The writer Jenny Diski has a powerful mind–and she has always given it tough assignments. Once deeply embedded in the counterculture of 60s London, Diski emerged from de rigueur dropping out (and unstinting drug and sexual experimentation) with the tempered reason, cold eye and warm heart one hopes for in sagacious survivors. Having spent parts of her formative years in psychiatric hospitals, Diski has written about madness and depression. But that’s not the limit of her bailiwick, as it is for a lot of writers who mine their singular chemistry and confusion ad nauseum. An admirer of Montaigne, Diski instead writes about everything–even on the occasions (not the majority either) when she is ostensibly writing about herself. When the kaleidoscope darkened and many in her generation turned to recovery, Diski chose discovery. Her readers applaud the perseverance and the choice.
She’s written nearly twenty books: fiction, non-fiction, memoir, comedy. Praising a long essay by Joshua Cohen who was trying to “write a book about nothing that was also a book about everything,” Diski writes that Cohen echoes her “own notion of the perfect book I am always failing to produce.” Her readers might disagree, aware that perfection is often the result of Diski’s explorations. She can be reliably counted on to see through the smoke, as it were: assessing the fantastically popular Mad Men franchise, Diski sees “puppetry, rather stiff.” She was there then, after all, when the acid dropped–so she can say. Diski broke through with a debut novel (Nothing Natural) that looked painfully at a sadomasochistic relationship, but she is really best on love. Her sharp prose is always home on the range. (She takes care of The Sixties in 160 pages!) As a reader of her quixotically titled book What I Don’t Know About Animals will understand, if there’s something this writer doesn’t know about a subject under consideration, it must be unknowable.
(Photo from http://jennydiski.wordpress.com/)