Weekly musings on the arts and current events.

Saturday, January 30, 2010


On the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of Catcher in the Rye, columnist George F. Will wrote a denunciation of the book for teaching a generation to whine and pout. He railed further against Leonard Bernstein for investing his gangsters, in West Side Story, with Holden Caulfield like disaffection. Will also took a swipe at those critics who like the book for confusing self-absorption with sensitivity. Of course Will is a conservative columnist, not a literary critic, and his ire was probably fueled by his disdain for liberal baby boomers who came of age while embracing J.D. Salinger.

I'll admit, the first time I read the book, I missed how much pain Holden was in. I was beguiled by his talk of "phoniness" into thinking the novel was a social critique of jaded mid-twentieth century America. I didn't catch such paradoxes as Holden's professed dislike of Hollywood even though he is an avid moviegoer. I didn't notice that for all the epithets with which he peppers his narrative, he never uses sexual or scatalogical obscenities, and is appalled by the graffiti "fuck you" that he finds at his old grammar school . I didn't connect his deep mourning for his little brother Allie with his desire to protect all whom he perceives as innocent. In short, I was too much a part of the sixties zeitgeist to read apolitically.

I hope I don't have that problem any more. I fear that George Will still does.

Rye by Alexey Kondratyevich Savrasov; 1881. Click on the picture for a closer look.


DUTA said...

In those days, several decades ago, youngsters were influenced by book heroes (Holden) just as nowadays they are influenced by TV heroes.

I think that books and TV serials that promote bad language, addictions (smoking, drinking..), rebellion - shouldn't be banned, but should not be praised either.

What comes first when discussing a book is not 'literary value', or 'art value', but "Life Value".
This is especially relevant now when the world (with America as chief target) is facing terror threats. Technology is not enough for Defence; there's need for quality people, stable young people with solid inner values, not spoilt and winey.

And that is hardly a matter to conservatives or liberals. We are All in it.

TallTchr said...

Duta, with all respect, what you call "Life Value" is what the Stalinists called "Socialist Realism". It is the doctrine that art must serve a useful social purpose. I have no idea how to implement a policy of not praising a given artwork without resorting to censorship of the critics, if not of the artists. I take comfort in the fact that the loudest voices for subjecting art to governmental scrutiny are the Islamists. While no fan of scabrous language and images, I still side with freedom.

DUTA said...

TallTchr, thank you for taking the time to comment on my little comment.

I wish you to know that I'm not in favour of socialist realism. Nor am I in favour of

I am in favour,though, of plain Realism that cares for truth and accuracy. I am also for freedom of speech and art, and against censorship.

Having said that, I believe that when coming to evaluate and /or praise a work of art there's nothing wrong in considering whether the writer or artist was sensitive enough or at all, to the needs, goals and aspirations of the nation that has allowed him to live and create freely.

Paula Slade said...

Salinger's writing and life continues to fascinate. Did you hear about the documentary that is being readied for film festivals? http://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/films/news/jd-salinger-documentary-being-readied-for-spring-film-festival-1886507.html - Should be interesting.