As a part of the Joan Didion Reading Series, Professor Louise Hornby delivered her lecture on “Repetition, Time, and Loss in The Year of Magical Thinking.” As one of Professor Hornby’s former students, I can assure you that the lecture was both engaging and thought-provoking. If you were unable to attend the event, be sure to read the previous post entitled “Tulane English Professor Dissects Didion’s Philosophy,” where Professor Hornby’s lecture is analyzed in greater depth.
Recently, I was able to ask Professor Hornby some questions about her relationship with Didion’s work and her recent lecture, as well as her feelings about the literary programs Tulane offers.
David Kening: How did you become interested in Joan Didion’s work?
Professor Hornby: Joan Didion is well-known for her writing in California, and I began reading her work when I was in graduate school in Berkeley. I returned to her recently after I moved from California to New Orleans and started by re-reading her first novel, Run River, which she wrote right after she moved from California to New York.
DK: Of all of her works in various genres, why did you choose to investigate The Year of Magical Thinking?
PH: I don’t really know — I suppose I felt I had something to say about it. I have read it many times, and saw the theater adaptation performed by Vanessa Redgrave in New York. I am interested in the idea of magical thinking — in the insane casting of mind over matter — and its relationship to Freud’s conception of grief.
DK: What from The Year of Magical Thinking did you find to be especially interesting?
PH: As I discussed in my talk, am struck by the use of repetition in this work — by its insistent and pathological return to the narrative event of John Dunne’s death.
DK: What about Didion’s style do you think sets her apart from her peers? Why is she able to be successful in so many genres when other writers tend to specialize in a specific form?
PH: She has a remarkable and distinct voice, both in her fiction and her non-fiction writing. Her writing is an act of witnessing — of experiencing and observing — which is marked by a clear and acute subjectivity.
DK: How has Didion’s work influenced your own? What do you try to emulate in your own writing?
PH: I am not a creative writer myself, so I would be hard pressed to say that she has influenced my writing. Certainly, her careful prose is remarkable, and I have learned an enormous amount from looking at her sentences and her particular economy of language.
DK: What role do you think the Joan Didion reading Series plays in conjunction with the upcoming event in McAllister Auditorium at Tulane University? Do you the the series has been successful in this role? Why, or why not? How can the lecture series be improved in the future, when other writers of similar reputation visit Tulane and New Orleans?
PH: The lecture series provides an academic context and a public forum for Didion’s visit that goes beyond the reputation of the writer. The series offers a forum for thinking seriously about her writing, generating a set of conversations about the writer’s work in anticipation of her April visit. The series is an extraordinary opportunity for local high school students and Tulane students to learn more about a contemporary author. I would love for more Tulane students to attend these talks.
DK: What are you most looking forward to when Joan Didion visits Tulane on April 6?
PH: I admire her work greatly, and am so pleased that she is coming to campus.
Joan Didion’s visit on Monday, April 6, is less than a week away. Didion will read selections from her work at 7:00 PM in Tulane University’s McAllister Auditorium. The event is free and open to the public, and doors open at 6:00 PM. Didion follows Salman Rushdie and Toni Morrisson as an honoree of Tulane’s Great Writers Series, an annual event sponsored by the Creative Writing Fund of the Department of English.