Friday, January 29, 2010
On Author J.D. Salinger
photo courtesy of CNN website
As we sit in this day of right leaning politics, as sad as it is, it seems only fitting that author J.D. Salinger's passing remind us of a few things.
First of all, what it is to be liberal. Salinger, author of perhaps the conservative right's rallying call to censor books, THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, authored only one novel in his entire life. But oh what a work it was and is. It is a reminder that liberalism, or thinking OPEN-MINDEDLY and not falling in line so easily is important. It's how great ideas are conceived and achieved.
He chose to remain private, not seeking to cash in on every interview or talk show, but rather to let the work remain unscathed by the lifelong triflings of the author. Naturally, Salinger realized that nothing he could yell at the top of his lungs would supersede the rebellious work he'd written about a teenager in a very difficult time of his life.
His book has been discussed to this very day as being smut and deviant by the same phonies that Holden Caulfield, his main character, railed on and on about. In a day where speeches are listened to with about as empirical an ear as one listens to a mammal at the zoo, and the ability to read and understand satire and sarcasm and irony has been lost to the kind of comprehension people can obtain while watching Sesame street, the fact that this novel is still discussed as one of the classic American works speaks volumes. It's especially telling when you consider that few novels these days make it to the bestseller list unless they're made into a movie or Oprah endorses them.
Salinger is a reminder that war is hell. He was part of the D-Day Invasion and fought in the last Great War, only to suffer a nervous breakdown. He is a reminder of what our troops are going to deal with today, and a call for compassion for those whose mental states are delicate; that behind those we might label "crazy" are sometimes geniuses that just weren't built for the difficulties that witnessing such human cruelty creates.
In writing that, I find it ironic how many of us want to see death up close, so much so we are glued to the news during shootouts and car chases that local station managers lather at the mouth when they get a chance to show them.
He is also a reminder that privacy is a cherished thing, that unlike the world of the blowhard television and magazine gossip, people actually find you more interesting the less they know of you. And for some reason, the less they know, the more eager they are to prove there's something wrong with you.
If you haven't read THE CATCHER IN THE RYE, read it. Perhaps a new revolution of young people who want to speak directly about the false prophets we follow because of fame, fortune or both will develop. I know I'll be giving it reread soon.
Goodbye JD Salinger. Your book affected me and many others. I couldn't care less that I didn't know you as a person. I knew your work, and your work spoke volumes.