I watched a documentary about J.D.Salinger, author of “Catcher in the Rye”, “Franny and Zooey”, and great stories like “For Esme – with Love and Squalor”.
Salinger wrote about, among other themes, innocence. Tellingly, he went through D Day, the invasion of France, the Battle of the Bulge, the liberation of Dachau – through two hundred plus days of combat. It is widely held he suffered from PTSD. Which, it is widely held, informs his fiction, his dysfunctional relationships, his reclusiveness. His “genius” as a writer.
The film “Salinger” is so bad – bombastic, hyped, a soundtrack like a Superman movie, prurient, literal — and it makes you so angry and the bullshit makes you want for a fleeting moment, like Chapman—the fan of Holden Caulfield in “Catcher in the Rye”—did John Lennon, to get out there, make your mark in the world and shoot the makers.
Or hide away, escape from such rubbish, that, like media on a bad day can generally often feel, seems so intrusive, noisy, mindless, useless.
Even whilst it might be appearing to celebrate “great”, “quality” writers and minds like Salinger.
As many reviews said, Holden Caulfield—the literary teenage hero created by an “authentic” literary master like the reclusive Salinger—would have hated the film.
Philip Roth said in 1974, ten years after Salinger published his last story ( he lived until 2010), that Salinger was not “not keeping up with the times” but had his finger on the pulse of what was happening between the Self and Culture.
I take this to mean that by hiding away Salinger symbolised the mental retreat from the world that is going on in a world that looks outwardly loud, busy, engaged and social. Connected.
Roth – another sequestered, private writer of immense talent – might have meant Salinger had the courage to lucidly actualise what everybody actually only felt, only fantasised about.
And Salinger, ordinarily flawed, no therapist or public philosopher but a fiction writer, ended up treated—-not least by shrill, shrieking, crude documentaries that simulate informed dissection and adulation of literary accomplishment—-as a freak.
It could be said that Media, the saturation of representation, invades the Self, invades privacy, and we in turn learn to both invade our own privacy and retreat from that invasion.
Part of us is in seclusion, in retreat, though we might not know it consciously – and whatever kind of life we lead. We are surrounded, are saturated, by image and narrative, inwardly and outwardly, image and narrative acting as mirrors – as all images and narratives do. All images and narratives, in a figurative sense, could be said to gaze at us and reflect on us as we gaze at and reflect on them. They automatically question us immediately that we give them our attention – they ask, or seem to ask of us, what we are, what we think, who we think we are, and who they are. And whether we are complete. They are, in the busy, contemporary modern digital world, infinite.
They can coop us up, make us retreat, seclude ourselves, inside inverted commas – selves rendered into signs of questionable value or significance.
There is a quote, a riposte to Descartes’ cogito, “I think therefore I am”, that proposition that seems so neat, so logical, so true: “the existence of an object does not imply the existence of a subject.”
People thought Salinger was talking directly to them, that he knew them. I am what he writes, they thought. He writes, Holden is, therefore I am.