Prices for book: Political Fictions
Book ISBN: 9780375718908
Author(s): Joan Didion
Document type: Trade Paper
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A very centered approach to both parties through the election cycles, Didion has produced another masterpiece.
Lisa E. Grose (Amazon.com)
At last: The real Ronald Reagan exposed!
Fed up for years and years with the fiction that Reagan's and the GOP's fantasts have spun about him, Joan Didion gives us the truth about that airhead. Yes, this book is worth buying just for the chapter on him, in my opinion. I'll never foget watching as his fans named buildings and freeways after him across the country, as if he were a founding father! Thanks, Joan, for breaking the mold!
Shrewd and Absorbing Look At The Political Elite!
More than seventy years ago H.L. Mencken satirized the politicians of his day by counseling the American people that we had the best Congress money could buy. Even then many observers seemed to understand that power politics served the needs of the elite, not the man in the street. Yet gradually this trend toward a polity more and more exclusively organized and perpetuated for the sole purpose of benefiting a small upper class has become noticeably more decadent and extreme, and it is this trend toward extremism that noted social commentator Joan Didion takes issues with in this absorbing series of essays centering on the dangerous drift toward an elitist polity. Miss Didion is an author with an incredibly diverse background, and while she is primarily known for her works of fiction, she has also delivered some provocative and thoughtful best-selling non-fiction works such as "Slouching Toward Bethlehem". Here, with her set of essays, "Political Fictions", she demonstrates her wry and sardonic insight into the political machinations and creative politics that characterize the American polity. While the reading is enjoyable and edifying, her protestations sometimes get to be a bit much.
For Didion literally nothing is holy or sacrosanct, and she savagely lambastes the cynical manipulations she attributes to the political elite in this country, who she pictures as systematically and ruthlessly engaging and using their power in the act of exploiting current events in inventing what they then characterize as the political drama of democracy in action. And, to Didion's credit, she understands that nothing is really quite as simple as it seems on the surface. Thus she describes a cynical manipulation of a national yearning for a nostalgic view of America in what is a mind-boggling juggling of the truth. What she discovers in this search through the highs and lows of the political landscape is a solipsistic political view, engendered by an almost comically vapid attempt to pander to the public in an attempt to perpetuate their vulnerabilities in order to maintain power and control. It is difficult not to empathize with her observations, and to subscribe to most of what she says, especially her pointed observations of how much worse, i.e. how much more extreme and more vicious the political process seems to have become. Yet I have to admit to a bit of surprise at the level of shock she professes at finding the political process, especially as represented by the two political parties, to be a patently self-serving enterprise that both individuals and groups engage in to serve their own selfish interests.
Thus, in tracing the plethora of ways in which such themes as a imagined American past are manipulated in order to further the aims of the political powers that be, she expresses horror to find that the two major parties, in concert with the electronic media, have consciously worked to deliberately narrow the forces within the electorate to a small but manageable cadre. Finally, in disgust she explore the ways in which this state of affairs winds up spawning a ruling class that is oblivious to, and unconscious of, the needs and wants of the general electorate. This leaves the reader to wonder whether her expressed rage is a creative tool, or if, on the other hand, she really was so na
Barron Laycock (Amazon.com)
Dame Didion does it again
What can I say I might be biased since I consider the discovery of Joan Didion one of the highlights of my lifelong passion for reading. Still this is her best effort in years and the chapter on the obsequious power lunch journalism of the likes of Bob Woodward alone is worth the price of the Hardcover.Other lovelies are the spit out loud funny reading list of that misunderstood" historian and intellectual"(pun fully intended) Newt Gingrich which reads like the Who's Who list of the Bible Belt conspiracy crowd and as well as the beautifully constructed and persuasively argued" God's County" which clearly states that the bias in power is neither liberal nor conservative but lily livered and infantile and forever catering to the constituancy that sees the Virgin Mary on a pancake in a drive- in and thinks curlicues on Hallmark cards will bring family values and a spirit of gentleness back to our errand ways. The fifth star is for the purity of her language and the sheer beauty of her complex but always rational thought patterns.
Skewering the politicos
I hope what Joan Didion, essayist extraordinary, learned from this adventure in pol land Americana (that her husband, John Gregory Dunne, "already knew," as she notes on the dedication page) is that there is not a dime's worth of difference between Republicans ... and Democrats ... in this democracy by capitalism. Well, maybe fifteen cents. How terribly, terribly impatient I got with Bill Clinton and the demos, that is until George W. took office and then I began to feel some nostalgia for good old fashion sexual malfeasance in lieu of the Incredible Shrinking Bill of Rights and a return to foreign policy as conceived by the CIA.
I think Miss Didion did indeed notice the similarities between the parties in this collection of political essays and journalisms, 1988-2000, most of which were first published in The New York Review of Books. She seems to find Dukakis, Clinton and Gore just as lame as George and George W., although in different ways. (Of course one does sense that overall there is just the barest leftward lean!) Sometimes however it is difficult to tell whether she is just observing the madness or satirizing it, so exquisitely sharp is her rapier. But take a hint from some of the titles, e.g., "The West Wing of Oz," "Newt Gingrich, Superstar," "Political Pornography," "Vichy Washington," "God's Country," etc.
Let's take especially the chapter on the one-time Speaker of the House of Representatives, the Republican congressman from Georgia ... to see what Miss Didion is up to. The chapter starts out innocently enough with a 213-word sentence (no semicolons!) detailing the "personalities and books and events" that helped shape the one-time presidential hopeful. Didion uses a technique here that might be called "damning by bizarre association." Thus one reads that Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, etc., influenced the Honorable Mr. Gingrich, but so did Tom Clancy, "Zen in the Art of Archery," and the 1913 Girl Scout Handbook. One senses where Didion is going when a page later she describes Gingrich's method of developing "an intellectual base" by "collecting quotes and ideas on scraps of paper stored in shoeboxes" (quoting Dick Williams, author of "Newt!" on page 169). The cat is completely out of the bag when Didion notes some of Gingrich's publications, including the novel "1945," which Didion describes as "a fairly primitive example of the kind of speculative fiction known as alternative history." Didion goes on to give capsule reviews of "1945" and "To Renew America," taking some delight in Newt's fixation on numbers and outline forms, "seven steps necessary to solve the drug problem," "eight areas of necessary change in our health care system," etc. ending with the observation on page 179 that "we have here a man who once estimated the odds on the survival of his second marriage at 53 to 47." Didion calls this an "inclination toward the pointlessly specific...coupled with a tic to inflate what is actually specific into a general principle, a big concept." By the time Didion is through with Professor Gingrich, one sees that the epithet, "Superstar" is sarcastic and a delusion of the mind of a nerd fully grown.
Well, is this fair? I don't know, but it is kind of fun. However I recommend that you read this not for fun or for the edification that you might get from the material. Instead I recommend Joan Didion's political pieces as a study in style, as an education in how to slice finely and well, how to discredit and lampoon with class. Didion, when she writes about politics, is like Gore Vidal or Mark Twain being well-behaved at tea with a pinky aimed directly and unmistakably at the hostess.
Comparing this book to her now classic Slouching Towards Bethlehem (circa 1961) which includes the famous self-revelatory essay, "On Going Home," one notices that the novelistic and "affecting" style has disappeared. In its place we have a hard-nosed, but fancy, street journalism with the author somewhere in the background discreetly washing her hands.
Dennis Littrell (Amazon.com)
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