From Christopher Dickey, the author of "Our Man in Charleston: Britain's Secret Agent in the Civil War South" and "Securing the City," this site provides updates and footnotes on history, espionage, terrorism, fanaticism, policing and counterinsurgency linked to Dickey's columns for The Daily Beast and his other writings; also, occasional dialogues, diatribes, and contributions from friends.
Monday, April 20, 2020
Essays about Joan Didion on California, John Gregory Dunne on Patriotism, China and the WHO, MBS and COVID-19, and Trump's HCQ Guru
They were the most important literary couple of their generation. Joan lives on, an icon. John should be remembered as well.
Joan Didion's California, John Gregory Dunne's 'Spectator Patriotism'
Still locked down. Doing a lot of reading from my bookshelves and my computer archives. And it struck me that before reading about Joan Didion in my latest piece for the Beast, maybe one should read something about her husband, John Gregory Dunne, whom she adored, and who inspired some of her greatest work.
Spectator Patriotism (First published October 11, 2005)
On or about Dec. 30, 2002, which was a day after we'd had dinner in New York and a year to the day before he died of a heart attack, John Gregory Dunne put a floppy disk in an envelope and dropped it off at the Manhattan apartment where I was staying. As happens, I misplaced it in my travels after that, and only last weekend did I find it and read the digital newspaper clippings he'd pulled together, which he'd talked about with so much excitement at our dinner.
John was interested in patriotism. He was fascinated by the real substance of it, which he saw as diametrically opposed to what he called "the spectator patriotism" exploited by the Bush administration as it went looking for wars. There was something (it took a while for John to put his finger on it) in the fact that several people he knew had children on active duty: historian Doris Kearns had a son, John himself had a nephew, I had a son. We had people we loved in uniform doing what they saw, and we understood, imperfectly perhaps, as their duty to defend the values and the dreams that are the United States of America. But why were there so few from this circle of acquaintances if the cause was so great?
John would rage. He was articulate and funny then and always, but such was his passion that I remember him as almost inchoate when he talked about the bastards who wouldn't end their Global War on Terror, which was conceived in rhetoric and dedicated to their reelection, yet would send America's sons and daughters on futile errands of suffering and slaughter. John said he was going to write a book about patriotism, but he had a novel to finish first, and then he died.
John's wife of almost 40 years, Joan Didion, has written a breathtaking book about John's death, and the illnesses of their only child, who died in August, and the experience of grief. Joan's book, called "The Year of Magical Thinking," has been reviewed widely and well, as it should be. (Robert Pinsky in the New York Timespointed out, rightly, that it is "not a downer" and parts of it are actually quite funny.) Joan sent me the galleys last summer -- Joan and John have been our friends since we met in El Salvador in 1982 -- and I read Joan's book then in a single sitting, lost in a salt sea of emotion and memory. It is a great, great book.
But it was John's 1989 memoir, "Harp," that I picked up to read again yesterday, trying to understand a little better the meaning of the newspaper stories on that long-lost floppy disk, and I wound up searching out on the Web the essays John wrote for The New York Review of Books about wars and soldiers and, yes, patriotism, in the two years after Sept. 11, 2001.... (MORE)