Saturday, January 30, 2010

today : a perfect day for pretending to be well read

So, everyone has read Catcher in the Rye. Even those who clearly never did. I'm wondering why Salinger's death is getting so much attention. This book, hardly read nowadays, was American and barely taught in English schools, or, as far as I know, read by English people.

Of course, the answer lies in the cult of personality. Nothing makes someone more interesting than lack of access. And even in a post-structuralist world people are still obsessed over the artist way more than the art.

Anyone who has read Ian Hamilton's book 'In Search of...' will know that Salinger was a fairly typical New Yorker sort of author of his age. Existing on the edge of celebrity with his almost marriage to Oona O' Neil (later Chaplin) and his interesting counter-intelligence war work. What was allowed to be written was quite interesting.

But as a writer his published oeuvre: one novel, a few novellas and a selection of short stories is pretty scant. He was blessed by appearing in a world of change and newness, where American authors of the post-war could easily find fame and fortune just by the endorsement of a certain New York establishment. Capote, Harper Lee (whom I am convinced is probably Capote anyway), Heller, Salinger. All are known for mainly one influential work. And I guess the publishing and published world was pretty small in those days. It seems that anyone who got a story in the New Yorker, got a book deal, even when some, like Brodky didn't actually write a book for decades but suffered the fame anyway.

Now that Salinger is dead, it will be interesting to see what remains. The potential is that there are fifty years of manuscripts lying around.

I also find it ironic that Catcher in The Rye is almost an aside to what appears to be Salinger's main fixation, and that most of the people who are naming it today have seemingly never read Franny and Zooey, or Nine Stories, Seymour: An introduction, or For Esme, and wouldn't know the Glass Family if they came home and found them on the sofa watching The One Show.

I wonder what might happen today. Salinger's break came with 'A perfect day for bananafish' - A story about an apparently crazy honeymooning man who plays rather suspiciously with a six year old girl on the beach. I always thought it was plainly weird. I doubt in today's climate, it would get a hearing, just as I suspect that Nabokov would have been shunned on submitting his most famous manuscript.

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