1st Edition

California and the Melancholic American Identity in Joan Didion’s Novels Exiled from Eden

By Katarzyna Nowak McNeice Copyright 2019
    212 Pages
    by Routledge

    212 Pages
    by Routledge

    California and the Melancholic American Identity in Joan Didion’s Novels: Exiled from Eden focuses on the concept of Californian identity in the fiction of Joan Didion. This identity is understood as melancholic, in the sense that the critics following the tradition of both Sigmund Freud and Walter Benjamin use the word. The book traces the progress of the way Californian identity is portrayed in Joan Didion’s novels, starting with the first two in which California plays the central role, Run River and Play It As It Lays, through A Book of Common Prayer to Democracy and The Last Thing He Wanted, where California functions only as a distant point of reference, receding to the background of Didion’s interests. Curiously enough, Didion presents Californian history as a history of white settlement, disregarding whole chapters of the history of the region in which the Californios and Native Americans, among other groups, played a crucial role: it is this reticence that the monograph sees as the main problem of Didion’s fiction and presents it as the silent center of gravity in Didion’s oeuvre. The monograph proposes to see the melancholy expressed by Didion’s fiction organized into four losses: of Nature, History, Ethics, and Language; around which the main analytical chapters are constructed. What remains unrepresented and silenced comes back to haunt Didion’s fiction, and it results in a melancholic portrayal of California and its identity – which is the central theme this monograph addresses.


    Part 1: Joan Didion, the Native Daughter

    Didion the Sacramentan, Californian, Westerner

    Critical Reception

    Joan Didion’s Melancholy California

    Part 2: Californian Losses and Melancholia

    The Myth of an Empty Frontier

    How Joan Didion Expelled Herself from Paradise

    Racial Melancholia and the Emergence of Conscience

    The Social Dimension of Melancholia

    Chapter 1: The Loss of Nature

    Problems with American Nature

    Problems with The Garden of Eden

    The Paradoxes of Nature

    Writing to Remember and to Redeem

    Pioneers and Ancestors

    Purification through Fire

    The Howling Wilderness: The California Desert

    Turner’s and Didion’s Frontierless West

    Chapter 2: The Loss of History

    Manifest Destiny and Its Fulfillment in California

    Freedom from History

    History, Nature, and Hysteria

    "A History of Accidents"

    "You Can’t Call This a Bad Place"

    The Freeway Experience

    Escaping the Meaninglessness of History

    Chapter 3: The Loss of Ethics

    The Emergence of Conscience

    The Melancholic Donner Party

    Desire and the Wagon-Train Morality

    Betrayals of Familial Loyalty

    Life as Gambling

    Parental Influence

    Parental Transgressions

    Chapter 4: The Loss of Language

    Looking Awry at Conscience and Loss

    The Language of Melancholia

    The Limits of Language

    Estrangement from the Body

    Translation and Betrayal

    The Modern Pioneers and the Loss of Memory

    The Language of Democracy



    Katarzyna Nowak-McNeice is a Conex-Marie Curie Postdoctoral Research Fellow at Universidad Carlos III de Madrid, Spain. She obtained her doctoral degree from the University of Wroclaw, Poland, in 2005. She is the author of Melancholic Travelers: Autonomy, Hybridity and the Maternal (Peter Lang, 2007) and co-editor of Interiors: Interiority/ Exteriority in Literary and Cultural Discourse (Cambridge Scholars, 2010) and A Dark California: Essays on Dystopian Depictions in Popular Culture (McFarland, 2017), as well as essays, reviews and translations.