25+ quotes from The White Album by Joan Didion

Quotes from The White Album

Joan Didion ·  222 pages

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“We tell ourselves stories in order to live.”
― Joan Didion, quote from The White Album


“We tell ourselves stories in order to live...We look for the sermon in the suicide, for the social or moral lesson in the murder of five. We interpret what we see, select the most workable of the multiple choices. We live entirely, especially if we are writers, by the imposition of a narrative line upon disparate images, by the "ideas" with which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.”
― Joan Didion, quote from The White Album


That no one dies of migraine seems to someone deep in an attack as an ambiguous blessing.
― Joan Didion, quote from The White Album


“I recall an August afternoon in Chicago in 1973 when I took my daughter, then seven, to see what Georgia O’Keeffe had done with where she had been. One of the vast O’Keeffe ‘Sky Above Clouds’ canvases floated over the back stairs in the Chicago Art Institute that day, dominating what seemed to be several stories of empty light, and my daughter looked at it once, ran to the landing, and kept on looking. "Who drew it," she whispered after a while. I told her. "I need to talk to her," she said finally.”
― Joan Didion, quote from The White Album


“I tell you this not as aimless revelation but because I want you to know, as you read me, precisely who I am and where I am and what is on my mind. I want you to understand exactly what you are getting: you are getting a woman who for some time now has felt radically separated from most of the ideas that seem to interest people. You are getting a woman who somewhere along the line misplaced whatever slight faith she ever had in the social contract, in the meliorative principle, in the whole grand pattern of human endeavor. Quite often during the past several years I have felt myself a sleepwalker, moving through the world unconscious of the moment’s high issues, oblivious to its data, alert only to the stuff of bad dreams, the children burning in the locked car in the supermarket parking lot, the bike boys stripping down stolen cars on the captive cripple’s ranch, the freeway sniper who feels “real bad” about picking off the family of five, the hustlers, the insane, the cunning Okie faces that turn up in military investigations, the sullen lurkers in doorways, the lost children, all the ignorant armies jostling in the night. Acquaintances read The New York Times, and try to tell me the news of the world. I listen to call-in shows.”
― Joan Didion, quote from The White Album


“Making judgments on films is in many ways so peculiarly vaporous an occupation that the only question is why, beyond the obvious opportunities for a few lectures fees and a little careerism at a dispiritingly self-limiting level, anyone does it in the first place.”
― Joan Didion, quote from The White Album


“I went because I was interested in the alchemy of issues.”
― Joan Didion, quote from The White Album


“Ten watercolors were made from that star.”
― Joan Didion, quote from The White Album


“I was not going to Honolulu because I wanted to see life reduced to a short story. I was going to Honolulu because I wanted to see life expanded to a novel, and I still do.”
― Joan Didion, quote from The White Album


“I was told that the disorder was not really in my eyes, but in my central nervous system. I might or might not experience symptoms of neural damage all my life. These symptoms, which might or might not appear, might or might not involve my eyes. They might or might not involve my arms or legs, they might or might not be disabling. Their effects might be lessened by cortisone injections, or they might not. It could not be predicted. The condition had a name, the kind of name usually associated with telethons, but the name meant nothing and the neurologist did not like to use it. The name was multiple sclerosis, but the name had no meaning. This was, the neurologist said, an exclusionary diagnosis, and meant nothing.

I had, at this time, a sharp apprehension not of what it was like to be old but of what it was like to open the door to the stranger and find that the stranger did indeed have the knife. In a few lines of dialogue in a neurologist’s office in Beverly Hills, the improbable had become the probable, the norm: things which happened only to other people could in fact happen to me. I could be struck by lightning, could dare to eat a peach and be poisoned by the cyanide in the stone. The startling fact was this: my body was offering a precise physiological equivalent to what had been going on in my mind.”
― Joan Didion, quote from The White Album


“The fancy that extraterrestrial life is by definition of a higher order than our own is one that soothes all children, and many writers.”
― Joan Didion, quote from The White Album


“Marxism in this country had even been an eccentric and quixotic passion. One oppressed class after another had seemed finally to miss the point. The have-nots, it turned out, aspired mainly to having. The minorities seemed to promise more, but finally disappointed: it developed that they actually cared about the issues, that they tended to see the integration of the luncheonette and the seat in the front of the bus as real goals, and only rarely as ploys, counters in a larger game. They resisted that essential inductive leap from the immediate reform to the social ideal, and, just as disappointingly, they failed to perceive their common cause with other minorities, continued to exhibit a self-interest disconcerting in the extreme to organizers steeped in the rhetoric of "brotherhood."

And then, at that exact dispirited moment when there seemed no one at all willing to play the proletariat, along came the women's movement.”
― Joan Didion, quote from The White Album


“And once it comes, now that I am wise in its ways, I no longer fight it. I lie down and let it happen. At first every small apprehension is magnified, every anxiety a pounding terror. Then the pain comes, and I concentrate only on that. Right there is the usefulness of migraine, there in that imposed toga, the concentration on the pain. For when the pain recedes, ten or twelve hours later, everything goes with it, all the hidden resentments, all the vain anxieties. The migraine has acted as a circuit breaker, and the fuses have emerged intact. There is a pleasant convalescent euphoria. I open the windows and feel the air, eat gratefully, sleep well. I notice the particular nature of a flower in a glass on the stair landing. I count my blessings.”
― Joan Didion, quote from The White Album


“This sense that the world can be reinvented [evokes] the Sixties in this country, those years when no one at all seemed to have any memory or mooring...”
― Joan Didion, quote from The White Album


“Some women fight and others do not. Like so many successful guerrillas in the war between the sexes, Georgia O’Keeffe seems to have been equipped early with an immutable sense of who she was and a fairly clear understanding that she would be required to prove”
― Joan Didion, quote from The White Album


“what we are talking about here is faith in a dramatic convention.”
― Joan Didion, quote from The White Album


“And once it comes, now that I am wise in its ways, I no longer fight it. I lie down and let it happen. At first every small apprehension is magnified, every anxiety a pounding terror. Then the pain comes, and I concentrate only on that. Right there is the usefulness of migraine, there in that imposed yoga, the concentration on the pain. For when the pain recedes, ten or twelve hours later, everything goes with it, all the hidden resentments, all the vain anxieties. The migraine has acted as a circuit breaker, and the fuses have emerged intact. There is a pleasant convalescent euphoria. I open the windows and feel the air, eat gratefully, sleep well. I notice the particular nature of a flower in a glass on the stair landing. I count my blessings.”
― Joan Didion, quote from The White Album


“They resisted that essential inductive leap from the immediate reform to the social ideal, and, just as disappointingly, they failed to perceive their common cause with other minorities, continued to exhibit a self-interest disconcerting in the extreme to organizers steeped in the rhetoric of “brotherhood.”
― Joan Didion, quote from The White Album


“We were that generation called silent, but we were silent neither, as some thought, because we shared the period's official optimism nor, as others thought, because we feared its official repression. We were silent because the exhilaration of social action seemed to many of us just one more way of escaping the personal, of masking for a while that dread of the meaningless which was man's fate.”
― Joan Didion, quote from The White Album


“It is not exactly any of these things. It is simply and rather astonishingly an enlarged version of a very common kind of California tract house, a monument not to colossal ego but to a weird absence of ego, a case study in the architecture of limited possibilities, insistently and malevolently “democratic,” flattened out, mediocre and “open” and as devoid of privacy or personal eccentricity as the lobby area in a Ramada Inn. It is the architecture of “background music,” decorators, “good taste.”
― Joan Didion, quote from The White Album


“I suppose everything had changed and nothing had.”
― Joan Didion, quote from The White Album


“(The fancy that extraterrestrial life is by definition of a higher order than our own is one that soothes all children, and many writers.)”
― Joan Didion, quote from The White Album


“The beaches at Malibu are neither white nor as wide as the beach at Carmel. The hills are scrubby and barren, infested with bikers and rattlesnakes, scarred with cuts and old burns and new R.V. parks. For these and other reasons Malibu tends to astonish and disappoint those who have never seen it, and yet its very name remains, in the imagination of people all over the world, a kind of shorthand for the easy life. I had not before 1971 and will probably not again live in a place with a Chevrolet named after it.”
― Joan Didion, quote from The White Album


“I imagined that my own life was simple and sweet, and sometimes it was, but there were odd things going around town. There were rumors. There were stories. Everything was unmentionable but nothing was unimaginable. This mystical flirtation with the idea of “sin"–this sense that it was possible to go "too far”, and that many people were doing it–this was very much with us in Los Angeles in 1968 and 1969. A demented and seductive vortical tension was building in the community. The jitters were setting in. I recall a time when the dogs barked every night and the moon was always full.”
― Joan Didion, quote from The White Album


“Quite often I reflect on the big house in Hollywood, on 'Midnight Confessions" and on Ramon Novarro and on the fact that Roman Polanski and I are godparents to the same child, but writing has not yet helped me to see what it means.”
― Joan Didion, quote from The White Album


About the author

Joan Didion
Born place: in Sacramento, California, The United States
Born date December 5, 1934
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