Wednesday, January 12, 2022



Richard Goldstein, among the first rock critics ever and a long time writer/critic and editor at the Village Voice, as written his take on the passing of author Joan Didion. In  keeping with a well-developed skepticism that's been his trade-mark, the writer goes after the recently -sainted Didion . She was lacking in her support of the feminist movement is one point he points out, and homophobia is another. These failings make reading Didion's books and essays a problematic experience for feminist and LGBT readers , as well it should be. Goldstein is a brilliant critic, always has been; he has the conviction to go against the conventional wisdom and bring a well-considered argument to the discussion. Remember that he was among the very few pop critics to give a largely negative review of Sgt Pepper in a 1967 issue of the NY Times. Other pundits, both lit majors starting careers in commentary and older scribes eager to be on the cutting edge of something and thus up their hip cred, had rushed to say that Pepper was the advent of a whole new art form, the new poetry, something fresh and collectively brilliant. Goldstein was less eager to go with herd think and was, in retrospect, refreshingly skeptical of claims made for the disc. 

His argument was a reasonable one, and had some points that still stick. In further retrospect, Sgt Peppers emerges as still though flawed effort of its period that has a good many tunes that are actually listenable. Was Goldstein wrong? That's arguable, but I am grateful for the perspective he provided, For Didion, he does largely the same thing, and is right to point out her skepticism of feminism and the elements in her work that weren't precisely acceptable to all facets of her readership.

 She had failings, if we want to call them that, but Goldstein takes a tone here that informs his argument against the late writer's sudden deification, that he expects writers to be perfect in sync with some fluctuating concept of how the world ought to be. Didion was a literary writer of all else, and the only requirement asked by the readers who kept her in the writerly trade is to convey the world as she intuited it, in her essays, her novels, her journalism, in a style and manner of characters, real or imagined, trying to make their way in a reality (real or imagined) will not behave. She had a voice, she had a style, she had an elegant and powerful skill with words that could bring significance to the most inane detail, gesture, environment. Her genius as a writer was taking the perennial discomfort with people, places and things and creating a body of work that made the discontents of the city, the disaffection of the citizens within, and the narrator's weariness, dread, paranoid of venturing again into the convulsions of post-war America a tangible experience. I would admit to what Didion didn't do for the Good Fight many of us thought we were mounting, and forgive for writing for William Buckley's National Review. But actually, there is nothing to forgive; rather, I would thank her for being imperfect in print.

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