In Barbara Grizzuti Harrison’s article, she argues against Didion because supporting her would be pointless, saying that joining the chorus of support would be “taking a path well worn” (p. 284). Perhaps the path is well worn because people feel a likeness to Didion. I think we can all understand her inability to articulate meaning or answer the world’s questions. Harrison and Gold observe Didion not as a person, but as an author, someone expected to hold all the answers and present them to readers tied neatly with a bow. I find that entirely unrealistic, in fact, I appreciate someone who accepts their own faults, appreciates the opiates of others, and is upfront with the ways in which they avoid pain (even if I prefer vodka to gin).
David L. Ulin describes Didion’s writing, particularly “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream” as being a “narrative of conditionality, of breakdown” (p, 52). Didion captures the breakdown, the atomization and destruction of the game. She does so unapologetically, subjectively describing the chaos, never ignoring her inability to trust in the “social contract, in the ameliorative principle, in the whole grand pattern of human endeavor” (Ulin, p. 53).
Harrison is missing the point of Didion’s writing. Didion writes purposefully, making a point that there is no point. She “forces the reader to engage in the same struggle for articulation that [she] herself experiences”, writing pieces like “Slouching Toward Bethlehem” in a nonsensical way because that’s the point: None of it makes any sense (Heilker, p. 26). The narrative is choppy because the human existence itself is sloppy and unpredictable (especially in the 1960s and 1970s), filled with forgetfulness and young people who live only to defy “society’s platitudes” (Didion, p. 123).
Harrison describes Didion as the “lyricist of the irrational” saying that while some people find it endearing, she finds it repulsive (p. 283). I agree that Didion’s audience is irrational, however I find most human beings I come in contact with to be irrational, not to mention self-centered and arrogant, struggling for their own “perilous triumph of being over nothingness” (Didion, p.) Didion herself states that, “our favorite people and our favorite stories become so not by any inherent virtue, but because they illustrate something deep in the grain, something unadmitted” (Didion, p. 38). She doesn’t attach virtue to her stories. She focuses instead on the absence of virtue, the lack of order and the atomization that causes both chaos and growth.
I also find Harrison a bit pompous, taking snippets of Didion’s work and manipulating it around her agenda. Page 281 of Harrison’s piece is almost laughable, as takes her own argument around in circles. For example, Harrison says that Didion’s description of Baez as a “pawn” for the protest movement is detestable yet admits herself that Baez “has been guilty of uttering some mushy-minded platitudes” (p. 281). This is Didion’s point! The definition of a pawn, in Didion’s eyes, is someone that merely regurgitates information without studying and exploring it themselves. Additionally, Harrison says Didion “makes fun of” a character in “Run River” who “stood up for the little fellow and for his Human Right for a place in the sun,” completely forgetting that the man in question was a politician who altered his campaign to fit different people for increased votes (p. 281). The point of the quotation was ironic in the story because the politician didn’t stand for anyone (and yes, I like Didion so much I have read already read two of her other books). It’s almost as if Harrison didn’t read Didion’s work, preferring to just take an opposite stance because she wanted to perform as a “de afuera” to Didion’s large number of supporters, taking pride in the fact that she’s going against the grain, almost “wearing her singularity as a badge” (p. 284).
I find Didion intriguing and above all else, human. I agree that she does have an air of superiority, staying detached from anything she deems cheap and unacceptable (particularly the New California). I can see how this could be a flaw of hers, but I see it as her greatest attribute. Her struggle with depression and anxiety feels so real and honest, sometimes behaving as a mirror to readers. She is adherently aware of her shortcomings, even saying that she struggles with a melancholic view of the present (p. 172). She may romanticize the past, but I think that may be because she is so deeply depressed that she is unable to see the future as anything less than daunting. I personally think Didion’s faults humanize her and involve the reader in her inner dialect. Perhaps she is too biased. Perhaps I am too biased. But I think it is impossible to write compelling literature without a hint of bias.