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





ISBN 9781138370418
Published December 11, 2018 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

Introduction



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



Conclusion

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Author(s)

Biography

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.