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some (belated) words for j.d. salinger.

February 26, 2010

“I hope to hell that when I do die somebody has the sense to just dump me in the river or something. Anything except sticking me in a goddamn cemetery. People coming and putting a bunch of flowers on your stomach on Sunday, and all that crap. Who wants flowers when you’re dead? Nobody.”

– The Catcher in the Rye

J.D. Salinger’s four-decade silence is arguably as famous as his best (well, loudest)-loved work, The Catcher in the Rye. And as the pursuit of public attention became our nation’s favorite extreme sport, the writer of some of our most emotionally relevant works started to look increasingly like an exasperating anachronism. He wouldn’t publish, despite rumors of piles of new work, he wouldn’t sanction a Catcher movie (declaring Holden’s character “unactable” and the story undirectable), he wouldn’t Twitter. Instead, in response to the worship of millions of teenagers—the world’s most annoying fans—Salinger did something eminently reasonable: he became a reclusive, mysterious curmudgeon.

There’s a certain integrity to this response—Salinger was determined to present himself to the public on his terms, not ours. This is an element of fame on which we’ve collectively lost our grip: the internet, reality tv, and TMZ (now who sounds like the curmudgeon?) all tell us we’re entitled to constant access to whomever we want, whenever we want. And the stars—from Tila Tequila to Bret Easton Ellis—have acquiesced. But for what? Is the attention received for going out without your underwear really on par with the attention received for doing something, you know…interesting?

We don’t need a J.D. Salinger Twitterfeed and we don’t need a Catcher in the Rye movie (or, as is more likely, two or three Catcher in the Rye movies) precisely because Salinger has already done something interesting. Holden Caulfield’s shadow is enormous, and he’s already hiding in every overwrought, overthinking wanderer who followed him. If we really miss Salinger so badly (and I do, already), we should check out some old episodes of My So-Called Life.

(written January 29, 2010)

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