Put off by all the praise for Joan Didion's prose style, Barbara Grizzuti Harrison wrote an essay-length critique of Didion. It gets, shall we say, very personal. The piece was called "Only Disconnect" (1980) and begins in this hilarious way:
When I am asked why I do not find Joan Didion appealing, I am tempted to answer -- not entirely facetiously -- that my charity does not naturally extend itself to someone whose lavender love seats match exactly the potted orchids on her mantel, someone who has porcelain elephant end tables, someone who has chosen to burden her daughter with the name Quintana Roo; I am disinclined to find endearing a chronicler of the 1960s who is beset by migraines that can be triggered by her decorator's having pleated instead of gathered her new diningroom curtains. These, and other assorted facts -- such as the fact that Didion chose to buy the dress Linda Kasabian wore at the Manson trial at I. Magnin in Beverly Hills -- put me more in mind of a neurasthenic Cher than of a writer who has been called America's finest woman prose stylist.
And later in the essay, this:
Nothing matters, Didion writes. What one hears is, "Only what I have to tell you matters." And, for Didion, only surfaces matter.
I've made the entire essay available here.
When I am in my painting," Jackson Pollock once wrote, "I'm not aware of what I'm doing. It's only after a sort of 'get acquainted' period that I see what I have been about. I have no fears about making changes, destroying the image, etc., because the painting has a life of its own."
Much later John Yau wrote a poem that consisted of variations on this statement. It's called "830 Fireplace Road":
"When I am in my painting, I'm not aware of what I'm doing"
When aware of what I am in my painting, I'm not aware
When I am my painting, I'm not aware of what I am
When what, what when, what of, when in, I'm not painting my I
When painting, I am in what I'm doing, not doing what I am
When doing what I am, I'm not in my painting
When I am of my painting, I'm not aware of when, of what
Of what I'm doing, I am not aware, I'm painting
Of what, when, my, I, painting, in painting
When of, of what, in when, in what painting
Not aware, not in, not of, not doing, I'm in my I
In my am, not am in my, not of when I am, of what
Painting "what" when I am, of when I am, doing, painting.
When painting, I'm not doing. I am in my doing. I am painting.
Somewhat general thoughts on a modernist teaching apt for the modern text, starting with a too-rough but still helpful distinction between history and literatureSomewhat general thoughts on a modernist teaching apt for the modern text, starting with a too-rough but still helpful distinction between history and literature:
History doesn’t teach that history teaches. Modernism is a topic but it is also a mode in which the recitation of what history teaches is ironized. The conventional denotative pedagogy (teacher points to text and then to object in the world, saying: “This is what it means”) is not up to the challenge of permitting the performance of this self-reflexivity. In modernism’s materials must at least implicitly be a meta-pedagogy. During the era since the emergence of digital media and ubiquitous connectivity – and as its effect on the delivery of materials to the classroom but also its storage outside it becomes profound – the irony of the lecture on modernism has become increasingly obvious and disabling.
The problem will be to define or at least describe an unironic alternative.