Joan Didion's Reconciling Detachment and Emotion

Matthew Rodriguez, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2002

Didion has a striking ability to convey the seeming superficiality or detachment of California culture during an era, that was paradoxically very emotional and filled with intense turmoil. Her ability to reconcile these two polarizing characteristics of detachment and emotion is fascinating. Her essay about the freeway culture of Los Angeles best exemplifies what I mean:

To understand what was going on it is perhaps necessary to have participated in the freeway experience, which is the only secular communion Los Angeles has. Mere driving on the freeway is in now way the same as participating in it. 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 take over. [83]

How does Didion use the physical infrastructure of the city to convey or textualize the emotions of that period of which she herself was an active participant?


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Last modified 6 February 2002