Saturday, December 5, 2009

The Glass Menagerie

Just reading the Gwyn and Blotner and he mentions a hole left by among others, Tennessee Williams. I am just thinking offhand how "Zooey" functions corollary to "The Glass Menagerie" -- one of Wiliams' best known plays.

Possible correlations for further investigation:
3 main characters in each story (though Seympour could be arguably a main character though he does not apppear... perhaps he is the glass menagerie...)
Bessie and Amanda (the only version of an overbearing mother in Slainger that I can recall)
Zooey and Tom (Acting and moviegoing as scapist motifs)
Franny and Laura (Franny's spiritual crisis and state of "brokenness" and Laura's physical injury)

This could be interesting fodder for potential investigation....

Monday, November 9, 2009

I think

one has to be careful with Salinger... there's almost no happy adult stuff, just stuff about how great it is to be a child and all that drivel...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

An Ill-Formatted Version of my Reader's Guide Presentation


The New Yorker, May 4, 1957 pages 32-42, 44, 47-48, 50, 52,54,57-59, 62, 64, 67-68, 70, 73-74, 76-78, 80-82, 87-90, 92-96, 99-102, 105-106, 108-112, 115-122, 125-139 (original appearance)

Franny and Zooey

“Zooey” continues the story of Franny’s “spiritual awakening” on Monday, two days after Franny’s trip to Princeton. The novella also gives the reader additional information about the unusual upbringing of the Glass children, whose radio appearances as child geniuses, has created a unique bond among them. Salinger indicates even more in “Zooey” than in other Glass family stories that the Glass siblings have a unique understanding of one another based on this shared experience.

The narrative opens with Zooey, smoking and soaking in a hot bathtub, reading a four-year old letter from his brother, Buddy. The letter encourages Zooey to continue pursuing his acting career. Zooey’s mother, Bessie, enters the bathroom, and the two have a long discussion, wherein Bessie expresses her worries about Franny, whose existential anxiety seen in “Franny” has progressed to a state of emotional collapse. During the conversation, Zooey vacillates between a sort of tit-for-tat banter with his mother and a downright rude dismissal of her and repeatedly asks that she leave. Bessie accepts Zooey’s behavior, and quips that he’s becoming more and more like his brother Buddy.

After Bessie leaves, Zooey gets dressed and moves into the living room, where he finds Franny on the sofa with her cat Bloomberg, and begins speaking with her. After upsetting Franny by questioning her motives for reciting the “Jesus Prayer,” Zooey goes into Seymour and Buddy’s former bedroom and reads the back of their door, which is covered in philosophical and literary quotations. After contemplation, Zooey telephones Franny, pretending to be their brother Buddy. Franny eventually acknowledges the ruse, but she and Zooey continue to talk. Knowing that Franny reveres their oldest brother, Seymour – the spiritual leader of the family, who committed suicide years earlier – Zooey shares with her some words of wisdom that Seymour once gave him. At the end of the call, as the fundamental “secret” of Seymour’s advice is revealed, Franny seems, in a moment reminiscent of a mystical satori, to find profound existential illumination in what Zooey has told her.

Book Reviews

The New York Times Book Review
September 14, 1961
Book Review: Franny and Zooey
By Charles Poore

The New York Times Book Review
September 17, 1961
Anxious Days For The Glass Family
By John Updike

The Village Voice
March 8, 1962
by Eliot Fremont-Smith

The New York Review of Books
June 21, 2001
Justice to J.D. Salinger
By Janet Malcolm

Critical Appraisal

J.D. Salinger (Revised Edition)
Warren French

French notes that “Franny” is incomplete without “Zooey,” but points out that the former did more for Salinger’s reputation on college campuses than did Catcher . He says, “The story did more to establish Salinger’s reputation … because the “section man” mentality abounds, and many students, and even professors – egotistically identifying with Franny – reveled to see it at last get its comeuppance.” (142) Still, when considered together, he finds “Franny” to become “simply a prologue” to “Zooey.” Of “Zooey” itself, French writes that “Zooey,” “appears to have been written to make people see that what matters is not the negative burlesque of the inflated ego, but the positive conquest of it.” (142-143)

J.D. Salinger Revisited
Warren French

French is quite hard on Salinger, and his characters, stating, “[t]o whatever subgenre “Zooey” might be assigned, it is terribly hard to take when the market for cinema-verité soul searching has been overexploited. Can anyone pick up this morality play today and plow through it with enthusiasm generated by the title character’s harangues?” (96) He also chides Salinger for not being brave enough to demonstrate the same kind of integrity with respect to his fiction that Woody Allen carefully maintains with his films. French also writes, “[t]wenty five years ago… I wrote that the longer I contemplate “Franny and Zooey,” the more certain I feel that the public has been right in its enthusiastic reception of the book’s general “message” about the advisability of improving one’s self rather than criticizing others and that the reviewers have been right in their reservations about the craftsmanship of the presentation.” (97) He rehashes many of Alsen’s theories about the novella and his only truly interesting contribution actually concerns the relation of William Wyler’s films to “Raise High the Roofbeam Carpenters,” which he briefly discusses in relation to Updike’s review.

“The Aesthetic Epiphanies of J.D. Salinger: Bright-hued Circles, Spheres and Patches, “Elemental” Joy and Pain”
Martin Bidney
Northern Illinois University

Noting that scholars such as Alsen have looked for influences in Hinduism, Taoism, Zen, and Christianity, which may distract from what is distinctive about Salinger’s own vision, Bidney sets out to find aesthetic patterns, which indicate, what he calls Salinger’s “epiphanic pattern.” Bidney suggests that these moments of epiphany are largely nonsectarian, (citing the text) noting that Zooey says this at one point. His guiding assumption is that “epiphanies produced by any given writer will manifest a pattern unique to that writer.” Bidney further defines what he means by epiphany to include a moment in a literary work that affects the reader and is “intense,” “expansive in meaning,” and “mysterious.” Using the work of French phenomenologist Gaston Bachelard, he identifies literary epiphanies as consisting of three basic literary components, “elements” (in the ancient sense, ie. earth, water, fire, etc.), “patterns of motion,” and “shapes.” Though he fails to fully explain Bachelard’s theories, he provides a convincing argument about the structure of epiphanies in Salinger’s work. He says that Salinger uses the elements of earth, water, and air, but that fire is usually absent. He also notes that Salinger’s preferred motion motif varies, but very often includes the “frustrating disappearance of an object that the observer tries in vain to follow with his or her eyes; or else the sudden, happy reappearance of an object that the observer thought was lost,” this he likens to Freud’s notion of fort-da. Bidney also notes that these epiphanies are generally painterly or poetic and that Salinger’s preferred shape is the circle. Most importantly, Bidney derives psychological implications from these epiphanies, including “the absence of actual fire” (which he suggests marks a lack of adult passions), “the predominance of children” (which he links with nostalgia), and the association of the seer’s death with a disappearing woman (perhaps alluding to deep desire for the Mother figure). Zooey’s view of the little girl with her dog walking around the maple tree and his recollection of Buddy’s suggestion about a dying man helping a woman over a hill are among the most important epiphanic moments that Bidney examines.

“Memoirs of a Bathroom Stall: The Women’s Lavatory as Crying Room, Confessional, & Sanctuary”
Melissa Ames
Wayne State University

The article deals more directly with “Franny”, but I couldn’t resist including it because it is one of the few articles to address the issue of gender performativity in Salinger. Basing her theories on Judith Butler’s essay about the public restroom as crying room, Ames says that “the women’s restroom is actually an ideal site for the developing of a feminist politics and the housing of oppositional art.” (64) She further suggests that, “Salinger’s text simply records one of the normative uses of public restrooms – a place to rid oneself of excess emotion, a place to pull oneself together, a public place (only somewhat outsides of the public eye) to make sure that one is capable of playing out the feminine role (without unneeded emotional outbursts) outside of the ladies room in the masculine sphere.” (66)

“Updike and Salinger: A Literary Incident”
Donald J. Griener
Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction

Griener is concerned with the Updike review, which he suggests was spurred by Updike’s emergence and Salinger’s retreat. He notes that Salinger was aware of the review and was saddened by it, not least of all because his editor and friend William Shawn was also Updike’s editor. Griener places this literary “incident” within its proper historical context, noting the emergence of Cold War era politics, and the decline of the Modernist movement (with many of its most famous writers either dead or no longer publishing anything of significance). It is within this historical context that Griener discusses the “meat” of Updike’s review, which he maintains shrewdly combined “concern, praise, and regret.”



1. Why does Buddy keep a telephone in Seymour’s name (beyond the obvious explanation he gives)? (Page 57)
a. Obviously much of what is going here is referred to by Buddy himself as a refusal to acknowledge Seymour’s death. Seeing his name in print (even if in just the phonebook) is a reaffirmation that he is never truly lost. But this takes on additional symbolic meaning to me in two ways. First, Buddy states in “Raise High the Roofbeam Carpenters” that Seymour was a poet. Since we don’t see evidence of Seymour fulfilling this role in life, the printed name, seems to me at least, to be Buddy’s way of fulfilling this role in Seymour’s absence, but since his own talents in this area are less substantial the printed recognition of Seymour in the telephone directory acts as a stand-in for a non-published Seymour. Secondly, it seems to me that it is not a locker, or a membership or even a safe-deposit box, but a telephone. On some level this has to be a reminder of the fact that the family can let go of Seymour physically but never wants to lose the ability to communicate with him.

2. Why do Waker and Buddy seem to believe that (only) Zooey has forgiven Seymour for his suicide? (Page 68)
a. I have no idea about this. If I were to take a stab at it, from a very rational, non-literary point of view, I’d suggest it is because he is the youngest and seemingly least entwined with Seymour. Besides good actors seldom make good poets (the reverse is also often true).

3. What are we to make of Salinger’s description of Bessie as (among other things) “a refreshing eyesore”? (Page 74)
a. I see this as a commentary on New York style which is often associated with the transitory and the superficial. Because there is so much of it, anything different, even that which is not aesthetically pleasing, becomes refreshing.

4. What do you make of the dynamics between Zooey and Bessie? Why is he so rude to her at times?
a. Clearly, Bessie stopped being a mother figure to her children long ago. Though she still has the mothering role of worrying about them and their lives. Their early success and independence have supplanted her ability to occupy the role with any real authority.

5. Why doesn’t Buddy kill himself?
a. Buddy is the Salinger that Salinger can’t kill. In killing Seymour (born on the same day as Salinger himself) Salinger has killed an idealized version of himself. But he is unable to kill, perhaps unable to contain Buddy, the logorrheic, wannabe whose hatred of academics stems from his own failures (or at least lesser ability). As Salinger strives for Zen-like perfection he realizes the need to cast off the idealized vision, but never makes it to the next step of killing off or at least changing Buddy.

6. Why doesn’t Zooey want to marry? What do you make of the reason he gives Bessie about preferring the window seat of trains? (Page 105)
a. Psychologically, I am sure there is some Freudian Oedipal thing going on here as this scene concentrates so much on the Bessie and Zooey relationship. Beyond that, I’d say it says a good deal about the role of women at the time.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Once a Week Won't Kill You

I don't think this story is as well constructed as some of Salinger's others. I had trouble following the dialogue in the beginning. I know Salinger likes to give that 'tip of the iceberg' impression, but I was on pretty unsteady ground as a first time reader of the story. I liked the sentiment and the ending, and for that matter the character descriptions, but the story overall wasn't a great success.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Zooey (opening)

I had to familiarize myself with some of the allusions in Zooey, which got me to thinking about how nice it would be to have a hypertext version of Salinger's works. However, combining his litigation happy attitude with his well-advertised dislike of academics, I don't see that happening anytime in the foreseeable future.

"Zooey" - Paragraph 1:
The facts at hand presumably speak for themselves, but a trifle more vulgarly, I suspect, than facts even usually do. As a counterbalance, then, we begin with that everfresh and exciting odium: the author's formal introduction. The one I have in mind not only is wordy and earnest beyond my wildest dreams but is, to boot, rather excruciatingly personal. If, with the right kind of luck, it comes off, it should be comparable in effect to a compulsory guided tour through the engine room, with myself, as guide, leading the way in an old one-piece Jantzen bathing suit.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Criticism on Franny and Zooey

Critical Reception Information from eNotes

The New York Review of Books - Justice to JD Salinger

Updike and Salinger: A Literary incident

An MLA IB Search for "Zooey" (in English, and peer-reviewed) yielded fewer results than expected though additional items were attainable on the web and if looking through Dissertation Abstracts.

One article by Alfred Kazin entitled "JD Salinger: Everybody's Favorite" is cited by 5 others on Google Scholar:

[BOOK] In Search of JD Salinger: A Writing Life
I Hamilton - 1988 - Random House Inc
Cited by 22 - Related articles - All 2 versions

[BOOK] Die Initiationsreise: Studien zum Jugendlichen Helden im modernen amerikanischen Roman, …
P Freese - 1971 - K. Wachholtz
Cited by 1 - Related articles - Library Search - All 2 versions

[CITATION] " Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters
B Glass - A Reader's Guide to JD Salinger, 2002 - Greenwood Press
Related articles

[BOOK] Dong Wu wen shi xue bao
東吳大學 - 1978 - 東吳大學
Related articles - All 2 versions

[BOOK] Kritische Rezeption und stilistische Interpretation von JD Salingers Erzählprosa: Studien …
K Ortseifen - 1979 - Peter Lang Publishing
Related articles

Friday, September 4, 2009

Seymour Christ

Someone in class (Nick, was it you?) mentioned the idea of Seymour Glass as a Christ figure and something about the references to marks on the hands and feet make me think this true. However, my mind also harkens to the Matron of Honor's (Edie's) circlet of forget-me-nots(crown of thorns) or the "suffering" of the characters trapped inside the hot car in "Raise High..." is there something Christlike in all of Salinger's characters or am I just feeling particularly hopeful today?

Monday, August 31, 2009

Sybil Carpenter and "A Perfect Day for Bananafish"

I posted the following on our course Blackboard site and came across some really interesting parallels between the scene with Seymour and Sybil on the beach and the myth of Sybil:

re: Alternative Readings of Bananafish

I'd like to know if anyone had any alternative readings of Bananafish. As we have already discussed the narrator at least, if not also Seymour is eschewing materialism. But I think this interpretation alone leaves something to be desired. There is clearly a lot going on in the story, more than the critique on commercialization... There does seem to be something remarkably and oddly sexual about the scene between Sybil and Seymour, however this attraction between them might be better described as a reciprocal indulgence in childlike fantasy. Seymour is the one who sends Sybil off on the quest for the fictitious bananafish. And he clearly is indulging in a bit of escapism, the talk about Little Black Sambo and the bit about chewing on candles...

There is also the post-war issue addressed in numerous other works. I am just wondering if anyone has any other ideas about the story??

*PS Some more information on the name Sybil:
In this story Aeneas flatters Sybil (Sharon Lipshutz) in order to obtain passage to the Underworld. Sybil leads Aeneas to the Underworld. At this point, Aeneas is a war hero (Seymour!) and he has to retrieve the Golden Bough (Whirlywood, Connecticuit) ["You have no idea how clear that makes everything!"] before entering the Underworld. They have to pass Cerberus of course (the little Canadian bull dog in the lobby) and Sybil explains that getting into the Underworld is easy, it is getting out that is hard (the Bananafish dying for lack of getting out of the hole).

Friday, August 21, 2009

Boo Boo

was an Ensign in the Waves. In looking at the geography, if she was stationed near Brooklyn, that would likely be Fort Hamilton (assuming that existed in the early 1940's).

According to it's website:
In the two World Wars, Fort Hamilton served as a major embarkation and separation center. At present, the United States Army Fort Hamilton Garrison is the home of the New York City Recruiting Battalion, the Military Entrance Processing Station, the North Atlantic Division Headquarters of the US Army Corps of Engineers, the 1179th Transportation Brigade and the 722nd Aeromedical Staging Squadron. Fort Hamilton also supports many Reserve and National Guard units. ... Fort Hamilton proudly serves as the Army's Ambassador to the Greater New York Metropolitan Area.

Construction of the Verrazano Bridge in the early 1960's destroyed several historic structures, including Fort Lafayette, which was located near the Brooklyn shore where the bridge tower now rises from the water. But in the same period efforts toward saving the historical heritage of the Narrows increased. Part of the Army's contribution to preserving this heritage is in the Harbor Defense Museum at Fort Hamilton.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Beginings of Research

Most of the articles I am finding in MLA and ABELL and such, so far at least, are dealing with either, the damnable, "Catcher" or with religion and philosophy. I am pretty sure already that these are avenues I don't want to pursue in Salinger's fiction, but I don't know exactly what I do want to get at.

Speaking of, I need to look for the following article anyway...

O'Connor, Dennis L.: "J. D. Salinger's religious pluralism: the example of 'Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters'." Southern Review (Baton Rouge, LA) (20) 316-32. (1984)


Salinger says he was influenced by Sherwood Anderson.

*whew* I can do this after all!

*although I wish the seminar was on Anderson instead...

More on BooBoo's Letter...

"The mother is the end - a finger in all the arts and sees a good Jungian man twice a week..."

Much is made of Seymour's mother-in-law to be and her therapist.

In If You Really Want to Hear About It John Updike says:

"Few writers since Joyce would risk such a wealth of words upon events that are purely internal and deeds that are purely talk. We live in a world, however, when the decisive deed may invite the holocaust, and Salinger's conviction that our inner lives greatly matter particularly qualifies him to sing of an America where, for most of us, there seems little to do but feel." (Crawford, 122)

It's clear that Salinger's interest is in the internal and given his time and circumstance Jung seems a much more appropriate fit than Freud.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Still Reclusive After All These Years...

Even after 35 years, Salinger still not talking.

From the article:
Undaunted, the Spectator's man set off to interview Salinger's neighbours, who supplied a range of not-very-revealing anecdotes: one had seen the 90-year-old in the supermarket the day before, "leaning heavily on a trolley", and recalled an exchange with him in the 1990s when he was irritated with her for dropping a loaf of bread at his feet. Another provided the invaluable titbit that he enjoys spinach and mushroom wraps when eating in a local café, while a third is unlikely to shock the world with the revelation that Salinger is "not one for chitchat". be continued...

Letters Leave Lingering Questions

Picking up where I left off, not that this blog will make any sense to anyone but me anyway...

The next part of "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters" is a letter from Boo Boo to Buddy. In it she tells Buddy that Seymour will be getting married, that no one else can go (mostly due to various and sundry duties related to the war effort) and relays her (unfavorable) opinion of Seymour's bride to be (who we find out later is a woman named Muriel).

Buddy notes that the letter is undated but does his best to give us an approximate date of May 22nd or 3rd.

Boo Boo says:

[Seymour] weighs about as much as a cat and he has that ecstatic look on his face that you can't talk to. Maybe it's going to be perfectly all right, but I hate 1942. I think I'll hate 1942 till I die, just on general principles.

Why does Boo Boo hate 1942? From the letter we get that maybe Seymour is sick (we don't know about his attempt at suicide until later...) but one gets the impression that there may be more going on with Beatrice as well. Will have to see what I might have overlooked in my first read that would tell me why she doesn't like 1942.

According to Wikipedia, here are some of the events which had occurred from January through May of 1942:

February 2 – WWII: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt signs an executive order directing the internment of Japanese Americans and the seizure of their property.
February 10 – In the early hours of the morning the SS Normandie capsizes at pier 88 in New York City.
February 22 – WWII: President Franklin Delano Roosevelt orders General Douglas MacArthur out of the Philippines as American defense of the nation collapses.
February 24 – Propaganda: The Voice of America begins broadcasting.

March 9 – WWII: Executive order 9082 (February 28, 1942) reorganizes the United States Army into three major commands: Army Ground Forces, Army Air Forces, and Services of Supply, later redesignated Army Service Forces.
March 28 – The Battle of Midway.

April 13 – The FCC's minimum programming time required of TV stations is cut from 15 hours to 4 hours a week during the war.
April 15 – WWII: King George VI awards the George Cross to Malta (from January 1 to July 24, there is only one 24-hour period during which no bombs fall on this tiny island).

May 15 – WWII: In the United States, a bill creating the Women's Auxiliary Army Corps (WAAC) is signed into law. be continued...

This just in...

Okay, well not so new news about a possible sequel/parody of "Catcher".

Lawyers are already working on this, question is will he (or his publisher's) sue?

If there is any possible way, I bet he will!

*ETA: Decided to add a Salinger news feed at left. Enjoy! be continued...

An Important Note

On page 8 of my copy of "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters" Buddy tells us that he is pretty exclusively concerned with Seymour's story. This probably shouldn't be a shock as the book also includes, "Seymour An Introduction" but Buddy adds that Seymour was in the Air Force (then still the Air Corps) and that he was probably (emphasis Salinger's) the "acting company clerk." [Incidentally, this detail has some ambiguity as the Air Corps itself began to serve under the Army Air Forces in 1941.]

We also learn that he was not a prolific letter writer. Since later in the novella, Seymour's diary is such an important part of the story, I find this an odd contradiction.

Buddy says he hasn't had more than five letters from Seymour in his whole life, and he is speaking AFTER Seymour's death.

In fact the narrative time of the novella is 1955 after Seymour's suicide and the completion of the war. Unfortunately, this detail is omitted from the Glass Family Chronology be continued...

A Bit on Vaudeville

In "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters," Buddy mentions that his parents were Vaudevillians on the Pantages Circuit.

Sidebar: Interesting tidbit, the Wikipedia Vaudeville article mentions Edward Albee's adoptive grandfather's role in Vaudeville and the emerging Motion Picture Industry:

Albee, adoptive grandfather of the Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Edward Albee, managed the chain to its greatest success. Circuits such as those managed by Keith-Albee provided vaudeville's greatest economic innovation and the principal source of its industrial strength, enabling a chain of allied vaudeville houses that remedied the chaos of the single-theatre booking system by contracting acts for regional and national tours that could grow from a few weeks to two years.

In 1919, the Orpheum Circuit was incorporated, which brought together 45 vaudeville theatere in 36 cities throughout the United States and Canada and a large interest in two vaudeville circuits. In 1928, the company merged with Keith's and Albee's chain of theaters to form Keith-Albee-Orpheum. The company soon became the major motion picture studio Radio-Keith-Orpheum (RKO).

Ok enough with my fascination with Edward Albee.

I find it very interesting that Bessie would have encouraged her children to use stage names and except for the fact that her concerns echo some of those echoed by the Matron of Honor later in the story, I am not sure why Salinger chose to include this item. be continued...

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

New York Then

Last Post for today...

Interesting and Beautiful but only tangenetially relevant:

Pictures of New York City in the 1940's.
Some gorgeous snapshots of old New York from teh early 1900's through mid-century.

...and this one by Helen Levitt:
Kids in New York.... be continued...

Seymour reads to Franny

So, it appears I have already skipped over a particularly important part of the opening pages of the story. On page 4 of my library copy, Seymour reads to his ten month old sister Franny. When Buddy challenges him on this, he quips, "They have ears. They can hear."

Sidebar: Is this the innocent reader Salinger is searching for, one who has ears, who will listen attentively without saying or thinking anything in particular? Perhaps that's not me at all if I am responding to the text as I read it... hmmmmmm.

The story that Seymour reads Franny is a Taoist fable of sorts, about a man chooosing horses. I am not sure if this is a real story that exists in Eastern Literature which Salinger is reprinting, or if he himself has invented it. It seems to be a real Tao fable, but the characters in the original fable do not appear to be real individuals...

Sidebar: A Google search for "jd salinger taoism" reveals a Google Book Search result entitled "Letters to J. D. Salinger," from University of Wisconsin Press. It's an interesting book with a neat cover (an abandoned mailbox with Salinger's name on it). The letter that comes up on the results page is from pages 121-131 and written by Gerald Rosen who has a book of his own "Zen and the Art of J. D. Salinger" (Rosen says he was influenced by both Salinger and Jack Kerouac (sp?... gods, I can never remember how to spell his name!) Anyway, looks like it may be helpful as Rosen appears to have a better understanding of Eastern Philiosophy than I do, of course that's probably true of nearly anyone as I know nothing about it whatsoever. Ok, this sidebar is getting too long, anyway, looks like the book is out of print, but I will see if I can find a used copy somewhere. Oh, also in the letter, he compares Salinger to Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky, not sure that I agree but I haven't read enough of these authors, or of Salinger to make that judgement, MUST STOP GETTING AHEAD OF MYSELF!!!

The story Seymour read to Franny that night, by flashlight, was a favorite of his, a Taoist tale. To this day, Franny swears that she remembers Seymour reading it to her:

Duke Mu of Chin said to Po Lo: 'You are now advanced in years. Is there any member of your family whom I could employ to look for horses in your stead?' Po Lo replied: 'A good horse can be picked out by its general build and appearance. But the superlative horse - one that raises no dust and leaves no tracks - is something evanescent and fleeting, elusive as thin air. The talents of my sons lie on a lower plane altogether; they call tell a good horse when they see one, but they cannot tell a superlative horse. I have a friend, however, one Chin-fang Kao, a hawker of fuel and vegetables, who in things appertaining to horses is nowise my inferior. Pray see him.'

Duke Mu did so, and subsequently dispatched him on the quest for a steed. Three months later, he returned with the news that he had found one. 'It is now in Shach'iu,' he added.' What kind of a horse is it?' asked the Duke. 'Oh, it is a dun-colored mare,' was the reply. However, someone being sent to fetch it, the animal turned out to be a coal-black stallion! Much displeased, the Duke sent for Po Lo. 'That friend of yours,' he said, 'whom I commissioned to look for a horse, has made a fine mess of it. Why, he cannot even distinguish a beast's color or sex! What on earth can he know about horses?' Po Lo heaved a sigh of satisfaction. 'Has he really got as far as that?' he cried. 'Ah, then he is worth ten thousand of me put together. There is no comparison between us. What Kao keeps in view is the spiritual mechanism. In making sure of the essential, he forgets the homely details; intent on the inward qualities, he loses sight of the external. He sees what he wants to see, and not what he does not want to see. He looks at the things he ought to look at, and neglects those that need not be looked at. So clever a judge of horses is Kao, that he has it in him to judge something better than horses.'

When the horse arrived, it turned out indeed to be a superlative animal.

I've reproduced the tale here not just because I invariably go out of my way to recommend a good prose pacifier to parents or older brothers of ten-month-old babies but for quite another reason.

From: "Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters"

Sidebar: I cannot find a "Duke Mu of Chin" but I did find a Wikipedia entry for "Duke Mu of Qin"... I think they may be one and the same...? Wow, showing my ignorance fast here! Need to find someone who knows something about Tao!

Since the narrator tells us that the bridegroom (who is Seymour) has died as of 1955 and relates, "Undoubtedly, though, what I'm really getting at is this: Since the bridegroom's permanent retirement from the scene, I haven't been able to think of anybody whom I'd care to send out to look for horses in his stead." I assume we are meant to associate Seymour with Chin-fang Kao's qualities which I have highlighted above? So far, having read only this story I cannot say that I identify Seymour so much with these qualities though he definitely appears to have an ability to read people ... more on that when we get into his bride and her mother.

What does this say for Buddy? Is he lonely at this point in his life and reflecting back on Seymour? Maybe I will know more after "Seymour An Intorduction"... I guess I kind of see Buddy serving as Salinger’s persona in some ways. be continued...

Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters

My initial reaction is that I like this novella nearly as much as I detested The Catcher in the Rye (henceforth, "Catcher"). Perhaps I am already seeing some Tenenbaumian connections too.

Salinger dedicates the book, which also includes, "Seymour An Introduction," as follows:

"If there is an amateur reader still left in the world - or anybody who just reads and runs - I ask him or her, with untellable affection and grattitude, to split the dedication of this book four ways with my wife nad children."

I wonder if I am such an amateur reader. Certainly, I have read Salinger before, and if there is such a thing to be had, as an English major, I have had training in "how to read" critically. Can I put all of this aside and read Salinger fresh, with some form of naissance? I hope so, as I am trying to read Salinger with a new lens and to remove any preconceptions about him and his works.

And so the story begins...

We learn that the Glass family is rather large, seven children in fact, populate the Glass Universe: Seymour, Buddy (the narrator), Beatrice (nicknamed Boo Boo), the twins (Waker and Walter), Franny, and Zooey. Their parents (Les and Bessie) are retired Vaudevillians.

Sidebar: Why do I always think "Les" looks better with a lowercase "l" ("les") than with a capital one? Maybe I have read too much French??

Sidebar: The description of the entire family is a little reminiscient of the description of James Cagney's family in "Yankee Doodle Dandy" which was (co)incidentally released in 1942, the year that Buddy enters the army. Though overall the story reminds me more of William Wyler's accalimed, "The Best Years of Our Lives," released in 1947. I don't know if this is because Salinger lived the experience of these films, or had seen them, or both. Perhaps I should read his letters...?

... to be continued...

On Blogging Salinger for the Summer

I am a ferocious non-writing-in-books kind of girl, so I figured this might be the ideal way for me to notate and narrate thoughts as I read Salinger for the summer in preparation for my ENGL 624 class, Text and Context: J. D. Salinger.

I am not a Salinger fan, but in truth my only exposure has been "The Catcher in the Rye," which I really didn't like.

I am starting out fresh, I'll even succomb to the evils of "Catcher" again, since I really want to make a go of it this fall. I haven't been as motivated about literature over the past year as I need to be and its reflected in my classroom performance. But the truth is, I haven't been excited about much lately. If this semester I don't manage some excitement, even over an author I don't like, this is the end of my graduate study in English. We'll see...