joan didion, the white album: excerpt from “in the islands”

“you will perceive that such a view of the world presents difficulties.  i have trouble making certain connections.  i have trouble maintaining the basic notion that keeping promises matters in a world where everything i was taught seems beside the point.  the point itself seems increasingly obscure.  i came into adult life equipped with an essentially romantic ethic, holding always before me the examples of axel heyst in victory and milly theale in the wings of the dove and charlotte rittenmayer in the wild palms and a few dozen others like them, believing as they did that salvation lay in extreme and doomed commitments, promises made and somehow kept outside the range of normal social experience.  i still believe that, but i have trouble reconciling salvation with those ignorant armies camped in my mind.  i could indulge here in a little idle generalization, could lay off my own state of profound emotional shock on the larger cultural breakdown, could talk fast about convulsions in the society and alienation and anomie and maybe even assassination, but that would be just one more stylish shell game.  i am not the society in microcosm.  i am a thirty-four-year-old woman with long straight hair and an old bikini bathing suit and bad nerves sitting on an island  in the middle of the pacific waiting for a tidal wave that will not come.”


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