Friday, April 05, 2013

J. D. Salinger: A Life

J. D. Salinger: A Life
(Kenneth Slawenski, 19:17)
I'm not a huge Salinger-ophile. I thought I recently re-read Catcher, which I can't say was love reconnected. I read this out of order, starting with the 2nd half, mp3 CD#2, which began right after Catcher had been published. JD Salinger moved to Cornish, NH (near Vermont) to seek solitude. He married, and began writing in the apt over the garage. Eventually, he stopped coming down from there, and later, built a house across the road, and moved in there. Although Salinger is renowned for his reclusiveness, Slawenski draws the spiral of JDS's isolation as an ineluctable sequence of steps, each further remove driven by his mysticism, easily offended sensibility, and ultimately, his preference for writing over publishing. Apparently, after the war, Salinger fell into a fascination with Zen and the teachings swirling around Vivekananda. Following each story, each move into deeper isolation, Slawenski is a compassionate and understanding biographer. The first half of JDS's life turned out to be packed with amazing experiences. First, his expulsion from prep school suggests that he was the model for Rushmore. (In many ways, Wes Anderson seems to alembicated all the charm of Salinger, and boiled off the prickly hermit cum narcissistic tendencies.) What I didn't know beforehand was the Salinger fought in D-Day, and then the Battle of the Bulge. In both, of course, many of his comrades were killed (mortality above 33%.) After these harrowing battle experiences, Salinger was involved in liberating satellite concentration camps of Dachau. He said in letters that the smell of burning human flesh never left his sense. He was fluent in German (acquired when his father sent him to Europe after he failed out of college at NYU). This caused him to be a translator at the Nuremberg trials, interviewing Nazi war criminals. Once one countenances this level of psychic trauma, the suicide of Seymour Glass in Perfect Day for Bananafish becomes completely intelligible. Even though I feel that Salinger's prose is hobbled by its smooth gaze of narcissism, he is a supreme stylist. This biography was an amazing exposition of his entire trajectory. Who would have otherwise known that, even after he achieved incredible renown (reaching a peak with his story, For Esme with Love and Squalor), the New Yorker still refused to publish even a single selection from the Catcher. Salinger tried to completely control his work, its publication promotion, the covers of his books, and every comma or parenthesis. But really, why shouldn't someone have this level of control? Another really memorable fact: Salinger was so devoted to the idea that each reader has the right to her own interpretation of a story, that even when he'd devoted extra energy to removing any question that Franny (I think) was pregnant when she fainted, he nevertheless refused to rule out that such a reading was not itself a legitimate interpretation that he had no prerogative to extinguish.

Tuesday, April 02, 2013

Laughable Lyrics by Edward Lear

Laughable Lyrics
(Edward Lear, 0:32)
The first nonsense poem, The Dong with the Luminous Nose, promises more than it delivers. I grabbed this off Librivox, but the reader isn't ready for primetime. Besides vague awareness of Lear, my primary expectations were primed by Barthelme's Death of Edward Lear. It shouldn't surprise anyone that Donald B's treatment is more sublime than the original inspiration for his parodic squib.