Hide and Seek

Remembering the writer who exploded ‘context’

Joan Didion, photo courtesy of The New Statesman

On Saturday, December 18, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki offered as defense of her “mocking” the efficacy of ‘at home’ testing for COVID-19 when the COVID-19 Response Team was considering a national roll-out of ‘at home’ testing kits, an extended “Ooops.” Her defense cum apology was a case of not respecting ‘context:’ Sometimes in this job you lose context of what is going on, and I am sorry for that.

On an evening in November when the pallor of a January coup attempt to overthrow the 2020 election result was descending on the nation, Judy Woodruff of NPR interviewed a UV Poli Sci Professor seeking “some context” on ‘how America arrived at attacking her democracy.’

Well, you can look at this moment as a division between our culture and our politics — ’cancel culture’ at work… we’ve arrived at the politics of culture and a culture of politics.

‘Context’ is the afterthought of uncritical thinking: present when we don’t need it, absent when we need it most. For journalists chasing the delusion of finding truth, Didion’s third person reporting (1) explodes the notion that our observations are embedded in “context.”

Rather Didion pushed the notion that journalism is more than reporting ‘fact.’ In her memoir, “The Year of Magical Thinking,” Didion pushed the notion that America doesn’t ‘do grief’ well, reflecting on her ‘magical thinking’ through a year of unspeakable tragedy, the loss of a daughter and husband.

By tugging at the rules of convention and objectivity, Didion does her readers a service: she brings the dots to the table of discovery. She gives the reader an opportunity to connect them.

My favorite Didion “opportunity” is “Miami.” It’s my favorite piece of ‘journalisme verite:’ I re-read “Miami” when I am confronted by the scourge of objectivity. When the ship of reason has left the harbor, “Miami” reminds me that imagination — not ‘context’ — is our ‘life raft.’

We connect the dots… or we don’t.

A simple choice, really.

December 23

Joan Didion, who proved that we couldn’t write others’ stories without boundaries — ours and. others — died today.

She leaves behind many survivors.

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