I've been on a Joan DIdion kick recently after looking in the local bookstore for Maggie Nelson books and seeing that Didion, like Nelson, is in the California Authors section. I'm not a particularly well read person (I usually just grab what's on some list somewhere, recommended by friends, or otherwise offered up with credentials) and was struck by how many other authors I've read, especially in the vein of what I've always thought of as Literary Journalism (is that a category? I mean prose crafted to reflect some current event), are basically versions of Didion (and I'm sure she came from somewhere that came from somewhere, but 50+ years is a ways to go back and find something that seems so familiar). I guess everyone comes from somewhere, but the DEGREE to which someone like David Foster Wallace seems to echo Didion's voice -- a careless exactness and assurandence while also being painfully self aware -- is staggering.
This will loop back, I swear, but what popped into my head while thinking about Didon and Wallace was Eminem as featured on a Big Sean track; stick with me even if you don't like Eminem at all. This was a few years ago and I was running on an elliptical in a gym in Budapest called something like Kisslife Fitness or Chilli's Fitness... I can't remember which. But as I ran in jean shorts next to an arrangement of people that seemed sculpted from the internet's idea of what made the perfect body (porn), I remember hearing the gravely machine gun delivery of what seemed like a familiar voice on a Spotify radio station meant to make me run (trap music and pop), referencing things that felt familiar but in the offered lyrical relationship sounded like a police line up of items a bot shopping on an Amazon Prime account purchased:
They blame me for murdering Jamie Lee Curtis
Said I put her face in the furnace, beat her with a space heater
A piece furniture, egg beater, thermos
I'm not trying to beef with Eminem, but I really don't get what that's supposed to mean. I don't think it really means anything, but his delivery SOUNDED like the pinnacle of what he has made his craft to be: voice a snare drum firing away on all syllables. His voice as remembered circa the 90s was lost in what sounded like a smokers haze, but the rhythm was buttoned up tight on its way to prom and easy to identify as coming from the Mather's home. Honing a part of craft, especially the part of one's craft that they are most well known for, can result in the illusion of the entirety of that craft being good while actually being sort of garbage. I could run like hell to that track until I googled what was being said, and then it became more of a slow trot as I pondered what to make of the whole thing.
And THIS is what I was thinking of as I realized David Foster Wallace was sort of like an overly honed Joan Didion. I say this with the utmost love for the things he has written and really only taking into account his essays (I don't have the attention span for Infinite Jest), but it made me realize that the way Wallace can craft his essays makes the structure feel like the same dish served over and over again. The nuance and playfulness is only there after forgetting you already once consumed the dish you are about to eat.
Snowflakes form when cold water freezes onto pollen or dust in the sky. There needs to be some turbulence of pollen and dust in the general climate of "cold" and "wet" in order to get the whole snow thing started. Good art is a balance of turbulence with environment. Didion is so good at bringing a current event in line with history, current context, and tangential supportive information. She builds sparse houses that hold incredible spatial value. And while using such bare building materials each house she makes comes across with a subtlety that doesn't bombard the environment with a pollen or dust storm, turning a possible snowfall instead into a desert storm (non militaristic, but still overwhelming). Each work is a light snowfall pattering around the world and allowing one to revel in the fact that snowflakes are all different, they change the notion of an environment, and in the end things pass after a moment in order to be held anew in a future context. Didion's work seems to wrap itself in a base layer that prepares for the possibility of being seen in a new light at some future junction.
Good art I fall in love with. It's because with good art I'm not bombarded and forced into an environment but shown a path forward that doesn't promise anything but a perspective. I've recently made a promise to someone that I'm deeply in love with. And thinking on it in the light of how it relates to art, it is quite similar. We have agreed on our environment and look to create the right type of turbulence for perfect snow storms. Maybe sometimes this means a storm that seems like it will destroy all (I don't actually think we'll get these... but you never know), but more often a storm that lays blankets of soft-focus light across pines and hidden cabins, where fires stay lit as long as we both can still hold the other in our mind.
So to recap: new Eminem is possibly like David Foster Wallace. Reading Joan Didion is a lot like love. And I am hopelessly IN love.