California and the Melancholic American Identity in Joan Didion’s Novels : Exiled from Eden book cover
1st Edition

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

ISBN 9780367663643
Published September 30, 2020 by Routledge
212 Pages

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Book Description

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.

Table of Contents


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


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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.