglesias is a great portrait of what happens when a well-meaning kid with a good education settles down to become a technocratic barnacle on some encrusted rock. You get a clear picture from reading him of what technocrats think they're doing, and why the concept of the incentive, disembedded out of economics, has become the technocrat's version of the Nicene Creed. Incentive, in their world, is a compressed way of saying, "I am smarter than you are, but you unfortunately have just enough power to get in my way if I try to do you what I think is best for you, so I'm going to try to trick you into doing what I think you should do." Incentive is also the sound of a dumb chortle from someone who thinks he's just gotten a free lunch. Not only does the magic of incentive get the people who didn't marinate in the think-tank juices to do what their betters deem they ought, it's a way to make them pay for doing it. Incentive is also a promise to the powerful and the interested that there will be a way to let them out of anything they really don't like, as long they're willing to pay a modest premium to opt out of obligations that others can't escape.

So the idea with higher education is, "I can get rid of for-profits and I can get rid of shitty fifth-tier colleges and universities and I don't have to take the political heat for doing either. And I don't have to actually say what I think mass higher education should be if not an expensive imitation of what elite selective education should be, because 'wisdom of crowds' and all that, if we set the incentives right, that will emerge." Technocrats live in the wonderland of the question marks in the Underpants Gnomes business model, endlessly fussing over the exact terms of Point #1 and certain that the Profit! of #3 will follow.

|>


Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 11:49 AM
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when a well-meaning kid with a good education settles down to become a technocratic barnacle on some encrusted rock

not to defend isaylegs mccentristpants too hard, but this comes from an academic! encrusted rock? barnacle?


Posted by: Alex | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 12:02 PM
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For some reason I'm really bugged by the prediction of a "greatly shortened dependence on a small group of others in general" in the Firestone quote in 147. The big trend in human history--in the evolution of the whole species--is a lengthening of childhood. Eliminating gender? Sure. But childhood? Never.

Sometimes I worry about my brain.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 12:10 PM
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I just re-read the essay again, for a second time today. It's pretty clear that it's meant as a descriptive, historical-journalistic piece, not an advocacy piece and certainly not one with a reactionary political agenda. What she's saying is that there was an initial dream of feminism as some kind of movement towards universal revolution, and that this movement clearly was not going to bear fruit and that people are in denial about it. Also, that what's left of the idea of feminist revolution is a very particular and somewhat simple-minded view of women's victimization, that tracks closely and is consonant with a general vacuous tendency in American culture to replace politics with romantic and somewhat childish self-improvement projects, and that denies the various complexities and ambiguities that actually exist in the real world. She's trying to describe what she thinks of as a moment in history -- the transformation of radical feminism into something more tame, and more banal -- that she thinks is already happening. I think there's some truth to that as a descriptive historical insight.

And, I personally don't think there's much in there that can be legitimately thought of as "reactionary" -- it's certainly not politically Nixonian. If there's a message it's "purportedly revolutionary feminist project is turning into a totalizing set of slogans and stereotypes that's geared towards vacuous personal fulfillment, just like everything else in mass American culture." I don't really think it's a great essay but you can see parts of what she's doing in her better work here.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 12:18 PM
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So she didn't move the Overton Window with it, eh?


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 12:19 PM
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she seemed like an important writer to a lot of feminists

I think this is a key misconception. Didion is an important writer to a lot of writers. And readers. As a political and social critic, she operates at a cthonic level of suspicion. It's important not to derive an agenda from her.


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 12:20 PM
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Eliminating gender seems about as practical as eliminating childhood to me. Both are wacky ideas that deserve the point-and-laugh treatment.


Posted by: togolosh | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 12:25 PM
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Apparently all of Didion's defenders have a special version of the essay without the last 4 paragraphs, where she suggests that women who want to move to New York and become writers are shirking adult responsibilities.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 12:28 PM
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If you point at children and laugh, their parents get really mad.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 12:28 PM
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"That is one last thing to remember: writers are always selling someone out."

J Diddy in the preface to Slouching.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 12:30 PM
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Eliminating gender as an invariable lifelong condition, however, has led to much greater happiness for thousands of trans-identified people, and softening its rules has led to much more freedom for millions of men and women.

So maybe it's not so much to be pointed at and laughed at as to be sailed towards like a star, aimed for and never reached.


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 12:31 PM
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168.last: There has seldom been a thread so evocative of the poetic.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 12:33 PM
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last 4 paragraphs, where she suggests that women who want to move to New York and become writers are shirking adult responsibilities.

That's what I was getting at in 37. She seemed to be particularly scornful of women who wanted a life like hers.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 12:33 PM
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This is a high culture thread, AL. It's no place to point out that you pwned me 128 comments ago.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 12:34 PM
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"Look upon my prior comment and despair."


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 12:39 PM
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I picked up The White Album about 20 years ago and put it away a few years later when I was cleaning things away. I don't remember exactly what I thought of it, except that I didn't love it.

But like Heebie, I was surprised--maybe ten years ago, I don't remember where--to read something that suggested everybody always knew Didion was right-wing, Republican, whatever. It made more sense--more sense than "of course her beliefs are about the same as yours, but she's *smart* and *sensible* after all, and doesn't suffer fools gladly"--but I wondered why this was a surprise.


Posted by: bianca steele | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 12:41 PM
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Pretty hard to read this piece (not her best just from an essayist's point of view) and view her as a right winger or a Republican.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 12:54 PM
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173: I would be surprised to read it as well, if I were to read anything which had ever suggested it. Didion doesn't identify as anything in her work, the point of which isn't to declare that she is or isn't in a group. That much I can tell from my limited exposure.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 12:57 PM
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I think it's a mischaracterization to call her a right-winger or a Republican. In the 70s she was a small "c" conservative because she disliked the more radical impulses in American society. (I doubt she'd write something like the women's movement essay today.) I don't think she secretly yearned for the end of the welfare state, or to deny black people the vote. She's the target of Phil Ochs' "Love Me I'm a Liberal" as much as anyone is.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 1:04 PM
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Sorry, I should have written "like JRoth."

Maybe Didion does see herself as above the fray, writing almost as an academic or a popularizer of an academic point of view, without politics or affiliation or even gender, but IMHO the way she approaches topics and the topics she chooses to write about (why get so upset because people are making fun of Reagan's house?) aren't above the fray at all.

In the piece linked by Robert Halford, for ex., condemning "disrupting fragile arrangements" and "grand historical experiments" are traditional conservative talking points. "[E]vidence of how shallowly rooted our commitment to self-government had turned out to be," sounds like the Tea
Party. I think "reactionary" is the right word. A commitment to older ideas just because they're older is reactionary even if you convince yourself that older=nonpolitical.

Many of the comments defending her here are doing so by focusing on tiny shadings of difference between Didion and some other unfavored right-wing group, in a way that's not very convincing from the other side (and not unlikely to read to the other side misleadingly as "not actually conservative").


Posted by: bianca steele | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 1:19 PM
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I must say that the depth and intensity of Halford's policing of slights lodged against his authorial heroes has been impressive this last week or so.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 1:22 PM
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The J Diddy cookbook is just a bunch of easy pasta recipes.


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 1:23 PM
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Bianca,

Here what we are trying to do is discuss the actual merits of a particular essay written by Joan Didion. Do you have anything to add to that discussion?


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 1:26 PM
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178 -- She's worse than Scarry, that's for sure.

179 -- '[E]vidence of how shallowly rooted our commitment to self-government had turned out to be,' sounds like the Tea Party. Say what? This is the context for that quote:

We heard about "health savings accounts," and about "reforming Social Security." We heard, to the latter point, how we could "strengthen Social Security by allowing younger workers to save some of their taxes in a personal account--a nest egg you can call your own and government can never take away." We did not hear what would happen when those "younger workers" reached retirement age and realized that the "individual marketplace decisions" they had made for their "personal nest eggs" had proved unwise, or when the "health savings account you own yourself" got emptied by unexpected illness. "The magnitude of the Bush proposals is only gradually dawning on members of Congress," Robin Toner and Robert Pear had reported in The New York Times in February 2003, an assessment suggesting that members of Congress were less acutely aware of their vulnerabilities than the rest of us were. To read the Republican platform on this subject was in fact to enter a world in which no unexpected or catastrophic events could occur, a world in which we ourselves, not our employers, would pay insurers, but not exactly to "insure" us: one way the party would restore "choice" to health insurance, for example, was by overruling state laws requiring insurers "to provide benefits and treatments which many families do not want and do not need."
In this "changed world," then, one thing remained unchanged: the primacy, for this administration, of its domestic agenda, the relentless intention to dismantle or "reform" American society for the benefit, or "protection," since the closest model here was a protection racket, of those segments of the business community that supported the President. Everything said in Madison Square Garden on domestic issues was predictable. We knew what the domestic agenda was about. We had known it since the 2000 campaign, when the same messages got sent. We had seen clear-cutting our national forests described as "wildfire control," part of the "Healthy Forests Initiative." We had seen the administration distract us with arguments about whether our national parks should be "faith-based," even as that administration lifted the regulation of snowmobiles in the same national parks.
. . . .
Such "improved benefits," like "personal nest eggs" and "healthy forests," had been since 2000 what was meant when the Bush administration talked about restoring "choices" to Americans. What made these misrepresentations seem more grave in 2004 was the larger misrepresentation: the fact that the administration had taken us, ineptly, with the aid and encouragement of those who had "never thought," or who had "misunderstood," or who "didn't realize," into a war, or a "noble expedition," or a "grand historical experiment," which was draining the lives and futures of our children and disrupting fragile arrangements throughout the world even as it provided the unending "crisis" required to perpetuate the administration and enact its agenda. "This is a great opportunity," the President was reported by Bob Woodward to have said in an NSC meeting on the evening of September 11, 2001. That large numbers of Americans continued to support him could be construed as evidence of their generosity, but it was also evidence of how shallowly rooted our commitment to self-government had turned out to be.

Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 1:29 PM
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Just a reminder that "low-status" women in J Diddy's essays don't get to yearn for "high-status" pursuits.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 1:29 PM
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text, the hell? I'm a J Diddy defender, but bianca's hardly trolling.


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 1:30 PM
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179 s/b 177 there, obvs.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 1:30 PM
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I'm going to remember nothing from this thread at all except "J Diddy."


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 1:30 PM
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183: Right, 180 is hilariously weird in an Unfogged thread (not to mention the source), but not in the good buttsex way.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 1:37 PM
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174:Pretty hard to read this piece (not her best just from an essayist's point of view) and view her as a right winger or a Republican.

Definitions and understanding of ideological positions (right, left, conservative, liberal) are changed, changes are policed by ascendant and dominant groups in the hierarchy and hegemony. Those who police the discourse will also claim to be protecting the truth and the most vulnerable.

Sometimes a single word can make an entire volume ungood duckspeak.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 1:38 PM
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People magazine's archives show grain affinity as far back as 1976:


"This was the only time we've worked simultaneously on books," John groans. "It was enormously difficult. There was no one to read the mail or serve as a pipeline to the outside world." Finished ahead of John, Joan is baking bread, gardening


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 1:39 PM
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"DIDION" is not in the NYT 1996-2012 crossword corpus, but she is 3 of the 10 "JOAN"s.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 1:40 PM
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sorry, just getting a bit frustrated with the, "I read that Joan Didion might be a Republican from dubious sources and that explains my misreading of her essay" line of argument.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 1:43 PM
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text: are you proposing a vote to have me kicked out? or are you mad because I stole your thing about making fun of Reagan? Sorry about that. I haven't read all the comments yet and probably stole a few other things too.


Posted by: bianca steele | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 1:49 PM
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Possibly there were fewer such in the US, given the toxic influence of Maoism on American marxism in the 70s and also the greater influence of separatist trends

A while back I read an SFF writer who grew up as the daughter of a separatist lesbian couple in the seventies and eighties mentioning that when she was a kid 'political correctness' meant some weird blend of Maoism and radically anti-male, anti-bi/hetero female, and anti trans attitudes.


Posted by: teraz kurwa my | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 1:51 PM
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I'm not voting to kick you out. I want to suggest that arguments about the party affiliation of a writer are secondary at best to an understanding of any given literary essay, especially when that party affiliation is unknown.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 1:51 PM
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We don't vote. Ninjas just kill you silently of their own accord. Their trail of bodies is the secret of the success of this comment section.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 1:52 PM
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and to say sorry for being unpleasant, bianca.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 1:52 PM
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It occurs to me I can't remember what I've read by Joan Didion. I saw the The Year of Magical Thinking made into a monologue/performed by Vanessa Redgrave and I think I read a novel the first sentence of which is about the fear of the dark being a protein. Beyond that, I really can't remember. I know I have Bave's copy of a book of essays because I packed it last week.


Posted by: Mister Smearcase | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 2:03 PM
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Thing is, if you are a major public intellectual writing on an overtly political topic like The Women's Movement, there is a limit to your ability to write an Montaigne-style "My point is I don't have a point" essay. You are going to have a political impact, and you ought to be able to justify it.


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 2:05 PM
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193: especially when that party affiliation is unknown.

"Raised as a "conservative California Republican," Didion describes in the forward [to Political Fictions] how she voted in 1964 for Barry Goldwater, who represented the "keep out of our lives" view of limited government. Eventually, she grew disillusioned with the Republicans, becoming the first registered Democrat in her family. This had less to do with substantive disagreements than with her growing sense of alienation with the Republican party, and Didion began to question the existence of deep differences between America's two parties. "

http://www.thecrimson.com/article/2001/10/19/joan-didion-takes-on-the-political/


Posted by: Joan Didion | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 2:10 PM
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That was not actually posted by Joan Didion


Posted by: Criminally Bulgur | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 2:11 PM
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199: Darn!


Posted by: peep | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 2:12 PM
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199: She's busy writing a scathing essay about unfogged.


Posted by: AcademicLurker | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 2:13 PM
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I'm going to remember nothing from this thread at all except "J Diddy."

Who is responsible for this coinage? It's making me laugh.


Posted by: Mary Catherine | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 2:14 PM
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202: Nameless curator at the electric typewriter: http://tetw.org/Joan_Didion


Posted by: lw | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 2:15 PM
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202: I thought it was Castock in 80, but it shows up on the broader internet. The Rumpus has it as a tag, so maybe there.


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 2:19 PM
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203: First "dated" reference I found was from January, 2006. Not sure if the electric typewriter site use predates that.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 2:21 PM
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Even if we were to take Didion's childhood political affiliation as representative of her adult political affiliation, it is of little use to write "Didion is a Republican" in favor or against any given reading of the essay. It adds little value.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 2:23 PM
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197: if you are a major public intellectual

Not an accurate characterization when she wrote it in in 1972.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 2:32 PM
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Having some knowledge of a writer's politics can ease the interpretation of their writing. I think I've read Slouching, but it was a long time ago and Didion isn't a writer that's important to me, so I didn't have any informed sense of her politics at all coming into this discussion. And as a female cultural critic writing about the 60's, I vaguely assumed that she was somewhere left of center. Reading the entirely negative "The Women's Movement" (that is, she's saying that the women's movement was intellectually interesting but insane and Stalinist at first, and then became pathetically trivial. I don't think she identifies any actual value in it at all) is puzzling if you're trying to reconcile it with a presumed at least moderately leftist outlook on Didion's part; being able to use outside information to make it clear that there's no necessary need for reconciliation, it's perfectly possible that she really did wholeheartedly disapprove of the women's movement, clarifies matters.

This doesn't make the essay any less interesting, of course, it just makes it easier to figure out what she intended by it.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 2:37 PM
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Yes, LB has demonstrated how a misunderstanding of the author's background, and a misapplication of that background to the essay, can support an incorrect reading, and is therefore disparaged.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 2:41 PM
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text: The OP has "did everybody already know this? Was Joan Didion always already a reactionary?" and it seems like I addressed just this question. You sound like you don't care about whether Didion was a reactionary because it doesn't contributing to "understanding the essay," as if it were some kind of prophetic pronouncement from on high, above politics, to be pondered and "understood."

Or do you think "reactionary" isn't a partisan political term?

The questions seem to me to be: Do people (me included) assume Didion is politically a basically left-leaning liberal and a feminist who critiques feminism from within because she's a woman with a traditionally male job and she hung out with rock stars? She's a little older than my father, and he certainly would be likely to grit his teeth and whisper "liberal!" when he read her, just for paying any attention to rock stars and drug use at all. For me, also, do people who lean left pay attention to her because they're more interesting in "understanding," or because they believe she believes pretty much the same as them?


Posted by: bianca steele | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 2:49 PM
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Specifics aren't your strong suit, are they?


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 2:50 PM
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I think text is trolling me now.

You smelled the meaning of the essay we are talking about in all these other essays you've read? In that case, wouldn't you have gotten it?

No, I read TWM differently from you because what I'm reading in it I also read in all of the other essays by her. Anyone can critique anything and not necessarily have it be evidence for a particular POV. But if the critiques of various things all point in the same direction, I'm going to start seeing a POV.

Is that a completely crazy thing?

I should add here that it's entirely possible for a person with a particular POV to make critiques because of that POV yet still be making legit criticisms. IOW, it's possible both that the philosophy of radical feminism in the early '70s was a muddle and and that J Diddy had an ingrained skepticism towards feminists regardless of their philosophical underpinnings.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 2:54 PM
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I think it depends on the importance of the specific specific in mind. But whether or not I'm paying close attention I can usually detect irony, in both a post and an essay. And I often forget that a lot of you can't.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 2:55 PM
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I've made this point already and so have others (I like 163's "cthonic level of suspicion" the best), but it's wrong to conflate her general suspicion of both radical movements and ordinary American consumerism with being a "reactionary" or a "conservative," which means affirmatively being on the *other side* of a political debate. If you were a Nixonian or a Phyllis Sclaffy, you thought that there was some better more traditional more patriarchal politics that one should subscribe to in order to oppose the hippies or the feminists or whatever. Didion absolutely did not think that, and it's just a mistake to read her gestures towards despair at the manifestations of 60s radical culture, which come from a generalized place of suspicion of the way cultural politics worked at the time, as if she was just joining up with Team Right in the culture war.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 3:00 PM
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212 said, I do kind of buy 163. I don't think I ever suggested that Diddy has an agenda, but simply that her priors seemed to be reactionary (maybe not the precisely correct term, but I don't mean explicitly politically conservative).

And I remain hesitant to credit her with universal skepticism because, as I said, she manages to turn a long essay about Reagan's corrupt boondoggle of a mansion into an indictment of pointy-headed liberals. I mean, full credit for degree of difficulty but, again, the arrows all seem to fly in one direction.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 3:00 PM
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Most of her post-1980 writing in the New York Review of Books is more plausibly liberal. I remember distinctly a post-Iran-Contra article where she talked about Reagan's relationship with Ollie North in terms of which movie characters she imagined that Reagan imagined he himself and North were like.


Posted by: Walt Someguy | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 3:05 PM
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206: Context adds explanatory value, surely. I can look at descriptions of Didion and the political idiom she's tacitly reflecting in the decision to explicitly and deceptively mis-portray "the women's movement" as a meaningless exercise in fashionable faux-revolutionary narcissism that was neither impelled by nor accomplished anything meaningful -- at any rate, if one relied on Didion for a description of the subject of her essay, one would never know anything about its accomplishments or the milieu it was reacting to -- and make some sense of what she might have trying to accomplish or at least what she might have been trying to work out.

Not that I think her essay on the Women's Movement is really political at all, which is why I called it the "apolitics of resentment." Its substance is the dismissal of any need for analysis of the political in favour of a personalized critique of the subject, which I will admit to finding rather dodgy from someone purporting to be discussing a political movement. I'm surprised at the attempted defenses of this along the lines of "well, she might have been describing such-and-such specific circle of New England feminists" (she should have said so were that the case) or, worse, of "well, there were certain things happening in feminism at the time that resembled what she's talking about" (which is true but quite irrelevant to the fact that she does [i]not[/i] frame herself as making a contingent statement about just certain things happen in the wider body of feminism).

It would seem that as time passed, Didion did indeed grow gradually more critical of the Republican mainstream, which, good for her, that does make me willing to take a second look at her Eightes And Beyond writing. But I don't see what that has to do with assessing a piece she wrote in 1972.


Posted by: Lord Castock | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 3:05 PM
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214: Fair enough; I'm still waiting for someone to point me to an essay from the era in question (let's say up to the time of The White Album collection, 1979) where she's showing her skepticism of "ordinary American consumerism." I mean, she clearly suggests, in "Slouching" and the essay about futureless proles in (I think) the Central Valley, that something is rotten in the state of America, but I didn't see anything suggesting that "ordinary American consumerism" or patriarchy or stifling '50s conformity (to use a cliche) had anything to do with it.

Again, I'm not trying to pigeonhole her into a political slot. But her essays are extremely driven by direct personal observation, and I want to know how reliable a narrator she is. I think that's what underlay my unease even before I reached the TWM essay. I had a vague feeling that I was being shown one set of things and not another for reasons other than what was explicit.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 3:17 PM
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Oh, and a note on "she's not just a hero to feminists, she's a hero to all writers." Well sure, I didn't think of her as being on some Rushmore with Friedan and Steinem and whoever. But I just felt like the person I was reading seemed uncongenial to self-identified feminists, so it was throwing me off. What seems to be the case is that people who appreciate her prose are willing to overlook her stance. Which is fine, of course.


Posted by: JRoth | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 3:26 PM
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213: I can usually detect irony, in both a post and an essay. And I often forget that a lot of you can't.

It's subtletyyyy-eee in the linked es-say.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 3:31 PM
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. . . showing her skepticism of "ordinary American consumerism."

What about the opening paragraph of "Quiet Days In Malibu" (from The White Album)? I read that as relatively skeptical.

Dick Haddock, a family man, a man twenty-six years in the same line of work, a man who has on the telephone and in his office the crisp easy manner of technological middle management, is in many respects the prototypical Southern California solid citizen. He lives in a San Fernando Valley subdivision near a freshwater marina and a good shopping plaza. His son is a high-school swimmer. His daughter is "into tennis." He drives thirty miles to and from work, puts in a forty-hour week, regularly takes courses to maintain his professional skills, keeps in shape and looks it. When he discusses his career he talks, in a kind of politely impersonal second person, about how "you would want like any other individual to advance yourself," about, "improving your rating" and "being more of an asset to your department," about "really knowing your business." Dick Haddock's business for all these twenty-six years has been that of a professional life-guard for the Los Angeles County Department of Beaches, and his office is a $190,000 lookout on Zuma Beach in northern Malibu.

Posted by: NickS | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 3:33 PM
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San Fernando Valley subdivision near a freshwater marina

I am deeply puzzled. Lago Reseda?


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 3:36 PM
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Gotta be Westlake Lake in Westlake Village, no?


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 4:04 PM
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I am quite enjoying this discussion and the materials uncovered--Didion was a fascinating writer for me, and I think a lot of tmy fascination stemmed from some of the contradictions being discussed. Just stumbled across this interesting (and quite critical) 1980 essay by (heretofore unknown to me) Barbara Grizzutti Harrison, a contemporary of Didion's. Those who are gluttons might enjoy it, much of it revolves around the issue under discussion here (although she detours through criticism of her style, and also fails the "text relevance test," I suppose something should be said about Didion's essay on the women's movement, but not by me). Anyway, a few salient quotes:

Didion was reporting on Didion's sensibility, which in this essay, as in all her essays, assumes more importance than, say, the existence of the electric chair.

Similarly, when she reports -- selectively and superficially -- on the Black Panthers, on campus disorders, she zeroes in on the most foolish of spokespersons, making a mockery of the causes that inspired good men to good action by ridiculing the worst of the best. (I think this line of criticism is very relevant to the Women's Movement essay.)

And finally I can't resist quoting, I can't resist quoting something Gloria Steinem once called out to a journalist on her way to interview Didion: "Ask her how come, if she spends all her time crying and swimming and struggling to open a car door, she finds the energy to write so much?"


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 4:14 PM
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Huh. I grew up in Woodland Hills but still had to use Google to show me that. I don't think of Thousand Oaks as the Valley, but satellite view does show a marina.


Posted by: Megan | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 4:16 PM
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The criticism excerpted in 224 seems fair. It does seem a little unfair to get on her for writing about her sensibilities when she's (usually) pretty explicit that this is what she's doing. Maybe the problem is that her idiosyncratic sensibilities seem less interesting when reading the essays after 40 years and in a context where we're not swimming in other, more cliched information about the , and so there's a greater expectation ("say something positive about the feminist movement!") on our part that she either carefully document or take sides in controversies.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 4:26 PM
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That blank space was meant to contain the words "events at issue" but you can interpret it HOWEVER YOU WANT since I'm such a good, complex writer.


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 4:27 PM
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There is just a fuckload of cliched information about the comma these days. Seriously we are drowning in it. Comma cliches, choking our lungs and drawing us below.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 4:28 PM
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By then, my lungs were aching for comma air.


Posted by: Sifu Tweety | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 4:28 PM
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226: You could take it (that is, not the Harrison essay, which was scathing and which I enjoyed a great deal) as a defense of Didion's writing, reminding the reader not to take her as a bad or biased reporter of the facts around her, but an excellent portrayer of her own state of mind.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 4:47 PM
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I suppose the referent of 'it' there, given that I said it wasn't the Harrison essay, must have been 'this discussion of whatever it is Didion is doing'.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 4:49 PM
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226: I don't have a problem with someone "documenting their sensibilities" if they're explicit about what they're doing; that their own sensibilities might loom more important to them than any actual information related to a subject they're ostensibly writing about is not the same thing*. Beyond that I basically find it nice if they are not, within the confines of The Text, fools and liars. By all means, feel free to say negative things about "the Women's Movement," but someone who does so while trying to pretend the reasons for its cause didn't exist is in inviting criticism for something far beyond the mark of just "reporting their sensibilities."

(* Of course, if Didion came out and said "this piece is really more about me than about what I'm telling you it's meant to be about," maybe fewer people would've read it. But then again, maybe not: it would appear her sensibilities are basically her primary selling point, or were so early on.)


Posted by: Lord Castock | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 5:35 PM
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232 -- I guess I just straight up disagree with you about the analysis then. It would have been nice if she'd put in a few paragraphs about the positive side of the women's movement to date, but as of 1972 I really do think that it seems like a pretty good and prescient piece about where the women's movement had been and where it was going, if imperfect and clearly inflected with some personal idiosyncracies (which makes it a better read!)


Posted by: Robert Halford | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 5:43 PM
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She's busy writing a scathing essay about unfogged.

"To make an omelet you need broken eggs but if you just want to break a bunch of eggs without making anything, you can go to Unfogged. What started as an attempt to bring clarity to the soi disant "blogosphere" in 2003 had, only ten years later, degenerated into a series of irrelevant asides, by irrelevant people, hanging by a thousand threads wrapped around hastily assembled posts that few would ever read. Not that reading was ever a requirement for having an opinion, or that having an opinion was ever a requirement for commenting...."


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 5:50 PM
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233: a pretty good and prescient piece about where the women's movement had been and where it was going

Boy, I can't follow you that far. When I think "women's movement" it gets all tangled up in my head with "why an can earn a decent living" and "isn't it nice not having to bitterly resent men, golly it would have sucked living in the past." I can think she's doing an interesting job of looking at flaws in the women's movement in her milieu, and overlook the fact that she's ignoring everything positive about it. But I can't overlook it hard enough to call the essay good and prescient as a whole.


Posted by: LizardBreath | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 5:52 PM
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It would have been nice if she'd put in a few paragraphs about the positive side of the women's movement to date

... or any content whatever about its actual effects and context, like, at all, beyond a few catty scare-quotings of things like "discrimination" and "sexual stereotyping," which I hear tell were sort of a big deal at the time back on Planet Not-Didion.

as of 1972 I really do think that it seems like a pretty good and prescient piece about where the women's movement had been and where it was going

If snidely dismissing the entirety of second wave feminism as childish silliness seems like an "imperfect inflection" to you, we do indeed differ. Aside from its quite possibly have been a serious case of projection on Didion's part, it seems to me like using the omission of a cornucopia of relevant facts to sell a sizable whopper that can only appear "good and prescient" if we choose to assess the Women's Movement by a warped set of priorities, "sensibilities" and telling elisions.


Posted by: Lord Castock | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 5:53 PM
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I admit that my enjoyment of Didion requires me to overlook many of the damning things that Lord Castock objects to, and I wonder if a less bloggy age would be capable of canonizing Caitlin Flanagan on similar principles.


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 5:57 PM
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Didion presciently shows that a dogmatic substitution of "women" for "proletariat" in Marxist thinking doesn't lead to anything good, sure. Then she keeps on writing. (I know I'm not adding anything to the conversation, but seriously, the problem with the essay is where it goes, not where it starts.)


Posted by: fake accent | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 6:01 PM
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The discourse of a movement is usually more radical than its achievements. No, I do not think the Didion was all that prescient or at all resistant about the actual accomplishments and nuts-and-bolts work of the movement but she was irritated by the discourse.

Part of the way this works is politics by metonymy and universalism. Do I want to think this hard?

Top Level = End to all racism now!
Working Level = Institutional discrimination and laws with discriminatory effect
Metonymy Level = Treyvon Martin

The metonymic and the universal both essentially elide the particular and contingent, and can be justifiably offensive to the humanist or realist.

And I think the Didion is being read as attacking the movements from metonymy to universals, and thereby attacking the general movement.

Mock the woman offended by the wolf-whistle, and you are condoning date-rape!


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 6:14 PM
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Here ya go:

Laclau insisted that this is a contingent process, with no rational or ontological ground granting priority to certain signifiers. Rather, the elevation of a particular into the position of universality is always the result of hegemonic struggle within an antagonistic political field, and hegemony always involves a synecdoche in which a particularism lays claim to a constitutively absent social fullness. This is an inherently unstable process. In order to symbolize universality, a signifier* must lose its particular meaning. Laclau routinely called these signifiers "empty"; however, he was at his most precise when he spoke of tendentially empty signifiers. After all, he insisted that the formation of empty signifiers involves a reciprocity between universality and particularity. On one side, emptiness weakens the particularity of a concrete signifier, subordinating its differential identity to its equivalential potential. So, for example, a "right" in the modern world is understood not as the privileged property of a specific individual or group, but as the proper attribute of the human as such. On the other side, particularity responds by giving universality "a necessary incarnating body."

*Treyvon Martin and George Zimmerman were signifiers in the discourse.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 6:23 PM
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I guess I need to credit 240:

Warren Breckman, Adventures of the Symbolic


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 6:26 PM
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And a novelist or serious writer will always find the process in 239-241 absolutely horrific.

Ask an author what a character "stands for" "Represents" or "means" "generalizes to" and she will look at you with sadness and anger, because that is the exact opposite of what she wants to do.

Similarly to force Didion's essay into some kind of universalistic mode abuses her, but this is what the politics of the personal tries, maybe has to do.


Posted by: bob mcmanus | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 6:34 PM
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237 is interesting -- the part about the impact of blogging on criticism resonates -- but I do think Didion, or at least early-vintage Didion, was a much better writer than any Flanagan I've read.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 6:45 PM
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I'm just now catching up to the thread, and my god, I am so glad you're here, Castock.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 6:47 PM
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Somehow related to this discussion: a nice piece about Antoinette Tuff.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 7:00 PM
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Ninety-three years ago today, women in the United States won the right to vote. And it wasn't even the lead story.

*Yes, Charley, I know they already had it on Montana.


Posted by: Witt | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 7:22 PM
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We already had a congresswoman. I hadn't realized until just now that the slimeball she replaced when she ran a second time probably would have voted the same way on the declaration of WWII. For completely different reasons.


Posted by: CharleyCarp | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 7:51 PM
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230: not the Harrison essay, which was scathing and which I enjoyed a great deal

Not that I necessarily agreed with it, but I quite lenjoyed the part criticizing her style. Thought-provoking for me, anyway (probably since I lack the critical faculty myself), with regard to her characterization of Didion's reliance on gnomic observations that aren't really all that profound as a "trick." But, of course, that is a characteristic that left to my own devices I found quite appealing in her writing--enjoyed having some of my own space in the story (but admit is probably more legitimate in fiction than non-fiction). Better than writers who feel the need to explain. But turns out I was being manipulated!

And actually, part of what I liked from the essay were the abundance of quotable little digs, almost Didionesque. I think because I'm a feminist I like women making well-crafted catty remarks about each other.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 8:07 PM
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Uh. read, I don't know what you mean. I like Castock's comments, and he's been absent for a while, so I wanted to tell him that I encourage his presence.


Posted by: parsimon | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 8:08 PM
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And in the end, Witt's link in 5 pretty much covered the territory.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 8:11 PM
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I just packed the volume of Didion that I own that Smearcase doesn't have, or I'd pull it out and find some nice lines. But I agree with 237 and 243. She's such a good writer, very compelling for me in those early nonfiction pieces, that I'll overlook a lot of problems.

Actually, I think one of the things that makes Didion's writings from the '60s and '70s interesting is closely related to what makes the "Women's Movement" piece so bad. She's a bit older than the young people she's writing about, but not as old as her audience of Saturday Evening Post subscribers. She has entered the current of the new age, but she is still in some ways tied to the shore. This makes her a more acute observer, and in fact what I like best about those essays is when she captures some way in which things have changes irrevocably but almost unnoticed. She notices because she is skeptical of the way things are going. Of course that means she can sometimes make the mistake of relying too much on her own sensibility as a mirror of the phenomenon she's describing, rather than as something like an indicator or alarm that something is going on that she should investigate.

A lot of the best cultural criticism relies on a similar mechanism. There are no actual Martian anthropologists, but there are writers who are able to travel in time by keeping a part of themselves steeped in a lost past. This lets them see the present in a way the rest of us cannot.


Posted by: Bave | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 8:16 PM
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And in the end, Witt's link in 5 pretty much covered the territory.

Yeah, it's a pretty impressive and comprehensive critique, isn't it?


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 8:17 PM
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Actually, I think one of the things that makes Didion's writings from the '60s and '70s interesting is closely related to what makes the "Women's Movement" piece so bad. She's a bit older than the young people she's writing about, but not as old as her audience of Saturday Evening Post subscribers. She has entered the current of the new age, but she is still in some ways tied to the shore. This makes her a more acute observer, and in fact what I like best about those essays is when she captures some way in which things have changes irrevocably but almost unnoticed. She notices because she is skeptical of the way things are going. Of course that means she can sometimes make the mistake of relying too much on her own sensibility as a mirror of the phenomenon she's describing, rather than as something like an indicator or alarm that something is going on that she should investigate.

This is smart, too. A bunch of comments in this thread have helped me think much more clearly about Didion, who I've admired for as long as I've wanted to be a writer.


Posted by: Von Wafer | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 8:19 PM
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244: Cheer-o, hon!


Posted by: Lord Castock | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 10:06 PM
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who I've admired for as long as I've wanted to be a writer

19-y-o k-sky, out loud to the assembled student body*: "if I can't be a rock star, I'd like to be Joan Didion."

*all 25 of them


Posted by: k-sky | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 10:33 PM
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In purposefully ignoring bullshit sometimes I am late to witness wonderful things. Anyone who hasn't watched that Miley Cyrus act ought to go do it now and then watch it again a few times afterwards.


Posted by: text | Link to this comment | 08-26-13 10:51 PM
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I'm not sure I get the point of the quote in 221. Is J. Diddy just saying that people with working class jobs who take on the trappings of professionals are laughable?

Would a fireman also receive her condescension?


Posted by: rob helpy-chalk | Link to this comment | 08-27-13 5:49 AM
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Sure, if she put her condescension in a baby carrier and passed it out of the window of a burning building.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-27-13 5:51 AM
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Or up a tree, disguised as a helpless, stranded kitten.


Posted by: Stanley | Link to this comment | 08-27-13 6:06 AM
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If the condescension could climb up on its own, it could climb down without help.


Posted by: Moby Hick | Link to this comment | 08-27-13 6:11 AM
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246: It was the top story on August 19th, 1920, the day after Tennessee became the last needed to ratify. (Alongside the Red Army withdrawing from Warsaw.)


Posted by: Minivet | Link to this comment | 08-27-13 7:08 AM
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233: a pretty good and prescient piece about where the women's movement had been and where it was going

Naah, it's the resentment of a woman who has, through a combination of luck and moxie, managed to claw out a place for herself in a male dominated world, offended and insulted by the efforts of women younger than her to change the world so that this struggle is no longer necessary. "I had to struggle, so you need to struggle and if you don't accept this you're immature and weak and do note that I consistently equate female with weakness. "


Posted by: Martin Wisse | Link to this comment | 08-28-13 5:44 AM
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Also based soley on this essay, it's insane not to call Didion reactionary, even if she uses marxist terminology to bash "the womens movement".


Posted by: Martin Wisse | Link to this comment | 08-28-13 5:51 AM
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I agree with everything written in here, including 224.

Also with Bave: "She's such a good writer, very compelling for me in those early nonfiction pieces, that I'll overlook a lot of problems."

People involved in "movements" are always annoying, both from the outside and inside.

People i̶n̶v̶o̶l̶v̶e̶d̶ ̶i̶n̶ ̶"̶m̶o̶v̶e̶m̶e̶n̶t̶s̶"̶ ̶a̶r̶e̶ ̶a̶l̶w̶a̶y̶s̶ ̶ are always annoying, both from the outside and inside.


Posted by: will | Link to this comment | 08-28-13 7:14 AM
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From now on when I read a Joan Didion piece, I'm going to mentally have her finish it with "I'm Joan Didion, and you're not" in a Chevy Chase voice.


Posted by: JP Stormcrow | Link to this comment | 08-28-13 7:23 AM
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