A brief reflection on Salinger
An obituary would be rather unnecessary as there are so many about. Even if I wanted to write one there is no proper way to explain how the world is any different without J.D. Salinger – the highly secretive author had not published anything since 1965. I had hoped to meet him at some point, a child-like hope in the face of high improbability, which has now effectively morphed into impossibility. Salinger now dwells among the likes of William Faulkner, Flannery O’Connor and John Gardner – the American writers with whom I would love more than nearly anything to have a conversation, but never will. I’m certain that Greg shares my sentiments.
Salinger was a genius storyteller. Perhaps this is due to the way in which he so precisely enters into the minds of his exquisitely developed characters (and in doing so makes his way into our minds). Salinger often employed a special tactic in his writing which keeps it dynamic and captivating: he wrote almost exclusively about or from the perspective of the young. Part of this approach is reflected in the fact that Salinger’s rhetoric never stoops to exhaust his vocabulary. While this has been used by critics to reduce Salinger’s audience to those in their teens and early twenties, I believe his writing very deliberately utilises the perspective of the young in order to communicate the constant liminality of life and the tension it brings. In such a way, when we read Salinger’s works we are not reading mere stories, but we are invited into a tangible and magical world that can make even the most common event beautiful, profound, revelatory and sacred.
Thanks for sharing, JDS.
Nine Stories (1953) – For years it’s been a dream of mine to write a screenplay for a feature film version of ‘The Laughing Man’.
Thank you Elijah for noting with such tenderness the passing of Salinger. I hope it’s not presumptuous to add some memories. J.D. Salinger was quite a significant figure in my development as a human being. The scarlet and yellow-covered Catcher in the Rye holds a magical fascination in my memory – it was a sacred text to my best friend Wade and I. We even wrote a play together that was performed at my high school called ‘The Whole Aquarium’ as an exercise in adoring emulation of CITR. My first year in college, I remember wandering through the bookstore at CSULB and finding a copy of Franny & Zooey. I can clearly see myself reading it on the slope of lawn below the science buildings and thinking, “I don’t care about college–this is all that I want to understand.” His Nine Stories was an endless source of wonder and contemplation for my pensive post-adolescent musings – particularly ‘Just Before the War with the Eskimos,’ ‘The Laughing Man,” and ‘For Esme – With Love & Squalor’.
I wrote a number of papers exploring Salinger’s stories as an undergrad; I just found one in my files which analyzes the story ‘A Perfect Day for Bananafish’ as a narrative version of the Zen Buddhist koan, “designed to activate spiritual insight in the mind of an ideal reader.” In my analysis, I saw the little girl Sharon Lipshutz, whom Seymour claims to “like…so much” as the ideal reader, being that she is “never mean or unkind” – unlike the critics and lit. profs who took apart & psychoanalyzed Salinger’s stories to death – and I posited that her name may represent a reader who simply keeps their “lips shut,” personifying quiet reflection.
Salinger wondered in the dedication of his novella Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters “if there was an amateur reader still left in the world” and if so, he gave them his “untellable affection and gratitude.” I hope I never become too sophisticated of a reader to deserve these blessings, but I know that I will always remain deeply grateful for the power and influence of Salinger’s works on sensitizing my soul to the small delights, oblique insights and deep longing, never to be fulfilled in this broken world, found in his stories.
J.D. Salinger (1919 – 2010)
An article from The Onion.