This inclination toward the pointlessly specific (we have here a man who once estimated the odds on the survival of his second marriage at “53 to 47”) is coupled with a tic to inflate what is actually specific into a general principle, a big concept. The cherry blossoms in Washington, he advised his constituents in 1984, remind us that “there’s a rhythm and cycle to life. Winter goes and spring comes.” Forrest Gump became for Mr. Gingrich “a reaffirmation that the counterculture destroys human beings and basic values.” That Star Wars made more money than The Right Stuff instructs us that “we have allowed bureaucracies to dominate too many of our scientific adventures.”
Speaking of Joan Didion, Caitlin Flanagan has a new essay about her in the Atlantic. I read this diligently and without much interest or comprehension. Here's a representative passage:
Didion is the writer who expressed most eloquently the eternal-girl impulse, the one that follows us into adulthood: the desire to retreat to our room, to close the door, to spend some time alone with our thoughts and our feelings. She understood that the old governor’s mansion in Sacramento was superior to the Reagans’ giant tract house because it had big, airy bedrooms, “and one can imagine reading in one of them, or writing a book, or closing the door and crying until dinner.” She loved Alcatraz Island not only for the flowers and the view, but because she is a person who likes a moat. Like Baez, when the world was too much with her she wanted to be able to retreat to someplace beautiful and “lock the gate.” When we learned that each time she finished a novel she had done so back in her old bedroom at her parents’ house—the one she had painted carnation pink during her first year at college, and that had green vines growing up over all the windows, so that the light was filtered—we all imagined writing novels and finishing them in just that way. That’s who we all wanted to be—someone’s star student and someone else’s star daughter, the ingenue who didn’t have to carry the picture but without whom it would be flat and lusterless. We were the ones who wanted to provide—or be—“colour, verve, improvised treasures in happy but anomalous coexistence.”
I suppose such an "eternal-girl impulse" exists but I don't know how common it is. It seems to me that everyone lapses into the habits and desires of their childhoods, either for fun or for relief from the business of being an adult. Flanagan's version of this sounds pretty creepy. And if there's anyone's out there flying the flag for the eternal-girl impulse, it's Flanagan, who has a controversial new book on the subject. Why then does Flanagan seem to have a problem with Didion, if she thinks Didion is similarly preoccupied?
I note also that there seems to be no connection between the Didion that Flanagan is describing and the Didion who wrote the NYRB piece linked above. I can't carry that thought any further, though, because I don't really have an opinion about Joan Didion. (I tried to read one of her books at the usual age, but didn't succeed; and I read "The Year of Magical Thinking," but couldn't really connect.) If anyone has any other sources, please leave them in the comments.