El Coyote Gordo (supergee) wrote,
El Coyote Gordo
supergee

JD

You know you're getting old when the forbidden books of your youth become Required Reading. Thus Catcher in the Rye, banned because it spelled out the hackneyed obscenity Holden Caulfield saw on a wall.

I was alternately fascinated and repelled by Holden, whose hatred of "phoniness" seemed part admirable and part refusal to believe that there is always a Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. I was likewise alternately fascinated and repelled by the Glass Family, that collection of mutually adoring Mary Sues and Marty Stus that at least prepared me for late Heinlein's one-man circle jerks. I wrote out my feelings:
I see that Congress and the courts are challenging the remarkable legal theory that one cannot discuss the ideas in someone else's letters, even in the broadest terms, without getting the permission of the authors of those letters.

The court cases that brought up this principle involved the writings of L. Ron Hubbard and J. D. Salinger, a combination that left me to wonder what would have happened in the unlikely eventuality that those two reclusive writers had met and joined forces. Perhaps we would now have a religion in which those of sufficient spiritual advancement became honorary members of the Glass family.

I recently read the book that started the legal brouhaha. Ian Hamilton's In Search of Salinger, and it led me to a surprising conclusion: I began to sympathize with Salinger.

I've always shared Norman Mailer's view of JDS: "the greatest mind that never left prep school." Catcher in the Rye is a classic because it perfectly encapsulates the consciousness of a certain kind of bright teenage boy, one with many good qualities, but some very annoying ones as well, ones he should grow out of, lest he wind up in the bughouse as Holden Caulfield did.

If Holden doesn't go insane, another prognosis is that he'll discover Eastern philosophy and find a new vocabulary for expressing his superiority to the "phonies," rather than learning that a disjunction between what we "really are" and what we express is the human condition, and not automatically some sin of phoniness.

The Glass family never took that step. Rather, they turned from the phonies to each other, and to the memory of Seymour, that ultimate anti-bodhisattva who committed suicide when he realized that the rest of the world wasn't as enlightened as he was. This set of mutually adoring fragments of the author's imagination prepared me for the worst excesses of late Heinlein, those one-person circle jerks in which all the author surrogates took the further step of actually making love, instead of just worshipping each other. But Heinlein's characters at least admired each other for things like courage and wisdom; the Glass family was that cheapest of elites. the aristocracy of feelings. those who proudly proclaimed that their emotions were larger, richer, and more perfectly formed than anyone else's.

Nevertheless, Hamilton makes it obvious that Salinger did nowhere near enough to deserve what the media, particularly the respectable weekly newsmagazines, did to him in the early 60s when they discovered him (like Columbus "discovering" a land that was already full of Indians).

It is unsurprising, perhaps even understandable, that the reporters descended upon Salinger, and anyone who had so much as spoken to Salinger, with no more courtesy or dignity than a pack of half-starved buzzards contesting over a moderately fresh road kill.

What is less forgivable is the extent to which Slime and Newsleak took their own portrait of the Mysterious Author and made it seem like a Salinger self-promotion scheme, until they could treat every normal attempt by Salinger to resist their assaults as a clever ploy to increase his own sales.

Finally, the only honorable step he had left was to stop publishing, so that there would be nothing the vultures could accuse him of promoting by his reasonable desire to be left alone.

Some say that he stopped publishing, but not writing. Some say that he has published under the name of Thomas Pynchon. a charge one or both denied, and one that strikes me as implausible. I sometimes hope that he did keep writing, and even that we'll get to see it some day. Maybe he even made it out of prep school.
And then Salinger died, and everyone waited for the missing works. (The over/under was PKD's posthumous production.) But nothing has appeared, and I wonder why. Ron Rosenbaum wonders, too.

Thanx to Arts & Letters Daily
Tags: reading
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