Musings on Joan Didion
It is perhaps inherent to the human condition to be unable to accept reality, to confront it with all of its flaws and fallacies, mishaps and injustices. We are frightened by truth and often prefer to see life as an illusion, a mirage that attempts to negate all that we are unable to escape.
She is one of the most proficient writers to unveil the cumbersome task of recognizing the disillusionment that is often the heart of American society and ideology. Didion, as it has been suggested before, writes with a ‘journalist’s eye and a novelist’s pen’—meticulous word choices form potent sentences that result in perceptions that echo the most intractable of truths.
The writer, profuse with a talent that is normally reserved for a reporter, uses it effectively writing about the psyche of America. She tackles the grave and the troubling, the torment that is at the center of American politics, national opinion, and society.
The center of her works focus on what can’t be obtained and/or is negated as illusion. Didion writes about the “capacity for wonder” and the “innocence” that has seemed to dissolve—a fixation with a false sense of reality that has shaped American society (i.e. today, the result of social media misuse).
In her essay “Goodbye to All That,” Didion establishes a youthful sense of illusion in recalling her arrival to New York for the first time. At the age of twenty, Didion recounts having had her expectations diminished—rather than seeing an awe-inspiring skyline, “the wastes of Queens” and “the big signs that said Midtown tunnel this lane” permeated her apartment window.
New York was a foreign land from the one she had envisioned, and her writings delineate her personal detachment and nostalgic wonder at the naïveté embedded in her youth. Didion questions whether disillusionment—evident throughout her works—is inherent to the maturing process. Do we need naïveté to experience and viscerally understand life? Is reality so important? How do we handle adversity?