The Analysis Of The Essay “At The Dam” By Joan Didion

Last week I learned a new word that means the emotional power that nature gives you as you search within it, an unexplored enigma that makes us want to look into inside its concealed phenomenon. This could be the volcano, for we don’t know what all lies underneath the magma, or even the waves of the oceans. This term is called Grandeur.

In her essay, “At the Dam,” Joan Didion believes the Hoover Dam—a concrete arch-gravity dam built in the 1930s and located between Arizona and Nevada in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River—has such a unique grandeur. The Dam, “a dynamo finally free of man,” writes Joan Didion, “splendid at last in its absolute isolation transmitting power and releasing water to a world where no one is”. Didion states that the Dam itself is not beautiful; it is the isolation of it; The grandeur can only be truly recognized when it is in seclusion.

Didion shows that the Hoover Dam—an epoch-making creation of human beings—ultimately has on a life of its own and ironically emphasizes the mournfulness of human ephemerality. How could an artificial product––the Hoover Dam––has a life on its own? Why is the beauty of the Dam can only be appreciated when it is in isolation?Marcelo Gleiser also call the concept of beauty into question from many angles in his essay “Emergent Realities in the Cosmos,” “Is beauty a mere accident of Nature, or is there a deeper meaning to it?”

In the beginning, Gleiser illustrates the inner beauty of Nature and human beings that “There is a creative tension in the cosmos. We feel it every time we look at Nature, and we feel it within ourselves” (29). While discussing life, he writes of “True, the matter that makes up people and stars is subdominant; most of the matter that permeates the cosmos is not modes of protons and electrons, but of something else that does not shine, as matter making up the stars does”. In Gleiser’s opinion, there is something that we cannot not see inside the human beings and stars that makes them beautiful as Didion sees something inside the Dam that makes it beautiful.

Gleiser is pondering deeply over the beauty of Nature as Didion is by over the isolating beauty of the Dam, leading us to ask: How could our own creation––the Hoover Dam––has a life on its own? Didion begins by explaining the first time she saw the Dam and why it shall be remembered for all time. Since 1967 the Dam has been on her mind and has not yet been erased. She explores a number of possible reasons why the Hoover Dam has left such a mark on her. She could be in a totally different place and the Dam will suddenly emerge in her mind. She may hear the turbines, or see the shadow of the cables, or sometimes she even wonders what could possibly be happening at the Dam right now.

Then Didion introduces the magnificent history of the Hoover Dam. She points out that the Hoover Dam—an attraction of the Boulder Canyon project—was “fait accompli” an accomplished fact, something that started out as an idea and grew into something bigger. The Hoover Dam, no doubt, is the “mankind’s brightest promise lay in American engineering”now. 96 men died in building this monument is one of the reasons why Didion believes the Dam derives an emotional effect. Another reason is because she believes the Dam is timeless as she sees the bronze sculptures that stand there, “the flag whip in the canyon winds”, or even “an empty Pepsi-Cola can clatter across the terrazzo”.

Didion explained that throughout the afternoon the man from the Bureau of Reclamation pointed out certain features but she was obsessed with on how extraterrestrial the Dam is to her. She felt like she was completely in another world. Furthermore, she remarks that the Dam is completely beyond time and space. To Didion the Dam is a world we have not witnessed for there is no one there; it is in complete and absolute isolation. She realizes that the Dam seems so alien because beauty can seem that way when its isolation; it is when she can truly appreciate beauty.

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