Tuesday, May 19, 2009

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.

...to be continued...

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