Tag Archives: Joan Didion

On self-respect

In brief, people with self-respect exhibit a certain toughness, a king of moral nerve; they display what was once called character, a quality which, although approved in the abstract, sometimes loses ground to other, more instantly negotiable virtues….

Nonetheless, character – the willingness to accept responsibility for one’s actions – is the source from which self-respect springs.

Joan Didion, Slouching Towards Bethlehem (1968)

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“on the matter of Washington language”

In a CIA review of various attempts between 1960 and 1963 to assassinate Fidel Castro…an internal report prepared in 1967 by the Inspector General of the CIA and declassified in 1978 for release to the House Select Committee on Assassinations, there appears, on the matter of Washington language, this instructive reflection:

… There is a third point, which was not directly made by any of those we interviewed, but which emerges clearly from the interviews and from reviews of files.  The point is that of frequent resort to synecdoche – the mention of a part when the whole is to be understood, or vice versa.  Thus, we encounter repeated references to phrases such as “disposing of Castro,” which may be read in the narrow, literal sense of assassinating him, when it is intended that it be read in the broader, figurative sense of dislodging the Castro regime.  Reversing the coin, we find people speaking vaguely of “doing something about Castro” when it is clear that what they have specifically in mind is killing him.  In a situation wherein those speaking may not have actually meant what they seemed to say or may not have said what they actually meant, they should not be surprised if their oral shorthand is interpreted differently than was intended.

Joan Didion, We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order To Live, 472-3

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“xxx,” Joan Didion

“What we need here is a montage, music over.  How she:  talked to her father and xxxx and xxxxx–

“xx,” he said.

“xxx,” she said.

How she:

“How she did this and why she did that and what the music was when they did x and x and xxx–

How he, and also she–”

The above are notes I made in 1995 for a novel I published in 1996, The Last Thing He Wanted.  I offer them as a representation of how comfortable I used to be when I wrote, how easily I did it, how little thought I gave to what I was saying until I had already said it.  In fact, in any real sense, what I was doing then was never writing at all:  I was doing no more than sketching in a rhythm and letting that rhythm tell me what I was saying.  Many of the marks I set down on the page were no more than “xxx,” or “xxxx,” symbols that meant “copy tk,” or “copy to come,” but do notice:  such symbols were arranged in specific groupings.  A single “x” differed from a double “xx,” “xxx” from “xxxx.”  The number of such symbols had a meaning.  The arrangement was the meaning.

—  Joan Didion, Blue Nights, 103-4



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