Personal History: Lars Jan

A theater director explores the empathy in Joan Didion’s “The White Album.”

lars jan
Kawai Matthews

The White Album” is something that I’ve found is a truer way of trying to create narrative. The nonlinear progression of ideas, the interiority, the exteriority, the journalist, the memoirist, the mishmash of styles—it’s more fragmented, yet you can still create a thread through fragmentation. I feel like that’s the first piece of art that showed that to me. Even more fundamentally, I loved how honest Didion was about the kinds of crises she felt within. In terms of her writing, or any writing, it’s just one of the best examples of the kind of deep empathy that one can feel for the world and how, if you’re able to perceive different kinds of disturbances around the world, other kinds of senseless acts, it can have a physiological impact. I found that to be so incisive and true. Yet I always was in tension with some degree of her remove. I wanted to be in dialogue with that essay, to feel that connection deeply and physiologically but to in turn feel like one is able to be more engaged. That’s the kind of art that I am more interested in: gluing Humpty Dumpty back together again, in spite of the fact that he’s never going to be quite right.•

—As told to Steffie Nelson

Lars Jan is a Los Angeles–based director and multidisciplinary artist who brought a staged production of Joan Didion’s The White Album to UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance in 2019.
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