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  1. #26
    Amor de Cosmos's Avatar
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    I think I understand what you mean about Hertzog. Aguirre, Firzcarraldo, and even Grizzly Man, display charismatic narcissism — which is a type of ecstasy I guess — carried to the point of destruction. But I'm not sure there's much of that in Joanie's writing. She's too cool, some might even say miserable, to carry that card.

  2. #27
    laverte's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Amor de Cosmos View Post
    I’m eager to read more. Recommendations appreciated.
    Yours is a nice summary of Slouching, Amor, it makes me want to revist Didion, whom I read quite avidly when I was in my early twenties. I haven't been back since, although I have read her 21st century memoirs, which make the early stuff seem positively sparkly and full of rainbows.

    The obvious recommendation is The white album, since it's a similar format of essays and columns. I remember being drawn into the title story, a sweeping (but never meandering: her writing is so superbly focused) journey through 1960s counterculture (she unobtrusively as ever gets one of the Manson family to open up) and her own struggles with depression. As in all her best work, she manages to be both cold and engaging at the same time, and makes it seem so effortless.

    The work that marked me the most, though, was her novel Play it as it lays. Ostensibly a story about not much more than a woman checking out of a psychiatric hospital and then driving around Los Angeles while feeling empty, it somehow manages to read as a story about a woman driving around empty while feeling Los Angeles. It's not the most cheerful read; in fact it's one of the books that I can't bring myself to re-read, but perhaps that's because I'm afraid it won't (or it will?) connect with me the same way as it did the first time.

    I've read a couple of Didion's twisty middle-period novels (Democracy and one other set in central America) which I thought had dated a bit. They're about shadowy manipulative CIA types who hang around Central America and get up to no good. I think if I had been politically conscious during the era of the US interventions in Grenada, Nicaragua, etc, I'd have got more out of them.

    Finally there are the late-career memoirs about loss, The year of magical thinking and Blue nights. I think it's important to read them in that order: the later book, Blue nights, is more experimental, and introspective, and nihilistic. It's altogether a tougher read, as I should perhaps have expected given that it's about coping with the death of her daughter. It's about refusal: a story that refuses to be a story; a remembrance of her daughter that refuses to bring her (back) to life. Magical thinking, on the other hand, is breathtakingly raw.

    But overall I think she's such a curious character, such a brilliant stylist, such a fascinating mind that I've never regretted reading anything she has written.
    Last edited by laverte; 18-11-2017 at 22:33.

  3. #28
    ursus arctos's Avatar
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    The Everyman's Library anthology of Didion's non-fiction (which includes most everything before The Year of Magical Thinking) is something I find myself coming back to again and again for just that reason.

  4. #29
    Amor de Cosmos's Avatar
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    Ah, thanks for that laverte. An excellent and useful overview. You're right, given the path I appear to be following (whatever that may be exactly) The White Album seems to be an obvious next selection.

    Paranthetically though, to my knowledge, she never produced anything for Rolling Stone, during the 70s and 80s Jann Wenner would hand out copies of Slouching To Bethlehem to first-time writers at the magazine as a model. "This is what we want." I still can't believe I missed her until now.

  5. #30
    Lang Spoon's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Amor de Cosmos View Post
    I think I understand what you mean about Hertzog. Aguirre, Firzcarraldo, and even Grizzly Man, display charismatic narcissism — which is a type of ecstasy I guess — carried to the point of destruction. But I'm not sure there's much of that in Joanie's writing. She's too cool, some might even say miserable, to carry that card.
    Oh yeah. I was using it as a synonym for fibbing: Herzog used the phrase when justifying fibbing or scripting parts of his documentaries. Can definitely see it having relevance in the driven madness of half his protagonists.
    Last edited by Lang Spoon; 19-11-2017 at 17:44.

  6. #31
    Kev7's Avatar
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    Things: A Story of the Sixties, by the highly original and innovative Georges Perec, should definitely feature in any Essential Reading list of the 1960s.

    It’s a short sociological novel that chronicles a few years in the life of a young, aspirational Parisian couple (and that of their friends) whose personalities and whole identities become consumed by their obsession with material goods and its attendant range of aporias. It is a reflection on the emergence of the consumer society, on the rat race, on equating, and conflating, materialism for happiness or fulfilment.

    Things has too often been simplistically reduced to a caricature/satire of consumerism but it is written in a detached style that eschews judgmentalism, and should be predominantly viewed as a "an exploration of the way the language of advertising is reflected in us" as Perec once observed (the two main characters, the young couple Jérôme and Sylvie, work in the then-novel fields of opinion polling and market research).

    A prescient book that still feels very modern and topical today. (And, in this respect, J.G. Ballard’s Kingdom Come, written four decades later, may be logically seen as a "modern" sequel to Things – a hardcore, far more dystopian version of the world that makes Things feel almost prelapsarian –, a society subsumed by a materialistic frenzy (fervour?) where "at the sales counter, the human race's greatest confrontation with existence, there were no yesterdays, no history to be relived, only an intense transactional present.")


  7. #32
    Amor de Cosmos's Avatar
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    Thanks for the Perec heads-up Kev. I'll definitely be looking for it.

    I’ve referenced David Yaffe’s Reckless Daughter: A Portrait of Joni Mitchell a couple of times elsewhere, and TBH it’s so comprehensively definitive it deserves a more complete review. However it also raises a couple of issues that are relevant here. The first is how divorced some of the sixties signature artists were from the zeitgeist of the period. To a significant extent Joni was one of those. In her heyday she didn’t write or perform political songs, (The Fiddle and Drum and Big Yellow Taxi were mild exceptions.) Nor did she show up on marches, demos or benefit concerts. This would change in later life, but first and foremost she always viewed herself as an artist. No individual, nor ideology, was going to come between her and her practice. Her subject was then, and remains, essentially herself. So it’s probably no surprise that the albums of the following decade were also her most commercially successful.

    Nevertheless if she didn’t drink sixties flavoured Kool-Aid she, was — like the rest of us — a child of her time. Hence Woodstock. She famously didn’t attend the festival, as David Geffen didn’t want to spend the weekend up to his knees in mud. She just wrote the song while watching news reports on TV. That said, she clearly got it: “[It] impressed me as being a modern miracle, like a modern-day-fishes-and-loaves story,” and she’d finished the song by Sunday night. “[The] first three times I performed it in public, I burst into tears, because it it brought back the intensity of the experience and was so moving.” Later, much later, she acknowledged “Woodstock wouldn’t have been written if I’d been there... It’s like competitive children at those events. From the audience, they don’t see it, but you see it backstage... I’d have been caught up in the neuroses... I ended up in the position of the fan who couldn’t go. I saw it as the closing of the window of opportunity. It was the beginning of a potential, but it was also a funeral.” Which is exactly how I, and others, saw and heard it too, and what other versions of the song totally missed. Yaffe cogently notes that JM’s Woodstock is “a modal dirge.” He goes on “It is a purgation. It is an omen that something very, very, bad will happen when the mud dries and the hippies go home.” Too right.

    The second relevant thing about this book is what it implies about a woman, particularly a woman artist, in the sixties. JM makes no bones about the fact that she’s more comfortable in the company of men than women. On a professional level she appears to have few female colleagues. Only Chaka Khan has worked regularly with her, and considers Joni a friend. While, outside work, besides a couple of school friends from Saskatoon and her difficult relationship with her daughter, no one else is mentioned. Men in her life, however, are legion. This has consistently led to gossip about promiscuity, something male musicians in a similar position back then would certainly have worn as a badge of honour. However, the few, women in the business weren’t allowed any such latitude. While it pissed her off — to the extent that she wouldn’t give Rolling Stone an interview for over a decade — JM has never changed. She has had many relationships, mainly with other musicians or writers. Usually they’re people who’s work she admires and wants to know better, though some were transient. She sought out an evening with Emmett Grogan (see top of this thread) because “He spoke French with a Brooklyn accent.” JM has stayed in touch with many of her ex-lovers and is and remains on good terms with most of them.

    But with women it’s different. Joni has unapologetically upset or offended several of her most significant peers, including Judy Collins, who recorded Both Sides Now long before Joni, who has always dismissed both it and Collins: “Why slam the person who did her the biggest favor of her career? It’s so insulting.” says Collins. Then, according to JM, Carole King was “a brat” and had told her “You don’t like yourself. I can tell. I like myself.” And, of course, Joan Baez: “Aloof was hardly the word for her,” Baez recalls after a recording session. “She was beyond aloof.” What this lack of sisterhood is about I can’t say. Except that beyond question Joni Mitchell has a colossal ego, but show me an artist who doesn’t? There was no template for female artists in the sixties, except those created by men, either consciously or indirectly through expectation. But Joni Mitchell wasn’t having it. Or rather she was, but entirely on her own terms.

  8. #33
    Kev7's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Amor de Cosmos View Post
    Thanks for the Perec heads-up Kev. I'll definitely be looking for it.
    This is an excellent review of Things: http://workshyfop.blogspot.co.uk/201...rge-perec.html

    George Perec is increasingly being recognised as an innovative and important writer in the UK, and this new edition of his debut novella is one of a series of re-releases this year. Perhaps best known for the flamboyantly stylish tour de force A Void, a murder mystery in which absence of the letter ‘e’ is a key plot point*, Perec is a technically brilliant novelist capable of taking on a range of styles. By contrast to his better known works, Things is a more subtly experimental book which, in retrospect, seems extremely mature and prescient.

    Like Huysmans, Perec was a career civil servant, who kept up his day job even as his literary work became celebrated. As an established author, he became part of the OuLiPo movement, but Things was written outside of their guidelines. It is still far from conventional, though. Things does not have a plot, in the traditional sense. Instead, Perec gives the reader a montage overview of the lives of two Parisian university drop-outs, defined by the interaction with commodities.

    In the first section, we see two young people aspiring to a lifestyle beyond their means, suffering the anxiety of not being able to afford the items which will define their social status. They work casually in market research, and attempt to maintain the bohemian lifestyle of their student friends. Perec details their daily activities, their aspirations and interactions, without ever presenting the reader with dialogue; Things is a minute description of lives in which every facet of existence is defined by the relationship of the individual to commodities. This is DeBord’s spectacle in practice.

    Although the characters are clearly alienated in their society, and the lack of dialogue alienates them from the reader, Perec’s narrative never lapses into hostility towards his creations. They are interchangeable, part of a mass of directionless young people in an atomised urban environment. Paris itself is presented as a series of arcades and shop fronts. Like the flaneurs described by Walter Benjamin, Jerome and Sylvie wander through the streets of this consumer paradise, lost in the crowd; but their focus is not on their fellow shoppers but the products themselves. Perec depicts the defeat of society by the city - lifestyle is prioritised above interaction, and communities are replaced by loose networks of acquaintances, essentially interchangeable.

    In Part Two, Perec moves the characters to Tunisia. Having failed in their quest for material satisfaction, they attempt to find a more spiritual lifestyle away from the city. However, they lack the basic skills to adapt to life in a country which has not reached the stage of Western decadence. They fall back into dull routine; location is essentially unimportant, they cannot escape their sense of materialistic ennui.

    Essentially, Things is an illustration of dislocation; Jerome and Sylvie do not fit anywhere, lacking the capital to thrive in bohemian Paris and unable to adapt to the more primitive rural lifestyle. They attempt cut loose from friends who follow a career path, before eventually bowing to the inevitable and taking respectable bourgeois roles in marketing firms. The theme of young people struggling to afford the material goods which they hope will define them, clinging to the lifestyle of their university days, and pursuing a peripatetic career, will be uncomfortably familiar to many, and indeed seems ahead of its time - Things is an excellent, cynical contrast to the freedom seekers portrayed by novelists such as Kerouac.

    More than its message, though, Perec’s great achievement is to allow the reader such complete access to two characters’ mindsets without dialogue or interaction. Focussing on the things which they fetishise gives us greater insight in 120 pages than many writers achieve in a career. In American Psycho, Bret Easton Ellis used objects to signify the absence of personality; Perec uses them to pierce to the heart of his characters, implying sadness and longing. This may be an even greater achievement.

    *Let’s mention in passing the tour de force achieved by Gilbert Adair, the Scottish translator of A Void (La Disparition), who managed to translate La Disparition in the 1990s without ever using the letter "e", as per the original. For those who have never heard of the OuLiPo magicians, this is a good read: http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-en...s-1420994.html

  9. #34
    WOM's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Amor de Cosmos View Post
    Thanks for the Perec heads-up Kev. I'll definitely be looking for it.
    Indeed. Already purchased it on Abebooks for Madame Frenchy-French's birthday in March. In its original language, bien sur.

  10. #35
    Incandenza's Avatar
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    I missed the Didion talk. She's probably my favorite writer. Off the topic at hand, but her presidential campaign coverage for the NYRB from the late 80s and the 90s is worth reading.

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