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Joan Didion Cast Off The Fictions of American Politics

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Few writers examined their own assumptions and misapprehensions as intelligently as Didion.

I came to Joan Didion backwards, starting with the wry and savage essays of Political Fictions , and only later working my way backward through her oeuvre. It began in 2001. I was in college. It’s hard to remember now the terrifying political unanimity of that moment, the way that the deep popular cynicism and indifference of the post-Cold War, post-Clinton scandals evaporated on September 11, to be replaced by a furious national id that couldn’t brook the slightest deviation from a newly (at least, newly open) warlike national purpose . I was 20, a wannabe radical and political leftist, barely recovered from my more problematic adolescent dalliances with tendencies that we would later come to call the Alt-Right or the Post-Left . Political Fictions , which combined the aristocratic disdain for which Didion has been criticized (sometimes rightly, sometimes unfairly) with the needlepoint precision of observation and description for which she has been lauded, provided a diagnostic framework through which to view the great disruptions of the Bush era in continuity with the stage-managed spectacle of American politics that had preceded it. It was also […]

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