Monday, April 27, 2009

W.W.J.D.D? (What Would Joan Didion Do?)

Joan Didion via

My borderline obsession with Joan Didion began spring quarter 2002 during Professor Hollowell's course on the American novel. Since then, her work, from the most obscure old Holiday essay to the most widely-known bestseller, has been a sort of aloof pseudo-muse. She is that rare combination of brilliant wordsmith and self-effacing dear friend - the kind who says what you're thinking first. She is the ultimate raconteur of the everyday human condition; perennially cool, minimalist without showing off; she tells it like it is but in the succinct, heartbreakingly poignant nugget you could never come up with on your own. And because of her timelessness, it seems only fitting to have a weekly post devoted to her enigmatic prose and the light it sheds.

It was with pleasure that I came across her piece, "On Self Respect", and found it as dead-on an assessment of one of life's most elusive sought-afters, despite having been written over forty years ago.
"Most of our platitudes notwithstanding, self-deception remains the most difficult deception. The tricks that work on others count for nothing in that very well-lit back alley where one keeps assignations with onself: no winning smiles will do here, no prettily drawn lists of good intentions. One shuffles flashily but in vain through one's marked cards -- the kindness done for the wrong reason, the apparent triumph which involved no real effort, the seemingly heroic act into which one had been shamed. The dismal fact is that self-respect has nothing to do with the approval of others -- who are, after all, deceived easily enough; has nothing to do with reputation, which, as Rhett Butler told Scarlett O'Hara, is something people with courage can do without."
From On Self-Respect by Joan Didion, 1961

Here's to a courageous week.

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