Sunday, January 31, 2010

Joan Didion's California: boom mentality and Chekhovian loss

"You might protest that no family has been in the Sacramento Valley for anything approaching 'always.' But it is characteristic of Californians to speak grandly of the past as if it had simultaneously begun, tabula rasa, and reached a happy ending on the day the wagons started west. Eureka—'I Have Found It'—as the state motto has it. Such a view of history casts a certain melancholia over those who participate in it; my own childhood was suffused with the conviction that we had long outlived our finest hour. In fact that is what I want to tell you about: what it is like to come from a place like Sacramento. If I could make you understand that, I could make you understand California and perhaps something else besides, for Sacramento is California, and California is a place in which a boom mentality and a sense of Chekhovian loss meet in uneasy suspension; in which the mind is troubled by some buried but ineradicable suspicion that things had better work here, because here, beneath that immense bleached sky, is where we run out of continent."
~Didion, "Notes from a Native Daughter," Slouching Towards Bethlehem

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