Tomorrow four generations will gather in a four-hundred-year-old church and remember my grandpa’s almost hundred-year life.
So many memories and legacies ended with my grandfather. He was the last surviving member of the family he grew up in, one of the first generation of Hoppers to leave Northern New Jersey since the 1600s, the last to know where and who everyone used to be, and the one to finally sift the past and decide what never to tell and what to throw away. My grandma remembers meeting him around 1960 when he was the single dad of two little kids. She has a vision of him sitting in the small Stuyvesant Town living room, carefully sewing name-tape on Debby and Dougie’s summer-camp uniforms. This is the vision I want to remember too.
I haven’t read Blue Nights yet— my life this month is such that Mindy Kaling is about all I can handle between the bouts of coughing and grading. But there are things I’ve been thinking about since The Year of Magical Thinking, and this review touches on two of them. First, that we read these books not necessarily as voyeurs, but as students; we too will lose everything we love and our selves one day (the only question is whether we will lose everything we love first, or both everything loved and self at once), and we read to learn how it is done. Second, we read these books to watch how they fail. Meaning, as this reviewer puts it, that art must fail.
But I would add something more, which is that we read them to watch art persist, unwillingly. For Didion and many writers (not all) writing is a wave in the brain, a movement in the limbs that will persist even after the heart has stopped. It is the motion of the remaining legs of a crushed insect. What a miraculous horror. This is the true and dark language instinct: of making many books there is no end.
How to make meaning, and why write?— if you are no longer of primary or secondary importance to anyone alive; if no one living is any longer of primary or secondary importance to you? For Didion this is the task of the last years of her life; for others it is the task of every decade. Blue Nights suggests that all meaning will be made on the sentence level, and that it will be made whether we will it or not, and whether or not we can bear it.