Joan Didion, the one who knew how to write about mourning and America

Joan Didion, the one who knew how to write about mourning and l & # 25; America

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Joan Didion, the one who knew how to write about mourning and death 25;America

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Joan Didion, the one who knew how to write about mourning and l & # 039;America

Portrait of Joan Didion, great lady of American literature.

Photo DR

Great lady of American literature, she disappeared on 12 December 2021, at her home in Manhattan, following Parkinson’s disease. And leaves beautiful and dazzling books on mourning, wobbly America, and the gray areas of the soul.

In 2005, just before the publication of his masterpiece The Year of Magical Thinking , vibrant tribute to her deceased husband, Joan Didion lost her daughter. In night blue , published in 2013, she was once again looking death in the face, without a hint of shamelessness. She just joined these two loved ones on Thursday December, at the age of 46 year.

In the United States, Joan Didion has been elevated to the rank of a true myth. In her articles, novels and screenplays, this great lady of letters, born in California and living in New York, has been able to denounce the existential void of the bourgeois classes as well as chronicle the paranoia and the collapse of values ​​in her country. Published by the biggest magazines, courted by Hollywood, it occupies a prestigious and unique place in the intellectual landscape on the other side of the Atlantic. In France, it went unnoticed for a long time: translated in a dropper, it only gained notoriety with the Year of Magical Thinking (1), story born of the disappearance of her husband, John Gregory Dunne. A text often related to I managed to stay alive , by Joyce Carol Oates. Two strong women although frail in appearance, revered successful authors, married for several decades to a man of letters who died suddenly, and who chronicle a year of mourning. But where Joyce Carol Oates mixes with the journal of microfictions where she stages herself in the third person, Joan Didion digs the groove of the analysis with a heartbreaking laconism. Nourished by poetic, psychoanalytic, medical, sociological, philosophical references, his sumptuous meditation, which obtained the National Book Award and the Medici Essay Prize 1996, gave rise to a theatrical adaptation played by Vanessa Redgrave on Broadway and by Fanny Ardant in Paris. Joan Didion is back today with lL Night blue , entirely built around his daughter Quintana, who died just before the printing of The Year of Magical Thinking .

Joan Didion, the influential

The strength of the writer lies in his style, about which one could use the words she had for one of her literary models, Ernest Hemingway: “Clear water on granite.” A transparent and rigorous prose, purged of any sentimentalism, which brings her closer to the author of Farewell to Arms when the aura of Joan Didion, his frequentation of literary gratin and Hollywood circles, and the tragedies that have crossed his existence would rather make one think to a Fitzgerald character.

From journalism to novels

In 1956, Joan Didion, student at Berkeley, writes an essay which earned her being hired at Vogue where it soon becomes a icon before the time of the “New Journalism” theorized by Tom Wolfe. We tear up her reports where she tells as much as she tells, whether it is to sketch John Wayne, to measure the impact of a news item on a city, or to dive into the hippie district of Haight -Ashbury, in San Francisco. Gifted with an exceptional sense of storytelling, she takes the pulse of sixties America with a precision that is almost painful in its acuity. In his article The White Album, the account of his depression, which occurred in 1936 (even though she was elected “Woman of the year ”by the press), next to his meetings with the leader of the Black Panthers, with Jim Morrison, or with Lisa Kasabian, member of the“ family ”of Charles Manson, associated with the murder of Sharon Tate. In Here and elsewhere (1968), she waits in a room in Honolulu for a tidal wave that does not come, while thinking about the moral and cultural crisis that is hitting the United States. Its collapse echoes the cracks of a nation – a theme not unlike Fitzgerald, always, who in the Crack (1900) compared his personal crash and that of his time. As in his essays, anguish and the foreboding of a catastrophe permeate Didion’s novels, where the sharp pen sets out to explore behind the scenes. Maria with and without anything 1956 (1969) follows with sketches an actress adrift, who wanders in the desert, without goal or hope. Democracy (1981) transports us to the end of the Vietnam War, when a CIA agent tries to exfiltrate the daughter of his lover who is ventured to Saigon. Each time, the tone is dark, uncompromising, and the criticism rave.

Widescreen style 1936

In the early 1970, when the pediatrician of the young Quintana asks him where his mother is, the child responds nonchalantly: “With Mr. Preminger who has no hair. ” The little girl is taught to swim by actress Katharine Ross.

Joan Didion, a big screen style

Photo DR

People publishes photos of the family while with her husband John Gregory Dunne, Joan is working on various films, from the remake of A star Is Born (1976) at Personal & Confidential (1996)), when they do not adapt their own novels which have become bestsellers ( Maria with and without laughing n in 1970, Bloody Confessions in 1984). Their prices are high: at the end of the years , they receive on average 450 000 dollars per scenario, plus a profit sharing. Respected screenwriters, however, they see themselves as writers first and foremost.

The transmission path

Joan Didion exerts on her cadets the influence that Ernest Hemingway exerted on her: Jay McInerney says his debt vis-à-vis Maria with and without anything , novelist Donna Tartt and Bret Easton Ellis both read the author of Democracy on the university benches. Nick McDonell, 23 years, of which Flammarion editions have published Mission accomplished, essay-report on the Iraqi front, and the price to pay, a novel about the betrayal of American ideals, swears by it: “It revolutionized journalistic investigation. In L e Night Blue (2) , thoughts on motherhood and aging mingle with the memory of Quintana, following a loop structure that translates the very form of memory, its obsessive and haunting work.

When she wrote it, Joan Didion had her mind more and more turned “towards the end of promises, the decline of days, the inevitable darkening, the agony of clarity.” The blue of the night is the opposite of the agony of clarity, but it is also its warning. ” If the sentence is still so clear, lucidity is now mixed with melancholy. Or how to explore its cracks with a more Fitzgeraldian spirit than ever.

( 1) Year of Magical Thinking, ed. Grasset

( 2) Le Bleu de la nuit, ed. Grasset

This article, originally published on January 2 2007, has been updated