When you've been thinking about and reading as much Joan as I have recently, you can't blame me for wanting to digitally remediate some stuff I wrote about her last year.
When I wrote this, I was on the very cusp of learning about who she was. I decided to do this through comparing works she created in print and digital spaces. Fast forward one year later, and I'm still figuring her out.
Here's to considering Joan, and hopefully knowing her more.
Read "In Sable and Dark Glasses" here.
From the autumn of the Era of Print to the spring-like dawn of the Digital Age, Joan Didion's writing prowess has rolled with the seasons; she has fallen with leaves in crimson, and she has risen with miraculous bloom. While the 1972 print publication of "The Women's Movement" from The New York Times and the 2011 digital piece "In Sable and Dark Glasses" from Vogue bear differences in written content, context, and medium, Didion's voice has defied the pressure of time and remained consistent amid change.
Whether Didion's writing surfaces in print or in a digital format, "The Woman's Movement' and "In Sable and Dark Glasses" both illuminate her intuitive longing to find fulfillment within overarching movements of life, despite her characteristic aloofness.
In "The Women's Movement," the national standing ovation for women's rights that took place via second wave feminism is largely undercut by Didion's dispassion for the movement; while she sees nobility in the notion of female strength, she finds that basing the foundation of feminism off female fragility is tragically ironic regarding their habitual "half-truths" and "self-loathing and bitter fancies," rendering much of the political endeavors digressive. Nonetheless, Hermione Hoby from The Guardian observes that in spite of Didion's dismissal of the women's movement, Didion herself has inevitably achieved feministic power by continually giving her writing "supreme primacy" and acting as a "pioneer [for] New Journalism."
Likewise, Didion's conflicting views on significant life movements continues throughout "In Sable and Dark Glasses," as she reflects on having found less resonance in the idea of childhood during her youth and more resonance in her fantasies about adulthood coming to fruition. Based on this thread of continuity between the two articles, a tension of opposites seems to sit in the heart of Didion's intuition: one side is concrete with unforgiving criticism, giving way to her reigning individualistic mindset and coarse skepticism; the other side is malleable and soft, nurturing her sensitivity, confessional emotionality, and passion, all which attribute to her wistful pursuit for meaning and connection. Didion's merciless exploration and criticism of life's sectors, such as adulthood or feminism, is a quest she evidently engages in via both print and digital spaces.
However, as Didion's personal life took on traumatic changes over the course of time, a shift in the written substance of her work is evident within her writing. While Didion digs beneath the soil of her brazen, political outlook on womanhood in "The Women's Movement," she digs beneath her own skin in "In Sable and Dark Glasses," exploring her own life and personhood. As Meghan Daum notes in "The Elitist Allure of Joan Didion," although Didion's marriage with Gregory Dunne had been tumultuous, she had shared a "class sensibility" with him, a source of comfort that presumable compensated for the "demons" and "deficits" that occasionally threatened their companionship. With the death of her husband in 2003 and the subsequent death of her daughter, Quintana Dunne, in 2005, her tone seems consequently more cynical within "In Sable and Dark Glasses" in 2011.
It carries residue from the tragic era of her experiencing familial loss as well as her following tragic achievements of The Year of Magical Thinking and Blue Nights, the published books in which she dissects the emotional trauma that stemmed from the deaths of her husband and daughter. Didion's exhibition of a somewhat morbid outlook is illustrative through her commentary about a childhood game she used to partake in, expressing that she thought the best scenario of the game took place "in a hospital, where the (inevitable) young woman discovers (too late) that the corridor she is about to enter...leads to the hospital morgue."
Altogether, Didion's outlook in 2011 appears to be darker, more introspective, and reminiscent of her past - a considerable contrast to her combative stance on the feminist protests that were ablaze in the political environment around her during 1972.
Despite the varying effects the articles' differing subject matters have on her written perspective, whether it concerns feminism or adulthood, Didion exercises a continuous style of probing and milking her thoughts on the topic at hand through rhetorical devices. Writing on her early thoughts of adulthood, she places herself under microscopic inspection and reflects upon her critical mindset that sprouted during her youth, providing an analogous claim that "[she] would let other six-year olds... imagine their wedding days...[while she] had moved briskly on to the day of [her] (Bueno Aires) divorce."
Furthermore, Didion's cascading disapproval of female activism in "The Women's Movement" is reinforced by her manipulation of punctuation and syntax. Her dismissal of the assumption that most feminist issues are ubiquitous drips with acidic satire, mocking the idea of 'every woman' "[needing] contraceptives because she was raped on every date, raped by her husband, and raped finally on the abortionists' table," and like "many women" had to suffer from the supposed pressures of beauty trends and advertising. Didion's implementation of lengthy sentence structures and series of commas forms the essence of an excessive list, implying that she perceives the bulk of issues from second wave feminism to be ambiguous and unrealistic; furthermore, her additional acts of hanging quotations around feminist generalizations, as if to parody their deterministic nature, underscores her unfavorable opinions of the women's movement.
Even with Didion's traumatic experience of familial loss and the condemnation of bearing a grief-stricken memory, the strength of her sense of self has withstood the years that separate "The Women's Movement" and "In Sable and Dark Glasses," a feat that not only conveys her prevailing critical voice and perceptive viewpoint, but exemplifies how her written ability to recognize and mobilize the idea of her innate persona has remained unwavering.
From print publication to digital publication, the variance in mediums that Didion's work appears in does not taint the effectiveness of her written voice. The monumental difference between the structural layouts of her print and digital articles is that Vogue's digital structure of "In Sable and Dark Glasses" incorporates a striking portrait of Didion in black and white, positioned at the top of the web page as if it were the summit of the article below; the piercing effect of having the reader see and associate the strength and pensiveness of Didion's visage with the following article content gives visual dimension to her written words.
On the other hand, the print publication of "The Women's Movement" is covered with a hodge-podge of black and white graphics, those of which include the silhouette of an urban skyline behind an enormous Venus symbol adorned with a variety of female figures. Because the 1972 article from The New York Times houses Didion's strong opinion of the women's movement, the layout editor's choice of obtuse graphics hinder's the article's degree of approachability; there is a dissonance between the unshakable, steadfast voice of Didion and the superfluous illustration that accompanies her written input.
Although visual elements are minimal in both works from 1972 and 2011, Vogue's single, powerful digital portrait of Didion elevates one's perception of the authority and strength of her voice; the editorial decision-making behind visually showcasing Didion to the audience contributes to humanizing her written material and giving definition to her as a writer. Additionally, the layout of text in the print publication of "The Women's Movement" is broken up into 3 to 4 slim columns per page. Due to the article's structure, the process of reading her intricate opinions in "The Women's Movement' via a layout that is comparably convoluted to that of "In Sable and Dark Glasses" makes for a dense read, albeit her thoughts on feminism deal with heavy political jargon and satirical commentary. Moreover, the simplicity of Vogue's site and the readability of "In Sable and Dark Glasses" makes the 2011 digital publication of Didion's work appear more legible, approachable, and clean cut.
Nevertheless, Didion's literary focus in both pieces remains grounded, articulate, concise, and continues to be evocative of the fiery conscience that has served as the backbone for her written work over the past thirty years,
Overall, Joan Didion's distinct voice in her printed and digital pieces, "The Women's Movement" and "In Sable and Dark Glasses," prevails through their dissimilarities in content, context, style, and medium. Observing the effects of the transition in the journalism world from printed to digital material via Didion's work on differing platforms not only showcases her skilled authorship, but provides nuanced portraits of her evolution as an individual.
By examining how Didion's writing breathes in different realms of time and contextual spaces, her timeless search for truth and fulfillment is apparent; whether it concerns her need to filter the fog out of political ambiguity or her mechanisms of coping with lingering tragedy from the loss of loved ones, Didion's resilient voice and eagle-eyed perspective has smoldered through her prose without apology or fanfare, considerably rendering her revolutionary for her time, as well as for the time to come.