Human Perception and Finding the Truth

Joan Didion assesses what it means truly to remember a place with her analysis of what it means to percieve. In several of her narrative threads, Didion attempts to understand the meaning of perception by understanding truth not as readers can understand it through reflection, but through an immediate experience of truth. Several of these passages present Didion's ideas of perception as a means for the human mind to perceive the truth and see what it wishes to see. The following examples show Didion revealing what it means to be human and perceive truth.

This was art acquired to teach a lesson, and there is also a lesson in the building which houses it: the Getty tells us that the past was perhaps different from the way we like to perceive it. Ancient marbles were not always attractively faded and worn. Ancient marbles once appeared just as they appear here: as strident, opulent evidence of imperial power and acquisition. Ancient murals were not always bleached and mellowed and "tasteful." Ancient murals once looked as they do here: as if dreamed by a Mafia don. Ancient fountains once worked, and drowned out that very silence we have come to expect and want from the past.

I mentioned to Brother Theobold that most seismologists were predicting an imminent major earthquake on the San Andreas Fault, but he did not seem unduly interested: Brother Theobold's perception of the apocalypse neither began with nor depended upon the empirical.

I realized what I most disliked about this incident: I disliked it because it had the aspect of a short story, one of those "little epiphany" stories in which the main character glimpses a crisis in a stranger's life — a woman weeping in a tearoom, often, or an accident seen from the window of a train, "tearooms" and "trains" still being fixtures of short stories although not of real life — and is moved to see his or her own life in a new light. I was not going to Honolulu because I wanted to see life reduced to a short story.


1. What does Joan Didion say about human perception? Is it inherently flawed, and can memory be truth?

2. In her anecdote about Brother Theobold, Didion remarks that his perception is not influenced by the empirical. How does faith change perception?

3. Is short story inherently a flawed form of perception? Is life better or more accurately represented in a longer prose format?

4. Is the past passive, or is Didion suggesting that the Ôsilence we have come to expect' is something that is harmful to recounting what is true?

5. How does Didion achieve an honesty through her writing without using her own perception on the events that she recounts?

Victorian Web Overview Victorian courses Joan Didion

10 September 2007