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Joan Didion, 1968, and Yesterday’s Occupy Movement

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“The very architecture of California State colleges tends to deny radical notions, to reflect a modest and hopeful vision of progressive welfare bureaucracy, and as I walked across campus that day and on later days the entire San Francisco State dilemma – the gradual politicization, the ‘issues’ here and there, the obligatory ‘fifteen demands,’ the continual arousal of the police and outraged citizenry – seemed increasingly off key, an instance of the enfants terribles and the Board of Trusted unconsciously collaboration on a wishful fantasy (Revolution on Campus) and playing out in time for the six o’clock news.”

Joan Didion, The White Album, 1979

Sure, this guy has never set foot in sunny CA or even in Didion’s case, tear gassy SF, but it sounds like a real shit show. Didion’s opening essay, from which the collection takes its name, looks back at the 1968 SF State  protests demanding new curriculum (Asian American and African American studies which eventually became Ethnic Studies) and an end to the white paternalism that dominated university structures.  Noble goal? Yes, but in the wake of Occupy [insert city], remember Didion’s jaundiced eye wasn’t so sure the “revolution” was really all that much about overturning structures than creating lifestyles/archetypes. When one upper middle class rebel arrived (“a nice looking boy …. fired with his task”) at SF State to throw his weight behind the movement, he told his fellow Jacobins “‘I’m here to tell you that at College of San Mateo we’re living like revolutionaries.'”

Indeed, Didion sounds like a woman waking up from more than a few too many 1968 cultural cocktails (a shot of sexism here, a shot of Third World Solidarity there) in her essays. “I have known, since then, very little about the movements of people who seemed to me emblematic of those years,” she notes in the opening essay’s conclusion.  What will we say forty five years from now about Occupy? Has it raised a dialogue about robber barons and monopolies or was it simply the last (or one of) gasp of frustrated Americans hoping for a different future?  Did it change discourse or simply put on a new outfit? Didion admitted, writing in 1978 even she wasn’t sure the cosmic significance of ’68. “[W]riting has not yet helped me to see what it means.” I’d rather understand Occupy’s importance to the universe than my discomfort with Anne Hathaway, but I doubt that’s most people.

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This entry was posted on March 21, 2013 by in 1968, California, occupy, Uncategorized and tagged , .
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