[Milton-L] Joan Didion 'remembers' Paradise Lost . . .

Horace Jeffery Hodges horacejeffery at gmail.com
Thu Jan 30 15:02:13 EST 2014

Yesterday, in "Why I Write" by Joan Didion, I came across her words on
Lost*, which I post here merely for the benefit of those among us who like
to collect the odd and ends of people's views on Milton and his writings:

"I had trouble graduating from Berkeley, not because of this inability to
deal with ideas -- I was majoring in English, and I could locate the
house-and-garden imagery in *The Portrait of a Lady* as well as the next
person, 'imagery' being by definition the kind of specific that got my
attention -- but simply because I had neglected to take a course in Milton.
I did this. For reasons which now sound baroque I needed a degree by the
end of that summer, and the English department finally agreed, if I would
come down from Sacramento every Friday and talk about the cosmology of
Lost*, to certify me proficient in Milton. I did this. Some Fridays I took
the Greyhound bus, other Fridays I caught the Southern Pacific's City of
San Francisco on the last leg of its transcontinental trip. I can no longer
tell you whether Milton put the sun or the earth at the center of his
universe in *Paradise Lost*, the central question of at least one century
and a topic about which I wrote 10,000 words that summer, but I can still
recall the exact rancidity of the butter in the City of San Francisco's
dining car, and the way the tinted windows on the Greyhound bus cast the
oil refineries around Carquinez Straits into a grayed and obscurely
sinister light. In short my attention was always on the periphery, on what
I could see and taste and touch, on the butter, and the Greyhound bus.
During those years I was traveling on what I knew to be a very shaky
passport, forged papers: I knew that I was no legitimate resident in any
world of ideas. I knew I couldn't think. All I knew then was what I
couldn't do. All I knew then was what I wasn't, and it took me some years
to discover what I was." (*New York Times Book Review*, December 5, 1976)

Web Address: http://people.bridgewater.edu/~atrupe/ENG310/Didion.pdf

Since Ms. Didion was born in 1934, this memory would have been from the
mid-1950s, some twenty years prior to these published words.

In hopes that someone might find this useful . . .

Jeffery Hodges
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