Productive Paranoia

Katie Roiphe wonders whether we “thrive on anxiety”:

Take Joan Didion, the patron saint of the stylishly anxious. She writes in a tone of near-constant neurotic jitteriness, and yet the world she so gorgeously, sensitively apprehends has its own incomparable charisma. She writes, “It will perhaps suggest the mood of those years if I tell you that during them, I could not visit my mother-in-law without averting my eyes from a framed verse, the ‘house blessing’ which hung on the walls of her home in West Hartford, Connecticut. ‘God Bless this house, and be the lintels blessed/And bless the hearth, and bless the board/And bless each place of rest…’ This verse had on me the effect of a physical chill, so insistently did it seem the kind of ‘ironic’ detail the reporters would seize upon, the morning the bodies were found.”

A little twisted, yes. A little over-aware of fate’s dark possibilities. But imagine a slightly chubby, contented, becalmed Didion. The White Album would be a recipe book, Slouching Towards Bethlehem a yoga guide. All the intensely creative, elegantly expressed, culturally evocative paranoia would be lost.