Didion rejected, but found that she could not ignore, the negative aspects of the drug culture associated with the anti-Establishment movements that grew out of the Beat Generation. Because it was threatening California’s frontier traditions of responsible self-reliance, she decided to put aside her preference for privacy and describe the disorder. She discovered that in many ways the so-called counterculture mirrored the shallowness of the Establishment against which it purported to take its stand. The dropouts shared the same self-centeredness, indifference, and casual relationships that marked large corporations.
Many of Didion’s articles from this period (including those on the hippies of the Haight-Ashbury district in San Francisco) first appeared in The Saturday Evening Post. She believed she was describing the nature of love and death in a “golden land,” as revealed in sensational murder cases, or the limited realities of splinter groups of communists, drug addicts, such pacifists as singer Joan Baez and her disciples in Carmel Valley, or the Diggers, who tried to feed society’s dropouts. Didion’s descriptions are so accurate in their particulars that they seem impersonal; her anxiety over the slow erosion of solid citizenship can only be inferred from behind a mask of gentle representation. She had so successfully learned to distance herself through concreteness and compression—practiced by imitating Hemingway and that...
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