Joan Didion’s Sickest Burns

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Long before Paris Is Burning and “Drag Race”, ice-cool essayist Joan Didion was the unchallenged Queen of Shade. In honor of this month’s publication of her collection South and West, we’ve rounded up her most erudite insults and elegant readings-to-filth.

On Malibu:

“I had not before 1971 and will probably not again live in a place with a Chevrolet named after it.”

— “Quiet Days in Malibu,” 1976

On Hollywood Heights:

“A part of Hollywood that had once been expensive and was now described by one of my acquaintances as a ‘senseless-killing neighborhood.’”

— “The White Album,” 1979

On the finance industry:

“A few of the people I knew at Berkeley killed themselves. … Another attempted suicide in Mexico and then, in a recovery that seemed a more advanced derangement, came home and joined the Bank of America’s three-year executive-training program.”

— “On the Morning After the Sixties,” 1970

On Joan Baez:

“Her approach is instinctive, pragmatic, not too far from that of any League of Women voters member. ‘Frankly, I’m down on Communism,’ is her last word on that subject.”

—”Where the Kissing Never Stops,” 1966

On the Reagans’ custom-built governor’s mansion:

“I have seldom seen a house so evocative of the unspeakable.”

— “Many Mansions,” 1977

On Nancy Reagan:

“‘Indeed it is,’ she said with spirit. Nancy Reagan says almost everything with spirit, perhaps because she was once an actress and has the beginning actress’s habit of investing even the most casual lines with a good deal more dramatic emphasis than is ordinarily called for on a Tuesday morning on 45th Street in Sacramento. ‘Actually,’ she added then, as if about to disclose a delightful surprise, ‘actually, I really do need flowers.'”

— “Pretty Nancy,” 1968

Also on Nancy Reagan:

“She took refuge in a certain kind of piss-elegance, a fanciness (‘the English-style country house in the suburbs’), in using words like ‘inappropriate.'”

— “In the Realm of the Fisher King,” 1989

On hippies:

“Because they do not believe in words—words are for ‘typeheads’… and a thought which needs words is just one more of those ego trips—their only proficient vocabulary is in society’s platitudes.”

— “Life Styles in the Golden Land,” 1960s

On feminists:

“The astral discontent with actual lives, actual men, the denial of the real generative possibilities of adult sexual life, somehow touches beyond words.”

— “The Women’s Movement,” 1972

On the Getty Museum:

“Quite inaccessible to generations trained in the conviction that a museum is meant to be fun.”

— “The Getty,” 1977

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On Hollywood wives:

“The women, a significant number of whom seem to have ascended through chronic shock into an elusive dottiness, discuss for a ritual half-hour the transpolar movements of acquaintances and the peace of spirit to be derived from exercise class, ballet class, the use of paper napkins at the beach.”

—  “In Hollywood,” 1973

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On New Orleans:

“In June the air is heavy with sex and death, not violent death but death by decay, overripeness, rotting, death by drowning, suffocation, fever or unknown etiology.”

— “South and West,” 2017

On her contemporaries vs. baby boomers:

“I think now we were the last generation to identify with adults.”

— “The White Album”, 1979

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On a New Republic film reviewer:


“[Stanley] Kauffmann divined in Bullitt not only its ‘phoniness’ but also a ‘possible propagandistic motive.’ The ‘motive’ in Bullitt was to show that several million people would pay three dollars to watch Steve McQueen drive fast, but Kauffmann seems to prefer his version.”

— “In Hollywood,” 1973

On her least favorite day of the week:

“I was in a place where ‘Sunday’ still existed as it did in my grandmother’s house, a leadening pause in the week, a day of boredom so extreme as to be exhausting.”

— “South and West,” 2017

 

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