Didion continues to write with as much style and sensitivity as she did in her first collection, her voice refined by a lifetime of experience in self-examination and piercing critical appraisal. She got her start at Vogue in the late fifties, and in 2011, she published an autobiographical essay there that returns to the theme of “yearning for a glamorous, grown up life” that she explored in “Goodbye to All That.” In “ Sable and Dark Glasses ,” Didion’s gaze is steadier, her focus this time not on the naïve young woman tempered and hardened by New York, but on herself as a child “determined to bypass childhood” and emerge as a poised, self-confident 24-year old sophisticate—the perfect New Yorker she never became.
T he one notable exception was Walter Benjamin, who had been living in indigent isolation in Paris since Germany had succumbed to the Nazis. When Hitler’s forces rolled into France in 1940, Benjamin fled southwards ahead of the advancing occupation, until even sheltering in Provence became fraught with peril. With a small band of refugees, he undertook an arduous crossing of the Pyrenees on foot, hoping to be granted safe passage through Spain and Portugal, and then sail from Lisbon to the American refuge that his colleagues had managed to secure for him. On their arrival in the Catalan harbour town of Portbou, the fugitive group learned that Franco’s Spain had closed its northern border, and that they would likely be returned the next morning to occupied France, and thence to a German concentration camp. Benjamin apparently killed himself in a hotel room with an overdose of morphine, although some believe he was assassinated by local agents of the Soviet secret service, the NKVD.
Evolutionary anthropology came under fire in the fin de siècle from within anthropology itself. There were numerous contributing factors, including a new emphasis on the importance of anthropologists doing their own fieldwork rather than examining the reports of others. But in terms of cultural theory, the most important criticism was that of the American anthropologist Franz Boas (1858-1942). A German immigrant to the United States, he was influenced by German Romantic philosophy, including Herder’s insistence on cultural particularity. In 1896, Boas published an influential critique of Tylor’s science, “The Limitations of the Comparative Method of Anthropology,” in which he persuasively challenged the basic notions of psychic unity and independent invention upon which Victorian evolutionary anthropology rested. Boas had been actively contesting evolutionary orthodoxy since at least 1887, when he objected to the typological arrangement of ethnographic artifacts within American national museums, insisting that they should instead be displayed with other objects from their originating culture (Stocking, Shaping of American Anthropology 61-67). He argued throughout his work for cultural pluralism, for “cultures” in the plural, and with him began the final shift in anthropological thought from the traditional universalism to the new, particular theory of culture that characterized twentieth-century thought.