“The future always looks good in the golden land, because no one remembers the past.”  (STB 4)

By the summer of 1964 they had achieved the bigger house on the better street and the familiar accouterments of a family on its way up … they were paying the familiar price for it.  And they had reached the familiar season of divorce. (STB 8-9)  The details of the Miller’s private failed situation is not unique and common to so many in this “Southern California story.” (STB 7)

Literary journalism has the ability to inform with greater depth than the conventional journalism.  It warns us about the danger of forgetting about the past.

something that never appeared in the eight-column headlines was always there between them: the revelation that the dream was teaching the dreamers how to live. (STB 17)

Lucille Miller represents our collective sin.

That was the sin, more than adultery, which tended to reinforce the one for which she was being tried.  It was implicit in both the defense and the prosecution that Lucille Miller was an erring woman, a woman who perhaps wanted too much.  … To Turner she was a woman who did not want simply her freedom and a reasonable alimony … but she wanted everything, a woman motivated by “love and greed.” She was a “manipulator”.  She was a “user of people.”(STB 22) Didion does not seem to be judging this woman but rather implies that we are all guilty in a way of both creating a Lucille Miller and of committing some of the same similar sins.  Didion reinforces that she lives in middle class suburban America, obsessed with upward mobility and that many of her housewife values for more are common and shared.

Georgia O’Keeffe is the conclusion of the ‘Women’ section.   She is the personification of the ideal woman and artist.

“Where I was born and where and how I have lived is unimportant,” Georgia O’Keeffe told us in the book of paintings and words published in her ninetieth year. … She appeared to be dismissing the rather condescending romance that had attached to her by then, the romance of extreme good looks and advanced age and deliberate isolation. “It is what I have done with where I have been that should be of interest.” (White Album 126)

Didion is viewing O’Keeffe’s paintings

Style is character. It seemed to me that afternoon that I had rarely seen so instinctive an application of this familiar principle, …  this was a hard woman who had imposed her 192 square feet of clouds on Chicago. (White Album 127)

This was a woman who in 1939 could advise her admirers that they were missing her piont, that their appreciation of her famous flowers were sentimental.  “When I paint a red hill, … you say it is too bad that I don’t always paint flowers.  A flower touches almost everyone’s heart. A red hill doesn’t touch everyone’s heart.” (White Album 127)

The city men. The men. They.  The words crop up again and again as this astonishingly aggressive woman tells us what was on her mind when she was making her astonishingly aggressive paintings.  It was those city men who stood accused of sentimentalizing her flowers: “I made you take time to look at what I saw and when you took time to really notice my flowers you hung all your associations with flowers on my flower and you write about my flower as if I think and see what you think and see – and I don’t” And I don’t.  Imagine those words spoken, and the sound you hear is don’t tread on me. “The men” believed it impossible to paint New York, so Georgia painted New York.  “The men” didn’t think much of her bright colour.  So she made it brighter. (White Album 128)

Some women fight and others do not.  Like so many successful guerrillas in the war between the sexes, Georgia O’Keeffe seems to have been equipped early with an  immutable sense of who she was and a fairly clear understanding that she would be required to prove it. (White Album 129)

It is significant that a writer represents the immaturity and self indulgence of the times while a painter exemplifies the ideal woman.  Is Didion making a comment on the status of literature, more specifically on the irrelevance of fiction in times when facts are stranger and more interesting than fiction.  The abandonment of realism in fiction is its downfall is she commenting on that?

Didion on Doris Lessing

August 1, 2008

For more than twenty years now she has been registering, in a torrent of fiction that increasingly seems conceived in a stubborn rage against the very idea of fiction, every tremor along her emotional fault system, every slippage in her self-education. (White Album 119)

That she is a writer of considerable native power, a ‘natural’ writer in the Dreiserian mold, someone who can close her eyes and ‘give’ a situation by sheer force of her emotional energy, seems almost a stain on her conscience. … She does not want to ‘write well’. Her leaden disregard for even the simplest rhythms of language, her arrogantly bad ear for dialogue – all of that is beside her own point. More and more, Mrs. Lessing exclusively in the service of immediate cosmic reform: she wants to write … only to “create a new way of looking at life.” (White Album 120)

What we are witnessing here is a writer undergoing a profound and continuing cultural trauma, a woman of determinedly utopian and distinctly teleological bent assaulted at every turn by fresh evidence that the world is not exactly improving as promised. And, because such is the particular quality of her mind, she is compelled in the face of this evidence to look even more frenetically for the final cause, the unambiguous answer. (White Album 123)

The Women’s Movement, Doris Lessing, Georgia O’Keeffe are all put in the section titled “Women” She uses Doris Lessing as an individual example and a literary example of the prevailing culture of immaturity.

“…the impulse to final solutions have been not only Mrs. Lessing’s dilemma but the guiding delusion of her time.” (White Album 125)

Tabula Rasa

August 1, 2008

On the Mall

The frontier had been reinvented, and its shape was the subdivision, that new free land on which all settlers could recast their lives tabula rasa.  For one perishable moment there the American idea seemed about to achieve itself. (White Album 181)

It is this starting the future without ever considering the past that is problem.  For Didion neglecting the past is to thwart a possibility for growth in the future.

Tell Me About the Sixties

November 19, 2007

Tell Me About the Sixties

Tell Me About the Sixties

An Essay By:
Raechelle Dias

In 1905 revolutionary journalist and editor Hutchins Hapgood urged journalists to develop “a new form of literature” that would amalgamate the news gathering skills of a journalist with the writing skills of a literary artist, “emphasizing that such a form of writing would allow for a “section of life” to be portrayed “and a human story told”. (Connery 8).  As a reporter at the Commercial Advertiser, Hapgood began to articulate the limitations felt by generations of journalists who were increasingly under stringent time and space constraints. Reporting and writing in the inverted pyramid convention is ideal when divulging details of an event, however it stifles ones ability to explore the meaning behind the event. In 1962 Tom Wolfe discovered “it was possible to write accurate non-fiction with techniques usually associated with novels and short stories. … that it was possible in non-fiction, in journalism, to use any literary device, from the traditional dialogisms of the essay to stream-of-consciousness, and to use many different kinds simultaneously, or within a relatively short space … to excite the reader both intellectually and emotionally.  ” (Wolfe 28) This discovery was not a new one, and Wolfe was not the first to combine literary narration and reportage, but the variant forms of literary journalism that developed in the ‘60’s will be the focus of this paper.

Several of Wolfe’s colleagues experimented with this same discovery.   According to Marc Weingarten many of Wolfe’s contemporaries recognized that the sixties called for new forms of journalism.

The traditional tools of reporting would be inadequate to chronicle the tremendous cultural and social changes of the era.  … How could traditional just-the-facts reporter dare to provide a neat and symmetrical order to such chaos?  Many of them couldn’t and didn’t.” (Weingarten 6)

This paper will explore the works of both Joan Didion and Hunter S. Thompson as writers who challenged conventional journalistic writing approaches. However I will argue that Joan Didion accomplishes the responsibility of new journalism as put forward by Tom Wolfe in New Journalism “to excite the reader both intellectually and emotionally,” More fully and thoroughly than Thompson.  Joan Didion captivates and informs her audience by extending herself beyond her personal subjective focus. Her subjectivity does not concentrate on recounting her understanding of an event rather she uses her position as observer to dissect the interior motivations of her characters. It is her emphasis on the interior combined with her continual connection of the individual with the collective that lends her writing the ability to still “speak with such authority.” (Muggli 402)

Thomas B. Connery’s influential book, “A Sourcebook of American Literary Journalism: Representative Writers in an Emerging Genre” (1992) indicates how little consensus remains among theorists when discussing literary journalism or New journalism, Literary documentary, Literary non-fiction, Artistic non-fiction, The non-fiction novel, The non-fiction story, and New reportage (Connery 1, 14) as it also sometimes referred to.

Perhaps the divergence among theorists is a result of the work itself and its refusal to follow convention. Connery contends the term Literary Journalism seems to be the one with the greatest consensus.  Hutchins Hapgood used the term early in the century, with Edwin Ford in the 1930’s and early critics of new Journalism such as Charles C. Flippen preferring the term. Harold Hayes, called the “new journalism” articles being published in his magazine, Esquire in the 1960’s literary journalism and even Wolfe referred to the term in his New Journalism discussions and writings. More recently Norman Sims has “given the term greater prominence with the publication of The Literary Journalists (1984) and Literary Journalism in the Twentieth Century (1990) (Connery 14-15).  Literary Journalism will be the term used throughout this paper.

Function of Literary Journalism
As journalists strove to delve deeper than the inverted pyramid style of conventional journalism they moved from objective to subjective, leading to an expansion of stylistic approaches while also pushing the boundaries of content.  This new focus led to a new function for journalism.  A writer’s subjective impressions became the dominant focus, but these impressions went beyond “the details of an event [to] the manners, morals, and actions of people.”(Connery 6) For Connery the connection between the new content and the new purpose is acute: “because literary journalists have a different purpose than mainstream journalists, the facts and particulars they gather are largely different from those found in mainstream journalism.” (Connery 6)
Conventional journalism was not able to address the emerging needs of readers who were being bombarded with continual social shifts, a rapidly changing society required new rhetorical strategies. The void was filled in according to Weingarten when a “group of writers emerged, seemingly out of nowhere…they came to tell us stories about ourselves in ways that we couldn’t, stories about the way life was being lived in the sixties and seventies and what it all meant.” (Weingarten 6) According to Barbara Lounsberry the purpose of this new type of storytelling was to “address many of the persistent themes of the American imagination.  These included conflicts between the individual and society, as well as the continued efficacy of the “American Dream”.” (Lounsberry xvi)

These writers were handed the responsibility of sculpting meaning, and clarification of the evolving experiences and dramatic images occurring in the 60’s. Adding narration to all the dramatic scenes so that a reader could better understand their times became the central function of New Journalism.  Tom Wolfe would assert that realism had to be the basis of this writing.  In the introduction to his book, New Journalism Wolfe asserts writers, particularly fiction writers abandoned realism both as a focus and a literary technique.  It is this abandonment that renders their writing insignificant because for Wolfe,

Realism is not merely another literary approach or attitude.  The introduction of detailed realism into English literature in the eighteenth century was like the introduction of electricity into machine technology.  It raised the state of the art to an entirely new magnitude. (Wolfe, 1)

As the single most important literary device realism is rendered useless “…unless it is used to illuminate a higher reality…the cosmic dimension…eternal values…the moral consciousness.” (Wolfe 55) He was enthralled to be among a group of writers that could utilise “detailed realism and its strange powers to say to people

‘Hey! Come here! This is the way people are living now – just the way I’m going to show you!  It may astound you, disgust you, delight you or arouse your contempt or make you laugh …. Nevertheless, this is what it’s like!  It’s all right here! You won’t be bored! Take a look!’ (Wolfe, 43)

New Journalism did not simply root itself in realist tradition but rather challenged and redefined its boundaries. In the article, “New Journalism, Metaphor and Culture” David Eason writes  “The New Journalism controversy centred on the meaning of the term “realism” in relation to journalistic practice. As has been its history in the arts, realism was open to diverse interpretations.” (Eason 142)  Tom Wolfe’s explanation that this relationship is expressed by applying the techniques of realistic fiction to journalistic writing is still the most widely accepted according to Eason.  However Eason asserts that what remains contested is what techniques are appropriate. In New Journalism Wolfe proposed four critical tenets that, although other scholars have modified them, still serve as the foundation for literary journalism techniques.  They are:  1: scene-by-scene construction 2: record dialogue in full 3: third-person point of view 4: Recording of everyday gestures capturing “people’s status life,” (Wolfe 46-47) this final step for Wolfe “has always been the least understood.”
While these tenets remain the ones that are most adhered to Eason asserts that the controversy lies in distinguishing whether these techniques in fact aid in the production of “realistic reports … While New Journalists and defenders maintained that reports were faithful to reality, critics argued that the reports could not be realistic because they violated the conventions of non-fiction” (Eason 142)
New Journalism sought to reach beyond the constraints of convention and sought to “depict and convey moments in time, behaviour in society and culture. It broadly and subjectively explores how and why.” (Connery 5) Exploring the how and why was achieved by emulating the mood, the sensations  of that era, in an “attempt to freeze actuality.” Connery argues that “literary journalism attempts to show readers life and human behaviour, even if what actually emerges is life’s incomprehensibilty and the inexplicability of human behaviour” (Connery 12)  This had never been accomplished before to such a large extent before the ‘60’s an era marked not so much by the amount of social change but by its rapidity.  It was this rapidity from which emerged so much experimentation in all the attempts to extrapulate meaning from it all.  In his  article Eason quotes Hayden White who compares historical and fiction writing contending that the final goal in both forms of writing is to “make sense” of facts and historical meaning.  Meaning is extrapulated by relying upon similar techniques such as “narrative strategies of characterization, motif repetition, variation of tone and point of view, and alternative descriptive strategies to reveal the formal coherence of their material.” (White quoted in Eason 143) While the distinction is made that fiction writers may be creating sense out of the imaginary world, “their manner of making sense is the same.” (White quoted in Eason 143)  The fusion between fiction and recording history has become the legacy of New Journalism.
One of the most prominent techniques that writers relied upon was metaphor and imagery. As Writers began relying on symbolism Eason contends “New Journalism raised up the relationship of symbolic frameworks to that which they represent as an issue in popular culture.” (Eason 142)  Imagery and metaphor extends beyond being an entertaining literary device as Mark Muggli writes in “The Poetics of Joan Didion’s Journalism.” In Didion’s writing “literal facts are usually her starting point, but figurality gives her journalism much of its interest.” (Muggli 406)
Didion’s images and metaphors are “symbolic, generally, of people’s status life” as prescribed in Wolfe’s realism techniques. (Muggli 407) The connection between these images and society remains the constant thread of purpose found throughout New Journalism writing.  The ability to make these connections is greatly affected by the writer’s experience and reaction to the era.

Writers Report from their Point of View
As a genre where subjectivity was permitted a writer’s personal experience, and reactions influenced their writing.  In such a tumultuous era writers’ responses had been “both preservative and expansionary.” (Lounsberry xvi) In the Art of Fact: Contemporary Artists of Nonfiction Lounsberry categorizes her interpretation of how writers perceived and reacted to their times.

Gay Talese is obsessed with generational legacies. … Wolfe finds much to criticize in contemporary American society, …“new light” revivalism … John McPhee preserves and extends the ideals of the nineteenth-century transcendentalists. … Norman Mailer…seeks to demonstrate that individual growth and change can be a model for social growth.( Lounsberry xvi-xvii)

Lounsberry accurately describes Joan Didion as possessing “a fiercely conservative vision, one that is correctively constricting rather than expanding or expansive.  Didion’s gaze is always backward to the fall.  She insists on human sin and punctures all illusion of individual or national melioration.” (Lounsberry xvii)  This reaction to her times is quite different from her renegade contemporary Hunter S. Thompson.  He rejected all forms of authority and according to Arthur Kaul apocalyptic religious motifs are evident throughout Thompson’s work.  “Language and madness – these terms signify Thompson’s secularized style of literary prophecy.  Like biblical prophecy, Thompson’s reportage takes the form of volatile denunciatory literary jeremiads, challenging and reproving conventional morality, politics and culture.” (Kaul 274) Kaul quotes Thompson as saying: “I have stolen more quotes and thoughts and purely elegant little starbursts of writing from the Book of Revelation than anything else in the English language…because I love the wild power of the language and the purity of the madness that governs it and makes it music.” (Thompson as quoted in Kaul 274)  Eason further contends that Thompson’s reaction to his time was to portray himself as a hero who “seeks his own identity in relation to the break up of a societal consensus.  … by acknowledging the strangeness of reality…” (Eason 148)

Each writer’s digestion of reality varies thus affecting their narrative voice, their direction and their purpose.  Both Didion and Thompson direct a reader through the features they wish to illuminate and the points they deem disposable.  Both express themselves “…in the spirit of experimentalism which….pushed the conventions of realism to order emerging forms of subjectivity, and…dramatized the gaps between those very conventions and forms of subjectivity they seemed incapable of containing.” (Eason as quoted in Connery 24) Both writers cast themselves at the centre of their subjectivity writing from their own singular point of view but both approach this very differently.  Rather than using shifting points of view among characters as Wolfe did in “The Girl of the Year,” Didion writes from the observer’s stance while Thompson plays the central protagonist.  Wolfe believed it essential to not treat a reader as a passive recipient of a story and argued that the use of alternating points-of-view was an important technique to engage the reader’s interest. However its function was essential in “presenting every scene to the reader through the eyes of a particular character, giving the reader the feeling of being inside the character’s mind and experiencing the emotional reality of the scene as he experiences it.” (Wolfe 46)

Didion is the “dispassionate observer” who avoids overtly writing her personal impressions instead she “followed the tenets of Lillian Ross, framing stories in scenes and relying on her moral instincts to provide the undercurrent of tragedy that pervaded so much of her sixties output.” (Weingarten 122) This is in direct contrast to Thompson who creates “a manic, highly adrenal first-person style in which Thompson’s own emotions continually dominate the story” (Wolfe 195) Their chosen role in their writing affected their ability to return to the central function of their genre which is connecting images, scenes, and stories to the collective.  The protagonist approach aggressively dictates reality while the observer models itself more on the role of the news reporter sharing “the crucial assumption that they present objects and events as documents that recreate history.” (Muggli 404)  I will now examine the varying interpretation of Didion’s and Thompson’s subjective stance with their diverging use of protagonist and observer points of view.
The Protagonist and the Observer
In the opening lines of his story, The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved Thompson introduces us to his first character, “Jimbo” his real name is not recorded by Thompson rather he is described as “a man from Houston who said his name is something or other.” (Thompson 195) While not recording the name may be interpreted as a stylistic device signaling that he is using Jimbo as a representative character sketch of Southerners at the Derby, Thompson compromises the credibility of the story by setting the tone of a narrator who is not a vigilant observer but one who is bored by Jimbo, a man immediately cast as an ignorant homophobic southerner. “…I know this Derby crowd.  I come here every year, and let me tell you one thing I’ve learned – this is no town to be giving people the impression you’re some kind of faggot.”  (Thompson 196)  If Jimbo serves as a metaphor, it is unclear if his character is the embodiment or commentator on the surrounding culture.  Without this distinction a reader cannot accurately assess Jimbo’s motivations. He wants us to join him in his amusement of taunting Jimbo not because he has given us an expansive impression of Jimbo, but because “anybody who wanders around the world saying, “Yes, I’m from Texas,” deserved whatever happens to him.” (Thompson 198).  A reader is left craving permission to not be treated as the passive recipient of Thompson’s tales, but to watch the scene and characters unravel and then be allowed to make up their own minds.
Perhaps as a result of his boredom Thompson feels compelled to play the role of protagonist and proceeds to exploit his character’s ignorance and fear by informing Jimbo that “‘there’s going to be trouble … my assignment is to take pictures of the riot.” (Thompson 196) When a confused Jimbo inquires about the riot Thompson informs him that the police are preparing for an enormous impending riot between the Black Panthers and “white crazies”. Jimbo is agonized, “‘No!’ he shouted … ‘The Kentucky Derby!’ He kept shaking his head.  “No! Jesus that’s almost too bad to believe!’ Now he seemed to be jagging on the stool, and when he looked up his eyes were misty.” (Thompson 196-197)
Thompson leaves the man terrified over the impending threat that will destroy his respected tradition.  While this scene is a metaphor for all southern traditions that are being attacked by the current civil rights movement Thompson’s taunting of this individual seems prejudiced by his previous experience of the south and of the derby. “This was the first time I’d been to a Derby in 10 years, but before that, when I lived in Louisville, I used to go every year.” (The Kentucky Derby 202) Throughout the story Thompson continues to characterize Jimbo and American southern traditions in general as nothing more than gluttonous, indulgent and perverse expressions of an ignorant, racist society creating great fear in his reader and his English friend Ralph Steadman about what he anticipates will happen. He sets up the scene of drunks vomiting on themselves, starting fights, betting but when the big race days arrives, he records very little beyond “Total chaos, no way to see the race, not even the track … nobody cares.” (Thompson 208)  The opening five pages have the reader following Thompson on his errands and have nothing to with the Derby itself, in fact when reaches the end of the article realizing he has only given us his impression of what he thought it would be like, but not what it actually was.   As a New Journalist Thompson is at the Derby to evaluate not its financial significance, but its social one.  Rather than revealing a deteriorating society that is being forced to modify Thompson manages only to record his experience of the day, the people and his pre-existing opinions on Southern society.  The story fails as a cohesive commentary on the collective because its vignettes of the event are too fragmented and shallow.
Thompson establishes himself not only as an omniscient protagonist but a hustler appealing to people’s base impulses with his Playboy tag, purchased from a pimp.  Detailing his Hustling of people in order to get a car rental, accommodations, and press passes, the reader is completely distracted from viewing the event, the derby and is being given the experience of accompanying Thompson through the preparations that should have been dealt with prior to embarking on the task of reporting.  Thompson treats his reader like “passive recipients” of his amusing tales however his shallow coverage of events and characters are unable to convincingly connect to a social condition beyond Thompson’s immediate experience of the Derby.
“The Kentucky Derby Is Decadent and Depraved” was the establishment of Thompson’s extreme version of first person narrative, where he the narrator becomes the central character of the story. For Thompson this is the only way in which Gonzo journalism may function.
True Gonzo reporting needs the talents of a master journalist, the eye of an artist/photographer and the heavy balls of an actor…Because the writer must be a participant in the scene, while he’s writing it.  Probably the closest analogy to the ideal would be a film director/producer who writes his own scripts, does his own camera work and somehow manages to film himself in action, as the protagonist or at least a main character. (The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time, 120)
Perhaps it is because of this belief that Thompson provides such descriptive cinematic visuals of prominent characters like the Kentucky Colonels.  Rather than introducing the reader to any of these characters he simply offers, “look for men in white linen suits vomiting in the urinals. … Most of them manage to avoid vomiting on their own clothes, but they never miss their shoes.’” (Thompson 207) The Colonels serve as important indicators of an insulated southern society that is out of touch with the rapid racial changes occurring in the rest of the country however Thompson only offers visual vignettes of these people without any substantial dissection of them.  He is simply “churning around in a sea of drunken horrors.” (Thompson 205)   Wolfe contends that Thompson’s aggressive protagonist style works because he “casts himself as a frantic loser, inept and half-psychotic, somewhat after the manner of Celine.” (Wolfe 195). Why should a reader be interested in this persona’s interpretation of reality when Wolfe himself asserts that the ultimate function of literature is to portray reality, to provide a reader with “the subjective or emotional life of the characters.” (Woolf, 35)   Part of the protagonist character Thompson creates in his stories is the indulgent author drunk or drugged,  how is a reader to trust the perception and reports of a journalist that is under the perpetual haze of intoxication? A point which Thompson himself acknowledges, with Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas as his failed attempt at Gonzo journalism, “Only a goddam lunatic would write a thing like this and then claim it was true.” (The Great Shark Hunt: Strange Tales from a Strange Time, 122-123)
While Thompson’s approach may be amusing it quickly becomes tiresome to read. A quote from Virginia Woolf most accurately describes a reader’s experience of Thompson.

Indeed, it was delightful to read a man’s writing again.  It was so direct, so straightforward after the writing of women.  … ‘But – I am bored!’ … Partly because of the dominance of the letter ‘I’ and the aridity, which, like the giant beech tree, it casts within its shade.
(A Room of One’s Own 129-131)

One of the most significant criticisms of literary journalism is the intimate involvement of the writer with their news stories and the need for objectivity as an elemental requirement in Journalism.   While literary journalists are subjective in their approach Didion’s “ “I” goes beyond the intentionally neutral voice of the daily news reporter – it is a created, shifting character who speaks memorably and who sometimes anatomises her own responses.” (Muggli 402)  It is Thompson’s exclusive preoccupation with his own experience of the Derby with nothing in the periphery of what happens to fall into his drunken path being discussed that makes it a failure as a piece of journalism.  Thompson’s subjectivity fails to extend beyond him as an individual.   He fails to connect his perception of an event to the exterior society.  Three pages into his article and there are very few direct quotes and absolutely no dissection of the inner world or motivations of his characters, but only what he tells his reader to believe. While Didion is also scarce on direct quotes her observations are deeply intimate and internally directed.   With delicate subtlety, she creates delicious tension between individual interiority and collective exteriority as is exemplified brilliantly in “Bureaucrats”. Didion connects the rhythm required in the ordinary daily routine of driving on California freeways with society and uses it as a metaphor for the collective mental state of people in the Sixties,
Anyone can “drive” on the freeway, and many people with no vocation for it do, hesitating here and resisting there, losing the rhythm of the lane change, thinking about where they came from and where they are going.  Actual participants think only about where they are.  Actual participation requires a total surrender, a concentration so intense as to seem a kind of narcosis, a rapture-of-the-freeway.  The mind goes clean.  The rhythm takes over.  A distortion of time occurs, the same distortion that characterizes the instant before an accident. (White Album 83)
She pays attention not to her own experience of an event but rather allows characters and events to unfold and reveal themselves to us without her overt intervention as an antagonist.  Some writers value the use of quotations however “Joan Didion uses only those quotations that underscore her vision of her subjects.  In fact, she famously allows her subjects to damn themselves with their own words.” (Lounsbery xv) In “Women’s Movement” Didion examines the movement and guides us to concluding that it has missed the point in connecting the private and the political and has produced women with unrealistic childish expectations.  Didion guides us with carefully constructed observations, she does not simply tell us they are childish she allows the women to reveal this by quoting articles written at the time.
A young woman described on the cover of New York as “The Suburban Housewife Who Bought the Promises of Women’s Lib and Came to the City to Live Them” tells us what promises she bought: “The chance to respond to the bright lights and civilization of the Big Apple, yes. The chance to compete, yes. But most of all, the chance to have some fun. Fun is what’s been missing.” (White Album 117)

For Didion the theme of Tabula Rasa is a constant throughout her writing.  The notion that the past is irrelevant and something to be erased, escaped is the most central delusion plaguing society.  This is a point that Didion asserts repeatedly In “Many Mansions” Didion challenges the tabula rasa vision of the Reagans, who wish to forget the historical California governor’s mansion – not to mention the American River – and, like Bishop Pike, start anew. The “Bureaucrats” of the California Department of Transportation similarly wish to alter the historical driving patterns of California motorists … “eradicate a central Southern Californian illusion, that of individual mobility, without anyone really noticing” (White Album 81) Didion rejects the notion of starting over because she believes that people are lost because they do not know their past, their history.  The allure of erasing the past is an immature temptation that is echoed in the requests of the women in the 60’s Women’s Movement.   For Didion, people just do not want to accept that their mistakes and failures are apart of being an adult and that compromise, sacrifice, the past are all elements that can never be fully escaped.  It is these immature tendencies, the chasing after the unattainable that Didion is attacking when she criticizes the Women’s Movement. Like Thompson Didion is not afraid to offer her opinion or make judgments however unlike Thompson’s evaluation of southern society in The Kentucky Derby is Decadent and Depraved Didion allows the words of her characters to guide us to the conclusion she wants us to make, without aggressively or overtly telling us what to think as Thompson does in his writing.
Didion is present as a character in many of her stories, she is not completely the passive observer as she acknowledges in “On Keeping a Notebook” The entire objective for keeping notes, and writing is to “Remember what it was to be me: that is always the point.” (STB 136)  Didion creates a distinction between her private writing and her journalistic writing where she seldom presents herself as a protagonist character.  Yet when speaking of private notebooks she writes, “It is a good idea, then, to keep in touch, and I suppose that keeping in touch is what notebooks are all about … your notebook will never help me, nor mine you.” (STB 140) For Didion, this implacable “I” is appropriate in your private diaries but not what is “patently for public consumption” (STB 136) She keeps returning to the collective and connecting her writing beyond her impressions and personal recounting but rather uses her subjectivity to comment on societal changes by examining the interior.

Internal Emphasis vs. Surface Dwelling
Not all scholars agree with Tom Wolfe’s assertion that “new journalism is a new non-fiction realism.” John Helllman asserts that the direction new journalism took was inward it was “ultimately concerned with the interior consciousness rather than external actuality; journalism, on the other hand, is descriptive and assertive, and its final direction is outward.” (Connery 24)
Hellman proposed that new journalism was grounded in fabulist fiction in that it was discovering “a fragmented reality … avoid[ing] representations and seek[ing] construction” (Hellman 17)  and it established “the necessity of an imaginative pattern-making consciousness, to create a meaningful design” extracted from personal experience. (Hellman 12)  While stylistically Thompson adheres to the fabulist tradition and certainly constructs “fragmented reality” providing exhilirating cinematic visuals, the content of his writing lacks internal dissection which leads to a hollow sense of narrative that lacks substance or the force to establish connections beyond his subjective experience as a writer.  Didion however focuses on the internal motivations of her characters with fierce intensity and connects that with exterior society.
Didion’s internal directive approach can be connected to the internal examinations made by Virginia Woolf particularly in A Room of One’s Own where she closely evaluates the effects that lack of female literary tradition. In her examination Woolf emphasized that because
…All the literary training that a woman had in the early nineteenth century was training in the observation of character, in the analysis of emotion.  Her sensibility had been educated for centuries by the influences of the common sitting-room.  People’s feelings were impressed on her; personal relations were always before her eyes. (Woolf 87)
The private interior realm has traditionally informed female literary contributions beginning with writers like Jane Austen and the Bronte sisters.  Modernist feminist writers asserted that by illuminating the private unseen, recorded elements of society “it lighted on small things and showed that perhaps they were not small after all.” (Woolf 121)  It was able to connect the private interior world with the public, societal sphere and enact change. Didion concentrates upon this tension between the private and the political and the subtleties of the ordinary and the extraordinary found in them.  She consistently uses the internal world, the individual to represent what is happening in the political collective society.
In the opening sentences of the White Album Didion introduces us to the perpetual tension felt between the internal and external, the individual and the collective, the extraordinary within the ordinary and her struggle to place words upon the images she observes.
We tell ourselves stories in order to live. … We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience. (White Album 11)
This is our introduction to Joan Didion and The White Album.  The juxtapositoning of narrative text over disparate images is a constant throughout Didion’s writing as she attempts to find narration that can make sense of societal images while a writer like Thompson is incredibly visual, descriptive, cinematic Didion examines beyond her images and delves inward. She contin ues the above quote about stories with the suprising revelation:
Or at least we do for a while. I am talking here about a time when I began to doubt the premises of all the stories I had ever told myself, … during those five years I appeared, on the face of it, a competent enough member of some community … a citizen. … It was a time of my life when I was frequently “named.” I was named grandmother to children. I was named lecturer and panelist, colloquist and conferee. I was even named, in 1968, a Los Angeles Times “Woman of the Year.” (Didion 12)
As we read her incredibly private mental report she informs us it is at this time that she has a nervous breakdown. By describing and delving through the details of her own internal mental state in the opening pages she offers herself as a comment on the collective nervousness of the time. Throughout her writing, Didion makes the reader aware of her own inner motivations, consistently unifying the attempts made by the reader, the writer and society as a whole to make sense of the images we see.  She struggles to establish “the relationship of symbolic frameworks [as representation] of an issue in popular culture.” (Eason 142)  As her mental reports discusses her attack of vertigo, and nausea Didion writes that “by way of comment I offer only that an attack of vertigo and nausea does not now seem to me an inappropriate response to the summer of 1968.” (White Album 15)
As “a child of my time”(White Album 205)  Didion incorporates her own personal past in order to examine the cause, evolution and consequence of this era The article, “The Morning After the Sixties” examines the era through the evolution of traditions experienced personally by the writer.  Didion offers her personal subjective point of view to contemplate the rapidity of change in the ‘60’s.  She commences her dissection of ‘60’s culture with a Saturday afternoon in her sophomore year in college.
That such an afternoon could now seem implausible in every detail … the extent to which the narrative on which many of us grew up on no longer applies. … The distance we have come from the world in which I went to college was on mind during those seasons when no only Berkeley but dozens of other campuses were periodically shut down, incipient battlegrounds, their borders sealed.  To think of Berkeley as it was in the Fifties was not to think of barricades and reconstituted classes.  “Reconstitution” would have sounded to us then like Newspeak, and barricades are never personal.  We were all very personal then, sometimes relentlessly so, and, at that point where we either act or do no act, most of us are still. I suppose I am talking about just that: the ambiguity of belonging to a generation distrustful of political highs, the historical irrelevancy of growing up convinced that the heart of darkness lay not in some error of social organization but in man’s own blood. … (White Album 205-206)
That afternoon and some of her earlier beliefs seem so implausible due to personal maturity and evolution, but also because of a political shift in collective consciousness.  The two are interconnected as Didion delicately offers herself as a tool of expressing this connection.
She uses herself as both a probe and a model of American society.  Her confessions of personal illusions both encourage reader sympathy and identification with her views, and demonstrate how prone Americans are to illusion.  … Most cleverly, her assertions that she can find no meaning have the effect of spurring readers to moral understandings she herself refuses overtly to claim. (Lounsberry 136)
The end of a decade and political movement ends with the four private deaths of individuals. It is this private tragedy transcending into the public imagination that extinguishes a sense of innocence.
Many people I know in Los Angeles believe that the Sixties ended abruptly on August 9, 1969, ended at the exact moment when word of the murders on Cielo Drive traveled like bushfire through the community, and in a sense this is true. (White Album 47)
In describing Slouching Towards Bethlehem Didion encapsulates the focus of her writing, “… many of these pieces are small and personal.” (Didion xv) She presents public events as the manifestation of what occurs in the private world. True to literary journalism’s focus Didion is not concerned with the facts presented at trials but examines the inner motivations of characters.  The article “Some Dreamers of the Golden Dream” serves as a primary example of Didion’s subtle style. She opens the article by establishing “this is a story about love and death in the golden land”. (STB 3) As she sits in the courtroom she is writing about “something that never appeared in the eight-column afternoon headlines but was always there between them: the revelation that the dream was teaching the dreamer how to live.” (STB 17)  To inform the dreamers that their dream is misguided she will use Lucille Miller as a metaphor to defend her position. The dream is flawed because it is linked directly to consumerism as Didion writes “that was the sin, more than the adultery, which tended to reinforce the one for which she was being tried. It was implicit in both the defense and the prosecution that Lucille Miller was an erring woman, a woman perhaps who wanted too much.” (STB 22) Didion uses Lucille’s greed as a metaphor for the greed pervading society, “It might have been anyone’s bad summer”. (STB 9)  With her “omnivorous eye” she illuminates intimate and “revealing details that elevated the story beyond a true-crime tale into a morality play.” (Weingarten 120)  She creates a tension between individual accountability and collective social responsibility. Lucille may be a greedy woman who burns her husband alive but she is a product of a society that consistently ignores its history and past, “The future always looks good in the golden land, because no one remembers the past”. (STB 4) Now they “are trying to find a new life style, trying to find it in the only places they know to look: the movie and the newspapers.” (STB 4) She focuses on telling the story of people with “mistaken notions of love and consumer-driven dreams.” (Connery 10) To comment on society’s same mistaken notions, but she does not overtly tell us this like Thompson would she allows her observations of Lucille Miller to accomplish this.  Her internal dissection of the character’s motivations connects her images and her narration as commentary on “popular culture.”
Characters? Props or Social Commentators
In his highly acclaimed book, The Literary Journalists (1984) Norman Sims defines literary journalists as writers who “view cultural understanding as an end” presenting their understanding by allowing “dramatic action speak for itself” (Sims 6)
The ability to expand beyond ones immediate experience of an event and using interior emphasis as a narrative tool to comment on societal collectiveness remains the most significant difference between Thompson and Didion.  Thompson writes “I listened to the war talk and shouting for a while” (Thompson 375) without providing his reader a glimpse of the inner motivations or explanations for such talk. In the absence of internal dissections his scenes are hollow and remain simply the recounting of one individual’s experience. When describing his shock in The Hell’s Angels a strange and terrible saga at witnessing a
…Vivid Pepsi Generation tableau … on a hot California afternoon a saga-bellied woman wearing St. Tropez sunglasses is hanging around a resort-area market, trailing her grade-school daughter and waiting in the midst of an eager crowd for the arrival of the Hoodlum Circus. (Thompson 386)
Thompson wonders “what strange grooves her mind had been fitted to” (Thompson 386) to be there with her young daughter, however his observation lacks the impact because he reveals nothing, no glimpse of the internal world motivations, a reader is left wondering why did he not ask what her strange grooves were?   Arthur Kaul points out that while “Humour and satire are the moralist’s weapons, and Thompson wields them with deadly and hilarious vengeance. … [the] satirical put-downs obscure the underlying moral seriousness of his cultural criticism.” (Kaul 275-278)
This point is further illuminated when Thompson encounters one of the locals, rifle in hand who is waiting for the Hell’s Angels arrival.  This man informs Thompson he has permission to ask anything he “wanted to know.”  Thompson does not ask him anything about why Mr. Williams hired armed men to protect his store, why some of the locals were ready to bludgeon Hell’s Angels members while other local town members and tourists were lining up to catch a glimpse.  The end of the story further compounds this missed opportunity when we meet the other storeowner, who creates an atmosphere “so congenial that we soon found ourselves back in the store, eating hamburgers and sipping draught beer.” (Hell’s Angels 387) The only comment that makes on this tension is that Thompson thought, “The man’s attitude is very odd”. (Hell’s Angels 387)
Thompson presents the tensions between the Hell’s Angels preoccupation with honouring their word, loyalty, friendship and communal sharing with the fact that they are criminals, but fails to challenge his readers by exploring these tensions. The leader Sonny Barger is quoted as saying that all of the neo-Nazi swastikas they wear are completely meaningless artefacts that they find at “dime stores” indicating his desire to be understood and not seen as a racist however he follows his explanation it up by admitting admiration for Pre-war Germany. “They had discipline.  There was nothing chickenshit about em.  They might not of had all the right ideas, but at least they respected their leaders and they could depend on each other.’” (Thompson 387)  It is clear that Thompson tries to avoid judging members of the Hell’s Angels, there are so many interesting layers of tension that comment on the confusion between the personal and the political that go untreated.   In the absence of substantial dissection of tension, Thompson is further treating his reader like a “passive recipient”. Didion’s writing exemplifies dissection of internal motivations does not equate to characterization or critical judgment of characters. In her essay, “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” she examined the evolving counter culture of the ‘60’s.  She introduces us to characters like Comrade Laski  “in all ways an idealist” (STB 62) and a man struggling to combat the apathetic society that surrounds him.

The world Michael Laski had constructed from himself was one of labyrinthine intricacy and immaculate clarity, a world made meaningful not only by high purpose but by external and internal threats, intrigues and apparatus, an immutably ordered world in which things mattered. (STB 65)

Rather than simply presenting the tension experienced by individuals who are desperate to reconcile their private lives with the rapid changes that engulf them, Didion explores the tension.

As it happens I am comfortable with the Micheal Laskis of this world, … those in whom the sense of dread is so acute that they turn to extreme and doomed commitments; I know something of dread myself, and appreciate the elaborate systems with which some people manage to fill the void…(STB 63)

She creates a sense of doom for ‘children’ who are lost because they no longer “believe in words” but she does not judge them. Instead she examines the society that has enabled children like Michael Laski to create lives that become “a minor but perilous triumph of being over nothingness.” (STB 66)
She explores the connection between society at large, activists, children of the revolution and how they are all lost and dealing with that loss in their own way.  The adults are preoccupied with the pursuits of capitalism while lost children rely on misguided activists to guide them.

Of course the activists – not those whose thinking had become rigid, but those whose approach to revolution was imaginatively anarchic – had long ago grasped the reality which eluded the press: we were seeing something important.  We were seeing the desperate attempt of a handful of pathetically unequipped children to create a community in a social vacuum. … These were children who grew up cut loose from the web of cousins and great-aunts and family doctors and lifelong neighbours who had traditionally suggested and enforced the society’s values.  … They are less in rebellion against the society than ignorant of it, able to feed back certain of its most publicized  self-doubts (STB 122-123)

Thompson repeatedly exploits his characters in order to amuse his reader and while Didion does the same with the   irrational rantings of Mrs. Gerald Petkuss in “Where the Kissing Never Stops”.  Mrs. Petkuss is hysterical at a hearing  about the type of people who attend Joan Baez’s school. Didion utilizes this character as a portraiture of an ignorant women who is afraid of anyone different.  She describes one of the students having a beard as indicitive of him being a threat to her and her small children.
“Well I don’t  care,” Mrs. Petkuss cried when someone in the front row giggled.  “I have small children, that’s a big responsibility, and I don’t want to have to worry … about who’s around.” (STB 43)
While Didion amuses us with this vignette she connects it with what is happening beyond Mrs. Petkuss by focusing on the details of the trail.  It becomes clear that trial is not about the deterioration to the Petkuss’ proprty rather it is about Joan Beaz’ representation of the emerging counter culture. “Her opponents sat tensed, ready to spring up and counter whatever defense she was planning to make of her politics, of her school, of beards, of “Berkeley-type” demonstrations and disorder in general.” (STB 44-45)
Didion uses both the Petkuss’ and Joan Baez’ school as metaphors to comment on the collective fear and marginalization of a youth and generation growing further isolated and recluse. Rather than examine why these children are retreating, like Mrs. Petkuss many people simply feared their expressions of rebellion. Didion’s brilliant image of that rebellion in “Slouching Towards Bethlehem” contains explicit and implicit theses about American culture in the 1960s, and the story’s images therefore reverberate with explanation of the culture at large.” (Muggli 411)
In her connection with society by utilizing the individual as its representation Didion fulfills Tom Wolfe assertion that, “manners and morals were the history of the sixties. …
A hundred years from now when historians write about the 1960’s in America  … they won’t write about it as the decade of war in Vietnam or of space exploration or of political assassination … but as the decade when manners and morals, styles of living, attitudes towards the world changed the country more crucially than any political events … all the changes that were labelled, however clumsily, with such tags as ‘the generation gap,’ ‘the counter culture,’ ’black consciousness,’ ’sexual permissiveness,’ ‘the death of God.’ (Wolfe, 44)
In conclusion, Thompson amuses us; he remains with Wolfe in the initial excitement associated with finding this new form of expression in Journalism. While they are both excited at discovering “Look this is how people are living” Didion moves beyond this voyeuristic amusement, she not only informs us on how people are now living, but why and how they are coping with the consequences of their lives. By portraying the private internal motivations Didion lends understanding and the more we understand her characters the more we see of ourselves in them. We are taught that the pathetic fallacies we are amused by in Thompson’s stories are the same fallacies that can be laughed at in ourselves.
Didion always reinforces the point that as the single most important literary device for New Journalism realism is rendered useless “…unless it is used to illuminate a higher reality…the cosmic dimension…eternal values…the moral consciousness.” (Wolfe 55)
Thompson will entertain you however Didion will educate you. In a lecture at Berkeley in1976 Didion described an illustration of a cat that appears in many introductory psychology books.  Drawn by a patient suffering from schizophrenia, the cat has a shimmer around it.  “Writing is the attempt to understand what’s going on in the shimmer,” Didion explained.  “To find the cat in the shimmer, if the cat is the important thing, or to find what the shimmer is.” (Lounsberry 107-108)

Of course the activists – not those whose thinking had become rigid, but those whose approach to revolution was imaginatively anarchic – had long ago grasped the reality which eluded the press: we were seeing something important.  We were seeing the desperate attempt of a handful of pathetically unequipped children to create a community in a social vacuum. … These were children who grew up cut loose from the web of cousins and great-aunts and family doctors and lifelong neighbours who had traditionally suggested and enforced the society’s values.  … They are less in rebellion against the society than ignorant of it, able to feed back certain of its most publicized  self-doubts (STB 122-123)

They feed back exactly what is given to them. Because they do not believe in words – words are for “typeheads,” Chester Anderson tells them, … their only proficient vocabulary is in society’s platitudes.  … I am still committed to the idea that the ability to think for one’s self depends upon one’s mastery of the language, and I am not optimistic about children who settle for saying, to indicate that their mother and father do not live together, that they come from “a broken home.” They are sixteen, fifteen, fourteen years old, younger all the time, an army of children waiting to be given the words. (STB 123)

Slouching Towards Bethlehem

October 19, 2007

Is a chronicle of all the new systems being created in this vacuum era.

Deadeye is a pot smoking man sleeping in until 3 pm with a house full of strangers “trying to set up this groovy religious group – ‘Teenage Evangelism’.” (STB 87)

Deadeye has a clear evangelistic gaze and the reasonable rhetoric of car salesman. He is society’s model product. I try to meet his gaze directly because he once told me he could read character in people’s eyes, particularly if he has dropped acid, which he did, about nine o’clock this morning. “They just have to remember one thing,” he says. “The Lord’s Prayer. And that can help them in more ways than one.” (STB 107)

The Warehouse, which is where Don and a floating number of other people live, is not actually a warehouse but the garage of a condemned hotel. (STB 95)

These are people who abandon society and creating their own communities. This is the new order for relationships, society.

… we move from the Warehouse to the place where Max and Sharon live with a couple named Tom and Barbara. … everyone is pleased to show off the apartment, which has a lot of flowers and candles and paisleys. Max and Sharon and Tom and Barbara get pretty high on hash, and everyone dances a little and we do some liquid projections and set up a strobe and take turns getting high on that. (STB 97)

Female order in this society

Barbara is on what is called the woman’s trip to the exclusion of almost everything else. When she and Tom and Sharon need money, Barbara will take a part-time job, … but she dislikes earning more than ten or twenty dollars a week. Most of the time she keeps house and bakes. “Doing something that shows your love that way … is just about the most beautiful thing I know. Whenever I hear about the woman’s trip, which is often, I think a lot about nothin’-says-lovin’-like-something-from-the-oven and the Feminine Mystique and how it is possible for people to be the unconscious instruments of values they would strenuously reject on a conscious level, but I do not mention it to Barbara. (STB 113)

Here the women still hold onto ‘traditional patriarchal dictated’ values and reject the pursuit of money however they think they are choosing these values rather than simply following the values that have been implanted in them. Moreover, unlike Woolf who instructs the women of her generation Didion, does not mention it to Barbara.

Arthur Lisch with “a pretty Dickensian picture of life on the edge of the Golden Gate Park, [with a] “riot-on-the-Street-unless” pitch.” (STB 99)

Arthur Lisch is a kind of leader of the Diggers, who, in the official District mythology, are supposed to be a group of anonymous good guys with no thought in their collective head but to lend a helping hand. (STB 99)

“The Connection” on of Arthur Lisch’s associates,

He reaches into his cape and pulls out Mimeographed sheet announcing a series of classes at the Digger Free Store on How to Avoid Getting Busted, Gangbangs, VD, Rape, Pregnancy, Beatings, and Starvation.

She keeps pointing out the inconsistencies in all of these people’s private lives and values and their political ones.

Chester Anderson is a legacy of the Beat Generation … whose hold on the District derives from his possession of a mimeograph machine, on which he prints communiques signed “the communication company”. It is another tenet of the official District mythology that the communication company will print anything anybody has to say, but in fact Chester Anderson prints only what he writes himself, agrees with, or considers harmless or dead matter. (STB 100)

California Dreaming

October 19, 2007

The Center for the Study of Democratic Institutions is another mutation at an attempt to create new systems for ourselves.

Despite this institution being far larger than  the two  previous institutes studied,  Didion  establishes that the same idealism prevents this system from being progressive. While it is a wealthy male institute Didion grounds it in the same erring values of Baez’s school.

Some twelve thousand contributors provide the million [dollars] a year, and it helps if they can think of a gift to the Centre not as a gift to support some visionaries who never met a payroll but “as an investment [tax-exempt] in the preservation of our free way of life.” (STB 77)

Pandering to the male ego is how these male institutions retain wealth, much like the male education systems discussed in A Room of One’s Own.”Everyone goes home flattered, and the Center prevails.” (STB 78)

Comrade Laski

October 19, 2007

Didion follows her examination of Joan Baez’s new system to Michael Laski’s attempt at his own new order as “General Secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party U.S.A.” (STB 61)

Describing Laski “is in all ways an idealist.” (STB 62) A man combating the apathy of the society that surrounds him.

The world Michael Laski had constructed from himself was one of labyrinthine intricacy and immaculate clarity, a world made meaningful not only by high purpose but by external and internal threats, intrigues and apparatus, an immutably ordered world in which things mattered. (STB 65)

Rather than generalize men as all perpetuating patriarchal values Didion delves further into the male psyche than Woolf was capable. Didion asserts Laski’s individuality in the midst of value systems in this way she is balanced and further the expression of that androgynous mind Woolf speaks of.

As it happens I am comfortable with the Micheal Laskis of this world, … those in whom the sense of dread is so acute that they turn to extreme and doomed commitments; I know something of dread myself, and appreciate the elaborate systems with which some people manage to fill the void…(STB 63)

Perhaps what Didion is asserting is that while the private can be a useful tool to examine and articulate the political. Politics are doomed when they are too informed and shaped by individual private motivations and fears.

“You see what the world of Michael Laski is: a minor but perilous triumph of being over nothingness.” (STB 66)

The irrational rantings of Mrs. Gerald Petkuss about the type of people who attend Joan Baez’s school is the perfect portraiture of an ignorant women who is afraid of anyone different.  Describing one of the students having a beard as indicitive of him being a threat to her and her small children.

“Well I don’t  care,” Mrs. Petkuss cried when someone in the front row giggled.  “I have small children, that’s a big responsibility, and I don’t want to have to worry … about who’s around.” (STB 43)

This is the type of ignorance that would be mocked in Thompson’s story however with Didion’s treatment of the private as a microscope for what is happening the public realm it is a scene that comments on the collective fear and marginalization  of a youth and generation that grows further isolated and recluse. Rather than examine why these children are retreating many simply fear their expressions of rebellion.

Joan  Baez was a personality before she was entirely a person, and, like anyone to whom that happens, she is in a sense that hapless victim of what others have seen in her, written about her, wanted her to be and not to be. (STB 47)

This is a lot like Woolf’s description of women who tried writing like men and failing because they had not yet found the sentence that would allow them to articulate themselves as women, with feminine values.

In Three Guineas Woolf discusses the need for an infusion of more feminine values to be inserted into patriarchal institutions,  particularly schools. Could Baez’s “Institute for the Study of Nonviolence” be an example of new institutions being created?

At Miss Baez’s school “There are admission requirements, … admission to each session is granted to the first fifteen who write and ask to come.” (STB 49)

Didion does not seem to think so and seems to have a more cynical view of this institution that uses Baez the female simply as a symbol of the school while it is run and informed by a man, Ira Sandperl “a man who has, all his life, followed some imperceptibly but fatally askew rainbow.” (STB 51)

The students who attend this school

come from all over, and they are on the average very young, very earnest, and not very much in touch with the larger scene … They worry a great deal about “responding to one another with beauty and tenderness,” and their response to one another is in fact so tender that an afternoon at the school tends to drift perilously into the never-never. (STB 49)

Slouching Towards Bethlehem seems to chronicle the commencement of many new institutions based on values that challenge the patriarchal system.

Baez is the perfect example of what Woolf discusses the need for financial freedom to lead to the time to contemplate.  Baez

lives quietly. … She believes that her days at the Institute talking and listening to Ira Sandperl are bringing her closer to contentment than anything she has done so far.” (STB 55) Yet Didion writes “She is defensive about her income” (STB 55)

Ira Sandperl “Basically we wanted to turn an unviolent movement into a nonviolent one.” (STB 52)

Joan Baez further exemplifies that private feelings motivate political sentiments.

To encourage Joan Baez to be “political” is really only to encourage Joan Baez to continue “feeling’ things, for her politics are still, as she herself said, “all vague.”  Her approach is instinctive, pragmatic, not too far from that of any League of Women Voters member. (STB 56)

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