Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Caught by Catcher?

The Catcher in the Rye
J. D. Salinger
(Image from Wikipedia)

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.

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.
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.

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?

I'm the author of Catcher.
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.

Requiescat in pace anyway, Mr. Salinger.

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At 10:32 AM, Blogger John from Daejeon said...

I don’t know if you saw last week’s episode of “Frontline” on PBS (titled “Digital Nation”), but it looks like books (reading) are going the way of the oral tradition of spreading tales. The episode focused on students at the best universities in the U.S. and their professors. Astoundingly, most students at M.I.T. and Stanford can no longer write a cohesive essay. Everything now spews forth in disjointed paragraphs as these students multitask between various electronic devices, social networking sites, and email. Nowadays, students freely admit to not reading the classics of yesteryear (like “Romeo & Juliet” and “Cather”) and just going to websites that bullet point the important information that they need to know about the works. They reason that in today’s world, technology is what they “really” need to know and not waste their time indulging in a time waster like reading. While young kids seem to be reading at higher and higher levels, this trend quickly regresses once they hit junior high and high school as cell phones, ipods, computers, IMing, Facebook, and computer gaming take hold of today’s youth. South Korea was also featured in this episode, and it wasn’t pretty as more and more kids here are having to drop out of school to attend computer addict camps just to learn how to be a kid.

It was eye-opening to see just how big this problem has become. Some of the intellectuals interviewed were talking about the “dumb-downing” of today’s youth, but it was pointed out to them that it’s actually a process of evolution as the oral tradition of storytelling gave way to the printed word, now we are moving into the next phase in which they, themselves, are no longer needed and are actually the “dumb” ones for not keeping up with the times.

At 10:45 AM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hmmm . . . interesting.

On the one hand, I understand the need for brevity and modular thinking in a world that so often demands our multitasking attention.

But on the other hand, I find hard to accept that we have no need to integrate information into a larger whole.

The oral tradition that preceded written tradition was also concerned with integrating things, I'd bet, though perhaps in a different way than in writing.

The 'oral' tradition that is here posited to supercede writing sounds more like a kind of disintegration to me.

I'd say that these kids are simply not learning how to think.

But I'm old-fashioned . . .

Jeffery Hodges

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At 11:15 AM, Blogger John from Daejeon said...

The program also illustrated the usefulness of technology in the classroom, especially when integrating computers and the internet into inner-city school classrooms as opposed to the sole reliance on the old brick and mortar educational methods that never quite motivated those who need it the most.

Educating the future isn't something we should be doing half-way. The government should give way to the private sector and the best and brightest educators should be getting those million dollar bonuses.

At 12:04 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

I guess that I am old-fashioned. I've never quite taken to using computers in the classroom. I use them sparingly because I don't entirely trust them.

But technology is certainly the future of education. My own daughter is getting her schooling online, assisted by me when she's stumped, so I see the advantages.

Personally, of course, the technology has helped me enormously, for I can do research from my own desk here at home.

Jeffery Hodges

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