“… In particular, the candour of her femaleness is highly arresting and original. She doesn’t try for the virile virtues of robustness and infallibility; she tries to find a female way of being serious. Nevertheless, there are hollow places in even her best writing, a thinness, a sense of things missing.
“There are two main things that aren’t there. The first is a social dimension. At no point in The White Album does Miss Didion think about the sort of people she would never normally have cause to come across: the ‘cunning Okie’ who doesn’t actually commit the crime and hit the headlines, the quietly crazy mother who never gets round to leaving her daughter on the centre divider of Interstate 5, the male-prostitute flop who will never have the chance to roll and murder a Ramon Novarro and win a place in Miss Didion’s clippings file. Lucille Miller was alive and ill and living in San Bernadino Valley long before she tried to burn her husband to death. Miss Didion sensed this, inSlouching towards Bethlehem, and had the energy to follow it up: but in The White Album her imaginative withdrawal seems pretty well complete. It must be easier to get like this in California than anywhere else on earth. Even the black revolutionaries Miss Didion goes to see chat about their BUPA schemes and the royalties on their memoirs. It is interesting, though, that Miss Didion fails to identify a strong element in the ‘motives’ behind the Manson killings: the revenge of the insignificant on the affluent. What frightened Miss Didion’s friends was the idea that wealth and celebrity might be considered sufficient provocation to murder. But Miss Didion never looks at things from this point of view. It is a pity. If you are rich and neurotic it is salutary in all kinds of ways to think hard about people who are poor and neurotic: i.e. people who have more to be neurotic about. If you don’t, and especially if you are a writer, then it is not merely therapy you miss out on.
“The other main thing that isn’t there is any kind of literary spaciousness or solidity. Miss Didion has excellent sport with the culturelessness of her fellow Californians: ‘As a matter of fact I hear that no man is an island once or twice a week, quite often from people who think they are quoting Ernest Hemingway.’ Or again, writing about Hollywood: ‘A book or a story is a “property” only until the deal; after that it is “the basic material”, as in “I haven’t read the basic material on Gatsby.” ’ Miss Didion has read the basic material on Gatsby; she has even read The Last Tycoon. But what else has she read, and how recently? A few texts from her Berkeley days like Madame Bovary and Heart of Darkness get a mention. Lionel Trilling gets two. And while holidaying in Colombia she takes the opportunity to quote from One Hundred Years of Solitude (‘by the Colombian novelist Gabriel Garcia Marquez’) and Robert Lowell’s ‘Caracas’. Yet at no point does Miss Didion give a sense of being someone who uses literature as a constant model or ideal, something shored up against the randomness and babble that is fundamental to her distress. When Miss Didion herself attempts an erudite modulation we tend to get phrases like ‘there would ever be world enough and time’ or ‘the improvement of marriages would not a revolution make’ or ‘all the ignorant armies jostling in the night’ – which might be gems from a creative-writing correspondence course.
‘Slouching towards Bethlehem’ is, of course, a literary reference itself. As Miss Didion dramatically points out in her Preface: ‘This book is called Slouching towards Bethlehem because for several years now certain lines from the Yeats poem which appears two pages back have reverberated in my inner ear as if they were surgically implanted there.’ The whole of ‘The Second Coming’ is indeed printed a few pages back, along with a deflationary extract from the sayings of Miss Peggy Lee (‘I learned courage from Buddha, Jesus, Lincoln, Einstein, and Cary Grant’). The title essay duly begins: ‘The centre wasn’t holding.’ It doesn’t seem to have occurred to her with the necessary force that ‘The Second Coming’ was written half a century ago. The centre hasn’t been holding for some time now; actually the centre was never holding, and never will hold. Probably all writers are at some point briefly under the impression that they are among the first to live and work after things fell apart. The continuity such an impression ignores is a literary continuity. It routinely assimilates and domesticates more pressing burdens than Miss Didion’s particular share of vivid, ephemeral terrors.
Rest is here.
I need to be reminded, because it matters politically where exactly, that our O’Reillys came from the South of Ireland, South of Dublin. I’ve been told before but my memory is bad. I wrote it on two napkins in Istanbul, drinking with my Uncle on his last hurrah in Europe. We slept the three of us like, it was hilarious, Ernie, Bert and Elmo (Katie, my brother’s partner) each with our separate tiny bed frames and heads, in 3 separate not-even-single sized beds, in a good-enough single room apartment of home carpentry. Turkish beers each while the prayers boomed out, then gossiping sideways while we couldn’t sleep, pitching historical fiction reading lists (my Uncle is the librarian lender of the family, K has just discovered his Hilary Mantel), and chuckling between the three of us about how many recent films none of us had seen. My uncle had been given a lot of my father’s clothes since I saw him last, which convenienced the difficulty of that no end. My father had such a small little robust frame, he always had to have my mother cut about half a metre of new pants off, to resew the real length of him, so when my uncle put on my father’s jeans and explained that they were basically the same size, I saw another hole in the universe potentially opening up. These candidly falliable OReilly men who die mid-conversation, this tending to go together: not living long and being so horridly good at giving gossip its appropriate political register.
Annie O’Reilly, the mother of my great grandfather, came by ship from Ireland as an 18 year old indentured servant in 1867. It was a 9 month trip. She was pregnant on disembarking, and had the baby in Queensland. In the records she refused to say who the father was. She worked for 12 months with him beside her, then took him to a neighbour, and gave the neighbour woman a whole pile of money to look after Bill for 12 months. Annie never came back to collect him, so the neighbour eventually took the baby to an orphanage. Annie ran away to Sydney and married a ‘middle class bloke’.
Bill… married Ruby McCrudden, and had Joan, Kevin, Darcy, Terry, Gary. Your father’s cousins: Gary – one girl, Darcy – five, Bill – none, Kevin – one, Joan – two with Lyle; Norma and Darcy’s kids bought your father’s shop. The McCruddens, your great grandmother’s family, all came out as convicts. Jacklyn, Lon, Danny have the records. Bill tracked Annie down but the records weren’t as good as they are now. McCruddens (inc. tressidas) were a mixture of convicts and immigrants. Sievers (grandmother) was Austria. Nola’s mother was a Turvey (English). The family tree book you’ve seen is Turvey research.
Vietnam didn’t fuck Terry up. He got drafted, he got hurt, but only by falling in to a pit. He became a radio operator after that. Terry Senior had to talk to him about something (else?). He scared the kids. He was also 6ft tall, an anomaly, and your grandfather’s favourite, or maybe that was your father, or he became that. He was in Vietnam when the war ended. He was demobbed [relieved of any further service duties] on the plane back home. Peter Weller (the cousin of my grade seven teacher) convinced him to go on holidays in Germany. They were mucking around and drinking with American soldiers.. off duty. One of the soldiers killed him in the car accident, but it was Peter who was driving the car. Your father was in Louisiana at the time and the news hit him there. I was traveling also. We came back. You didn’t know this?
All five of your father’s uncles served. The shyest, Uncle Mylie was a medic in New Guinea and won some bravery award. There was a nurse up at the hospital who reckoned he’d walk straight out into the field to get the bodies.
I lost the 2nd napkin. It had details about my grandmother Nola’s higher Anglican(?) class, the impact of Jacqui’s disability plus five children on Nola’s entire life, and Terry’s social and political brain, his catholic-hedonic anti-careerism, their staying put in place.
And more about Bill, my own great Uncle, who comes out only through the communicative power of the male thesbians in his non-fiction collection, delivered to us by suitcase already family-audited. Because his niece didn’t know who the thesbians were, but got rid of the more telling fiction covers beforehand. Because he was working in the very upper echelons of government, and had worked too hard with the secret in life for it to be valiant or even interesting, to announce it in death. He told her, ever the state man, a few weeks before that he was “100 per cent gay”. She told only the gayest bachelor progeny. These efforts being considered the right ‘it’. I cried that he died while my father was dying, family eyes ever turned away from him.
this is from Strawson and Galen, Ch 7, Against Narrativity.
“It may be said that the sense of perpetual beginning is simply more salient or vivid for Episodics; but it need not be. An Episodic considering the character of her present experience may feel that consciousness is a flowing stream, and have no particular positive experience of perpetual rebeginning, while lacking any significant sense that she was there in the (further) past and will be there in the future. A Diachronic may experience consciousness as something that is always re-engaging or always setting out without feeling that this undercuts his sense that he was there in the past and will be there in the (further) future. Episodics may well have a general tendency to experience things more in one way than the other, and so too Diachronics, but there are perhaps no necessary linkages between the Diachronic and Episodic dispositions and these sorts of phenomenological particularities. The key—defining—difference is simply as stated: it is the difference between those who do and those who do not naturally figure or experience themselves, considered as selves or subjects, as things that were there in the (further) past and will be there in the (further) future.9
Diachronics and Episodics are likely to misunderstand one another badly. Dia- chronics may feel that there is something chilling, empty, and deficient about the Episodic life. They may fear it, although it is no less full or emotionally articulated than the Diachronic life, no less thoughtful or sensitive, no less open to friendship, love, and loyalty. Certainly the two forms of life differ significantly in their ethical and emotional form. But it would be a great mistake to think that the Episodic life is bound to be less vital or in some way less engaged, or less humane, or less humanly fulfilled. If Heideggerians think that Episodics are necessarily ‘inauthentic’ in their experience of being in time, so much the worse for their notion of authen- ticity.10 If Episodics are moved to respond by casting aspersions on the Diachronic life—finding it somehow macerated or clogged, say, or excessively self-concerned, inauthentically second-order — they too will be mistaken if they think it an essentially inferior form of human life.
There is one sense in which Episodics are by definition more located in the present than Diachronics, so far as their self-experience is concerned. But it does not follow, and is not true, that Diachronics are less present in the present moment than Episodics, any more than it follows, or is true, that the present is somehow less informed by or responsible to the past in the Episodic life than it is in the Dia- chronic life. What is true is that the informing and the responsiveness have different characteristics and different experiential consequences in the two cases. Faced with sceptical Diachronics, who insist that Episodics are (essentially) dysfunctional in the way they relate to their own past, Episodics will reply that the past can be present or alive in the present without being present or alive as the past. The past can be alive — arguably more genuinely alive — in the present simply in so far as it has helped to shape the way one is in the present, just as musicians’ playing can incorporate and body forth their past practice without being mediated by any explicit memory of it. What goes for musical development goes equally for ethical development, and Rilke’s remarks on poetry and memory, which have a natural application to the eth- ical case, suggest one way in which the Episodic attitude to the past may have an advantage over the Diachronic: ‘For the sake of a single poem’, he writes, ‘you must have…many…memories…. And yet it is not enough to have memories….For the memories themselves are not important.’ They give rise to a good poem ‘only when they have changed into our very blood, into glance and gesture, and are name- less, no longer to be distinguished from ourselves’.11
Among those whose writings show them to be markedly Episodic I propose Michel de Montaigne, the Earl of Shaftesbury, Laurence Sterne, Coleridge, Stendhal, Hazlitt, Ford Madox Ford, Virginia Woolf, Jorge-Luis Borges, Fernando Pessoa, Iris Mur- doch (a strongly Episodic person who is a natural story teller), Freddie Ayer, Bob Dylan. Proust is another candidate, for all his remembrance (which may be inspired by his Episodicity); also Emily Dickinson. Diachronicity stands out less clearly, because it is I take it the norm (the ‘unmarked position’), but one may begin with Plato, St Augustine, Heidegger, Wordsworth, Dostoievski, Graham Greene, Evelyn Waugh, and all the champions of Narrativity in the current ethico-psychological debate. I find it easy to classify my friends, many of whom are intensely Diachronic, unlike my parents, who are on the Episodic side.12
…It was all such a leap forward in projective time, this last week. Only my father knew how sick he was when he expressed the urge to go home, and which I talked about last time I emailed. He began a rapid decline five days after his arrival in Gladstone, and two days after I left for melbourne, possibly as the cancer hit his liver and kidneys (he turned green/yellow overnight) so I flew back immediately and was here for those precious last days (which we still thought might be weeks) and that were more exhausting, real, inside, and sacred than I thought possible. Without seeming projective or additionally morbid, and just for the record, I would say that if you can help your parents die at home I would recommend it for yourself and for them. It all felt right, natural, us responsible for the care of his suffering, and pain relief, sleeping at the feet of my parent’s king-sized.
His tenacity was profound. I’ve never seen anything like it, and may never again. The closest he came to asking permission to complain (without complaining) was when he looked me in the eye and asked “It’s too young. Isn’t it?” As if he wasn’t sure about his options on registering the unfairness of his situation. On Sunday night, we sat with him into the morning thinking that every breath was his last, hurling all our monologues of love and gratefulness at him, probably from midnight to 4am. As he kept on indefinitely, despite the obvious struggle, my mother sent us slowly off to bed promising to wake us if he changed condition. Then at 6am, after a whole 2 days of not being able to talk (only raspy mumbling that even when audible was mostly nonsense hallucinations), or focus his open glassy eyes, he sat up in bed, and yelled out “Fuck me, did you see that shot I just hit!” To which my mother replied, “Oh yes darling! What club did you hit it with?”, he lapsed immediately back into incomprehensiveness and semi-conscious sleep. Then at 7am my mother woke flabbergasted to see him walking out of the room, telling her he was going to watch the tennis.
Later that morning commenting on our diatribes of the night before, he asked “what was all that about last night? I’m not going anywhere yet.” The morpheine painkiller tablets were being given in too-large doses, with too-long gaps inbetween (we were told after following such instructions for a week), and so a drip was installed which evened out his conscious phases, and gave him and us more of them, more consistently. The sole palliative care nurse of the Gladstone area was a bit of a doofus, and seemed to have her own internal medical degree status that superseded our doctor’s, inventing ‘new strategies’ when her old ones didn’t seem appropriate enough – to the point that my brother began to call her snidely “Super Sue” and wouldn’t let her do anything to my dad without him supervising.
Two days later he says again he hadn’t given up. And that afternoon he died, more from the energy involved in us bathing him, rather than his own will. That vitality of his was just so life-affirming. He was so certain about the strength and solidity of our love and care for each other – it seemed like what he most wanted to know was that he’d passed that on to us and that it would continue without him, with the same amount of unquestionableness. The last conversation between him and I was mostly silent, as I held him and just weeped, weeped, silently, undramatically. He turned me over and was surprised that I was crying so quietly, “whats the matter! Why are you so sad! Talk to me!” I said I was just going to miss him so much. And he said “of course you are baby, and you’re going to miss me even more as time goes by!”. I felt like such a redundant emoter at that. Knowing he already knew the content of all the best of what I could say. The first thing that I said as I lay next to his dead body, was “he was my friend”. And that it was so nice to hold him properly knowing that you weren’t hurting him anymore. And now I’m rather upset, thinking about you getting this email, and me sending it, being grateful that I have friends that send such things to each other.
Recalling the performance of neuro-rhetoric by Jill Bolte Taylor at TED, talking (as a blurry first person neuroscientist) on her stroke. I posted about it sometime ago, confused about her confusion of political affiliations with brain hemispheres, but also about the valorization of massively dissociated states that is also part of the Deleuzian political investment in schizophrenia. Anyway, I came across this great updated link addressing problems with her ubiquitous and timely reception in the blogosphere.