Caught by Catcher?
I thought that I'd already said enough about Salinger and his novel -- and possibly my readers would agree -- but a recent letter to the International Herald Tribune caught my attention and offered another positive plug for the novel as a revolt against phoniness. Under the heading "Today’s American man," a certain Mr. Richard Margolin of Hoboken, New Jersey wrote to say:
While on my way home a few nights ago, I stopped off at the local convenience store. While walking about, I noticed that the television behind the checkout counter was tuned to a local news station reporting on the death of J.D. Salinger.Mr. Margolin is right. The 'phony' anchorman does deserve some recognition. I can offer merely informal recognition if some reader will offer the man's name. Perhaps Mr. Margolin has learned it by now? At any rate, I have to acknowledge that any novelist who can have that sort of impact upon readers and give them the courage to speak the truth as they see it is also worthy of recognition.
After the report, the camera returned to the anchor who made a personal comment about how much "Catcher in the Rye" had meant to him when he was in high school. But then, this nice, scrubbed and smiling image of the successful, all-American male, ended by saying, "And now here I am, another phony in a suit."
This fellow really does deserve some kind of formal recognition.
But that label of "phony" does raise the issue of what constitutes authenticity, which was something that I obsessed about during my existentialist phase, back when I was reading Dostoevsky and Nietzsche, Sartre and Camus, Kierkegaard and Heidegger. Ironically, that was around the time that I also read Salinger's Catcher, yet it still didn't speak to me even though authenticity is a central theme of existentialism . . . and by implication, phoniness.
Catcher was a revolt against phoniness, but perhaps Salinger got caught by his own book. Maybe Catcher was such a success that it threatened to make him a 'phony' . . . or made him worry that he was one, a man identified by the success of a single book:
Who are you?He seems to have spent years on end searching through various religious and quasi-religious belief systems for an authentic identity, but that sort of shopping around leads to little more than an arguably inauthentic postmodern 'identity' as consumer of religious 'authenticities'. That's probably a fascinating and fervently debated issue in literary scholarship on Salinger, though I've never looked into the point. If I cared more about Salinger the writer -- and maybe I should, I don't know -- I'd probably care more about the answer to the question of who Salinger himself really was. Perhaps someone else can say if the man himself was a phony . . . or if he found his sought-for authenticity.
I'm the author of Catcher.
Requiescat in pace anyway, Mr. Salinger.