Justin E. H. Smith in Berfrois:
When it comes to texts in foreign languages, I find the closest reading I can give them is by translating them into my native idiom. Texts in English can’t be translated any further, but I can at least transcribe them: already a sort of translatio, a bringing-over from page to screen. There are few authors who inspire me to undertake such a close reading. I’ve acknowledged before thatJames Agee is one of them. Joan Didion is another.
I’ve also acknowledged before a difficult relationship to my fellow Sacramentan. I want to dissect every sentence, copy it out, parse it, anatomize it, and when I do this what I am left with, on the dissecting table, on my desktop, is a sharp feeling of unreciprocated love. One of Didion’s favorite themes is contempt for the people I happen to identify with most closely: the Central Californians who aspire to live in history-less tract houses. The ones perpetually hovering, classwise, between the meth lab and BestBuy.
Consider Didion’s destruction of Ronald Reagan, not as an aggrieved victim of his far-right, aggressively neoliberal policies (the only kind of attack on Reagan most of us even know), but as an aristocrat repulsed by his yokel tastes, and by the fact that democracy has by now spread so far that even those in power aspire to have nothing more than what the great mass of people have, if slightly more of it.