Saturday, December 22, 2012

J. D. Salinger Revisited

J. D. Salinger might be associated with high school syllabi, but Franny and Zooey is a great book, one that has as much to say about adolescence as it does adulthood, epistemology, and faith. 

Much has been written about Salinger and I won't delve too deeply into his sensitivity to authenticity; I also won't say much about his conception of individuality (as compared with the "phony"). 

But I did want to add a few observations about Franny and Zooey.

First, I was surprised by the book's focus on religion. In some sense, Salinger uses the pursuit of prayer as a mask for artistic integrity: both Franny and Zooey discover that artistry - true artistry - is akin to a state of meditation, a state without (what Salinger calls) "personal" difference. 

Second, it's clear that Franny and Zooey is built to endure: the story is one that continues to be told today by families doing their best to navigate the social and economic complexities of boarding schools, elitism, and New York City. Embarking on this journey, Salinger seems to suggest, results (at best) in fragmented identity and (at worst) in irritating eccentricity. 

In many ways, Franny and Zooey struggle to overcome the intellectualism bequeathed to them. Their enlightenment - which is reinforced by the book's religious overtones - takes the form of their channeling ego toward something good, toward something constant and true. 

As Zooey advices at the conclusion of the book: "An artist's only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else's."

Easier said than done. 

(Final thoughts: the focus on religion here reminded me of Waugh; the focus on struggle and authenticity established connections for me with Plath; and the focus on the delicacies of culture had me thinking of Capote's Breakfast.)

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