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Monday, March 7, 2011

J.D. Salinger -- More, Please!

I had a thought.  (And what is a blogger to do with his thoughts if not write them out for the world, or his three readers, wherever they are, to see?)

So, first, by way of context:  We at The Wall have just recently finished Lewis Carroll's two Alice books, the second of which provided the opportunity to briefly examine an excised "episode," relatively recently discovered and published.  Over the weekend, I picked up my battered copy of Salinger's Seymour, and Introduction and took to enjoying it yet again.  Salinger, like Carroll, is dead.  Also like the Carroll, Salinger wrote something--a lot of somethings, if the news is to be believed--that he never published. 

The day Jerome David Salinger died, I had the same thought had by so many, and it was a greedy, unkind one.  Part of me, I'm ashamed to admit, was happy he was gone.  After all, now, finally, we might actually get the potential mountains of genius material with which he never deemed to grace the world.  The literary cannon would expand!

Maybe I was wrong. 

If I'm honest with myself, I (and I speak for me alone, though, again, if I'm being honest, I think I might even be qualified to speak for the literary world at large here, at least in this case) don't need "The Wasp in a Wig."  Don't get me wrong, I love the episode, but I think I love it more because I love Carroll and Alice; not so much for its intrinsic value (which, as it happens, is not null, but yet pales--nearly disappears! --alongside the glaring brilliance of the rest of Looking-Glass).  Is Carroll a better writer for having penned it?  Are we better scholars ("scholars") for having read it?  Does it benefit its source material?  At all?

Well ...  *sigh*  ... no, maybe-but-not-by-much, and no.

In my little collection of great writers and their great works, I've got Salinger on a pedestal similar to Carroll's.  Both have relatively little fiction available to the public (contrast this to someone like Steinbeck, who's got tons), and their ratios of near-/perfect to largely-flawed works are both impossibly high.  If I apply a friend's scale for rating literature (upon which I give Wonderland a 4.5/5 and Looking-Glass a 5/5), I would give a portion of Salinger's fiction the same: Catcher in the Rye -- 4.5/5; Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters -- 4.5/5; "A Perfect Day for Bananafish" -- 5/5; "For Esme' -- with Love and Squalor" -- 5/5.

My impression of Carroll didn't change when I read "The Wasp in a Wig," and it didn't change when I finally admitted to myself that it was far, far from the more-or-less perfection of the Alice books.  Why?  Most likely because he didn't publish it!  Would the same be the case with Salinger's alleged 15 un-published novels if they ever come to light?  Would my love of Salinger and every word he's written (well, published) remain untainted?

I don't know.  Is it worth the risk?


  1. I know what you mean. I think that there's actually a sports analogy in here. Some athletes keep playing way beyond when they're useful players anymore, and every once in a while, someone hangs around long enough that he embarrasses himself. At the time, we want them to keep on playing forever, but after a while, it becomes apparent that they're no longer good enough, and we just want them to stop. Does it taint the memory of the person? It depends upon whom you ask.

    I think that one could say the same about Salinger. Right now, we all want more Salinger. But what if it's not good? How bad would it have to be to taint our memories of what kind of writer Salinger was? COULD bad writing taint the memory of his greatness?

    For me, the answer is no. Every writer can produce a lot of crap, but only Salinger could produce the works that you mentioned--and it's these superhuman anomalies by which we should judge a writer. So I say, go ahead, release more of his writing. Maybe some of it will be quite good. If not, I don't think that there's anything left. We all know that Salinger's a great writer. A few poor works won't change that.

  2. I agree with that. There's an abiding fear of the publication though. Now that I've had a little more time to digest the thought, I think it might actually be fear of the critics and their circling masses--many of them idiots.

    I don't know. Maybe this isn't it either. I'm still torn. With Hulme, reading all his other stuff did not diminish the poems I already knew. There were several fragments from his notes that weren't worth much. What these did do was decrease my enthusiasm for Hulme as a whole. I'm less excited by him. He's less mysterious. Maybe this is it. Salinger is similarly enigmatic, and somehow this influences my apprecation of his work. It shouldn't. Not if I'm being objective.

    If it's great, I WANT it. If it's not, I want it kept (here it comes) suppressed. Mostly, then, I hope some serious scholarship goes into any efforts of selection before publication.


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