Cydney Garbino

Eye of the Story

Winter 2016

The White Album is my favorite reading we’ve done in this program so far. I had never heard of Joan Didion, prior to this quarter. My interest in her work has sparked since reading this book and I can hardly wait to read more by her. I have had a growing interest in the art and culture of the 1960’s since first hearing about the Black Panther’s and the Beats in my middle school humanities classes. I was initially intrigued by the prospect of dropping right into that time period and getting a feel for the events and vibes of that era from someone who lived it. What I didn’t think I’d get was that feeling similar to the one described by Sebald in Rings of Saturn of having lived her experience exactly has she lived it, which isn’t a completely unique reaction, I’m sure. The first essay, sharing the same title as the book itself, is what sparked the closeness I personally felt.

What truly caught my attention in this essay was a thought from the opening in tandem with number 7, in which she talks about the list taped to her closet door, in its entirety. In essence, what she’s talking about come down to two things. The first being a longing for control over our own destinies through a linear narrative and how that particular notion of how life plays out is ultimately not reality. The second being, in order to get to that point, we have to own our imperfections and come to terms with the fact that there will always be something missing so long as we strive for an exact ideal.

Didion claims, “[w]e live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the “ideas” with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience (11.)” This shifting phantasmagoria, a nightmarish circus, is a spot on description of the infinitely unpredictable nature of the reality which we choose to not think about, for sanity’s sake. For Didion, lack of control in a world where everything seems to have certain elements of order and structure is equal to chaos.

The list further perpetuates this notion. “It should be clear,” she says, “ that this was a list made by someone who prized control, yearned after momentum, someone determined to play her role as if she had the script, heard her cues, knew the narrative (35.)” This list is her safety net, keeping her from chaos.