The part about “dealing with abstract” in Didion’s passage caught my attention. Abstract, as I understand is defined as something that is difficult to understand or considered apart from concrete existence – ‘air’ for example. It doesn’t exist in reality or something that is only a sensory experience.
The thought of Didion convincing herself that she had little ability to think in abstract puzzles me. What is all the more enigmatic is her effort & hope to forge something for herself – something which she had in abundance. How else could she think of the rancidity in butter? The fact that she had been able to recollect something as abstract as the rancidity of the butter , 20 years later could be a combination of memory & a lot of other scientific reasons that I’m unaware of. But doesn’t it involve some form of abstractness?
The gift of thinking in abstract terms is what I believe makes good writers like Didion, what they are. The level might vary, which is merely a question of intensity, but not a complete absence. I might be entirely wrong here, about abstractness, but I wouldn’t completely eliminate my belief that a good writer’s works emerge in the crossroads of abstractness & imagination. Ideas & words being the vehicles that lead from the crossroads to the intended destination – destination being the writing you set out to create.
The night lights in the bevatron & the sinister Oil refineries – the so called ‘peripheral’ could be the basis of a brilliant idea leading to a captivating speech or writing. Contrary to Didion’s, in my opinion, peripheral is not a result of failure to think, but merely thinking that has been partially attempted or left incomplete. I think it is a good approach that helps conquer the viciousness of writer’s block.
My grandfather used to teach me a technique for eating rice with hands. Back then, we used to eat meals together as a family of 10 or more. We would sit in a circle on the floor with plates in front of us & water tumblers by our side & my grandmother would serve hot rice & curry. Grandpa would tell us the story of how great kings conquered kingdoms by attacking small nations in the border, which would make it easier for them to move on & conquer bigger & better. So we would start eating the rice in the periphery & gradually progress toward licking the plate empty. I guess I must have wondered, why not use the same principle when it comes to writing. I’ve had writer’s block more often than the number of babies born in India & China, so that might not necessarily qualify me as a writer, per se. But, my approach of thinking that happened to be peripheral has lead me in the past, to more ideas than I credited myself for, not that I deliberately think of things peripheral. Joan Didion thinks peripheral, which to me means that I think things that are sub-peripheral or if possible yocto sub-peripheral.
Didion believes that the limited access to her own mind is the factor that made her a writer and in my opinion, I believe, she had more than the required amount of access to her own mind that led her to lay it out in a tangible form – her writing.
It is somewhat similar to the investment process. You find the absolute necessity to channel your money as savings or bonds and stocks or shares, only because you have money in abundance, not because of the lack of it. One thought need not be laid out, but thoughts in succession, a train of ideas, cannot not be written down in one form or the other.