something about how, in The Year of Magical Thinking, Didion is able (both retrospectively and in the act of writing itself) able to bring this very strict ‘liberal humanist’ approach to the decidedly irrational process of grieving. In interrogating her moments of “magical thinking” (will John need his shoes?), Didion positions herself as a thoroughly reasonable observer: she consults the relevant medical and psychological texts and peer-reviewed journals, seeks the insight of professionals, etc. The timeline, which she meticulously stitches together though the hospital’s report, her building’s doorman’s log, and her own personal journals, is underscored by her belief that a rigid reconstruction of the events of the evening of her husband’s death might, somehow, help bring him back.
Does this “reasoned” approach, and the paradoxical discontinuity it inevitably yields, help or impede the grieving process? She does seem to experience something like what Tim Morton would call the aeolian, but it’s unclear whether this confrontation with “the void” pulls her free from any kind of break with her “cynically reasonable” personhood (to borrow again from the Mortonian lexicon).
I’ve been thinking a lot about Morton lately, this whole idea of “cynical reason” deconstructed by “romantic irony,” that the neoliberal subject can only be challenged through a confrontation with the irrational (or, I guess more specifically, a confrontation with the paradoxical position of being both narrator and part of the narrative frame). And Didion’s Magical Thinking seems to function as a case against this. The irrational paradoxes of grief yield only a desire for return to the normalcy of cynical reason.
One could suggest that the context is different, Morton seems to be focused specifically on environmentalist poetics, where Didion is working through the loss of a loved one. But this loss is environmental, at least in Morton’s broad conception of environment. To put it a little crudely: Didion is looking to resolve a tension between herself and her new environment. But she gets there not through accepting the romantic irony of her situation but rather the opposite. She adapts through rational inquiry, though reasoned interpretation of her experience.
What I’m asking is maybe this: does the irrational, or a confrontation with the irrational, serve only as an impetus for a re-interrogation (or like, a “re-reasoning”) of one’s relationship to one’s environment (in the broad Mortonian sense)? And if so, do we end up any further away from the calculating neoliberal subject that such a confrontation with irrationality is meant to challenge in the first place? How else do we explain our environment to ourselves?