U.S. Intellectual History Blog

A Quote for Tuesday

“We tell ourself stories in order to live. The princess is caged in the consulate. The man with the candy will lead the children to sea. The naked woman on the ledge outside the window on the sixteenth floor is a victim of accidie, or the naked woman is an exhibitionist, and it would be ‘interesting’ to know which. We tell ourselves that it makes some difference whether the naked woman is about to commit a mortal sin or is about to register a political protest or is about it be, the Aristophanic view, snatched back to human condition by the fireman in priest’s clothing just visible in the window behind her, the one smiling at the telephoto lens. 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 on disparate images, by the ‘ideas’ which we have learned to freeze the shifting phantasmagoria which is our actual experience.”

Joan Didion, “The White Album,” in The White Album (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1979), 11.

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