Joan Didion (1934-)Exploring cultural values andexperiences of American life inthe 1960sAdopted daughter 1 year beforeSlouching researchAwarded for 2005 “The year ofMagical Thinking” - memoirBlue Nights memoir published2011 (experiences of grief)
Title - William Butler YeatsIrish poet, composed in 1919Uses imagery of the Apocalypse- allegory for post-war EuropeThemes and symbology sets toneReferenced in other artforms
The Second Coming Turning and turning in the widening gyre The falcon cannot hear the falconer; Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold; Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world, The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere The ceremony of innocence is drowned; The best lack all conviction, while the worst Are full of passionate intensity. Surely some revelation is at hand; Surely the Second Coming is at hand. The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi Troubles my sight: somewhere in sands of the desert A shape with lion body and the head of a man, A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun, Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it Reel shadows of the indignant desert birds. The darkness drops again; but now I know That twenty centuries of stony sleepW.B. Yeats - 1865 - 1939 Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle, And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?
Setting - Summer of LoveSet in Haight-Ashbury districtin months prior to Summer ofLove (100,000 peopleconverged in neighbourhood)Was countercultural centre -mix of music, drugs, sex,creative expression andpolitics.Popularised through musicand media
StructureIntro Polyphonic Snapshots Analysis Final ImageDidion portrays a very difference scenePushes the boundaries of the observerExplores the gap between who we are and who we think we areBalancing act between objective and subjective approaches
Intro Polyphonic Snapshots Analysis Final ImageAttention grabbing - contrast of atrocities “casual killings,misplaced children, abandoned homes” - to reveal that shewrites of the United StatesTone is set with striking language, use of poem “the centre wasnot holding” - “We had aborted ourselves and butchered thejob.” - “Social haemorrhaging”She establishes the relationship with the reader - Her voice setsstage in first person, - it is to be an account from ground zero
Intro Polyphonic Snapshots Analysis Final ImageThe structure loosens (as in the poem?) Didion shifts to a seriesof ‘snapshots’ using multiple voices - interwovenOn her writing, “To shift the structure of a sentence alters themeaning of that sentence, as definitely and inflexibly as theposition of a camera alters the meaning of the objectphotographed.”So she carefully presented these snapshots to lack carefulpresentation
Intro Polyphonic Snapshots Analysis Final ImageCharacters - voices Kid 16/17 who has been shooting speed for 3 days Max who drops 250-350 micrograms of acid every 6 days, teenage girlfriend Sharon Arther Lisch - leader of the Diggers, who worries the influx of runaways will lead to full-blown humanitarian crisisDisorienting - she darts back and forth as erratically as the homeless youth she writes of -as a reader you get a sense of what it was like to be amongst those she was writing aboutShe uses their vernacular, adapts her own language to further paint these snapshots -“on a bad trip” “I figure the sign is Sharon’s trip”Relentless and grim - in some ways reminded me of Jack Kerouac and his beat generation
Intro Polyphonic Snapshots Analysis Final ImageOn her negotiation of access - she has gained their trust:“I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, andso neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that mypresence runs counter to their best interests. And it alwaysdoes.”Notoriously inarticulate - “Had I been blessed with even limitedaccess to my own mind there would have been no reason towrite.”
Intro Polyphonic Snapshots Analysis Final ImageIn this section we are led through the quote of a psychiatrist toDidion writing directly of her findingsShe discovered a league of lost children - not amid a socialrevolution but rather in a drug-addled stupor, consumed by aself-destructive nihilism and lacking the language to articulatetheir particular malaise.“Army of children waiting to be given the words.”
Intro Polyphonic Snapshots Analysis Final ImageThe analysis seems to tie these snapshots together, we are thencalled to reflect on these thoughts with two more examplesFinal and shocking image of 5 year old girl on Acid. Didion usesher neutral and objective tone until one key moment, “I start toask if any of the other children in High Kindergarten get stoned,but I falter at the key words.”Very subtle, but immensely telling
Style and ConclusionUncluttered writing style (Hemingway was an influence forDidion)Structure used to immerse the reader in her worldExtremely accurate use of quotes, right down to vernacular(however graphic)Very involved research, close and honest relationships withsourcesSnapshots used to back up her opinion, then more examplesused in newly presented frame
ReferencesDidion, J 1990, “Slouching Towards Bethlehem, “ Slouchingtowards Bethlehem, New York: Farrar, Straus and GirouxHarkins-Cross, R 2012, “Writing the self: On Joan Didion.Meanjin, Vol.71, No. 2: 80-88.Ulin, D 2010, “What Happened Here?”, Columbia JournalismReview Vol.48 Issue 6, 50-54.
DiscussionHow can structure influence the reader? Can you think of anyexamples? When is it ok to break the rules and when isn’t it? (Order of scenes, Points of analysis/digression etc)On the topic of representation - what are your thoughts on howDidion represented her subjects? (sub-point - Didion was very transparent about herself, but her attitudes towards and relationships with her subjects are less defined - discuss) or use eg. of 5yo girl - would you report it?