It has always creeped me out in the best possible way how invisible Joan Didion is in her own writing, and how the word “I” has next to no meaning when she uses it. It is writery fanboyness to say OH THAT THING IS SO ME, but after the appreciation of the architecture and execution, there has to be something forcing your hand to identify or leave. You either want to hear this person talking, or you do not, and a lot of that has to do with the person reading eyes are attached to at the moment.
And I guess where she hooked me was the fragility of that “I,” and that every single moment seemed—and always seems, even now—seconds from snapping her mind in two. It never does, or at least not completely. The White Album’s title essay is about L.A. and her mind breaking down simultaneously, and how both parties kept going long after they lost any capacity to do so. It is a place of temporary states: alive or dead, rented or vacant, free or jailed, sane or incapacitated by life. There is no certainty, not even of the “I” in question. She only appears as an immaculately constructed transparency described by others, and in the most clinical of terms.
There was only the moment, and lists, and things seemingly happening not to, but through Didion. I guess that is why she’s the only person whose books I’ve ever reread for pleasure, and why she still scares the hell out of me as a reader. She writes immaculate prose about the worst things imaginable, perfect little notes on clean stationery: nothing is comprehensible, you will be overwhelmed, and what you have left is the ability to describe the defeat of your ability to process an opaque, orderless universe.
And, to paraphrase her, you won’t know what you think about any of it until you write it down.
P.S. She also understands you can mitigate that existential terror by driving a badass Corvette Stingray at least once in your life.