Friday, February 12, 2010
Postscript /J. D. Salinger/LITERATURA
by Adam Gopnik
J. D. Salinger’s long silence, and his withdrawal from the world, attracted more than the usual degree of gossip and resentment—as though we readers were somehow owed more than his words, were somehow owed his personal, talk-show presence, too—and fed the myth of the author as homespun religious mystic. Yet though he may seem to have chosen a hermit’s life, Salinger was no hermit on the page. And so his death throws us back from the myth to the magical world of his writing as it really is, with its matchless comedy, its ear for American speech, its contagious ardor and incomparable charm. Salinger’s voice—which illuminated and enlivened these pages for two decades—remade American writing in the fifties and sixties in a way that no one had since Hemingway. (The juvenilia of most American writers since bear the mark of one or the other.) But if it had been Hemingway’s role to make American writing hardboiled, it was Salinger’s to let it be soft, even runny, again.
“For Esmé—with Love and Squalor,” which appeared here in the issue of April 8, 1950, is an account of the horror and battle shock of the Second World War—which the young Salinger fought during some of its worst days and battles—only to end, amazingly, with the offer of an antidote: the simple, direct, and uncorrupted speech that young Esmé’s letter holds out to the no longer entirely broken narrator. It was the comedy, the overt soulfulness, the high-hearted (to use an adjective he liked) romantic openness of the early Salinger stories that came as such a revelation to readers. The shine of Fitzgerald and the sound of Ring Lardner haunted these pages, but it was Salinger’s readiness to be touched, and to be touching, his hypersensitivity to the smallest sounds and graces of life, which still startles. Suicides and strange deaths happen in his stories—one shattering story is devoted to the back and forth on the telephone between a betrayed husband and the man in bed with his wife at that very moment—but their tone is alive with an appetite for experience as it is, and the certainty that religious epiphanies will arise from such ordinary experience. A typical Salinger hero is the little boy who confuses “kike” with “kite,” in “Down at the Dinghy”—who thinks that his father has been maliciously compared to “one of those things that go up in the air. . . . With string you hold.”
Salinger was an expansive romantic, an observer of the details of the world, and of New York in particular; no book has ever captured a city better than “The Catcher in the Rye” captured New York in the forties. Has any writer ever had a better ear for American talk? (One thinks of the man occupying the seat behind Holden Caulfield at Radio City Music Hall, who, watching the Rockettes, keeps saying to his wife, “You know what that is? That’s precision.”) A self-enclosed writer doesn’t listen, and Salinger was a peerless listener: page after page of pure talk flowed out of him, moving and true and, above all, funny. He was a humorist with a heart before he was a mystic with a vision, or, rather, the vision flowed from the humor. That was the final almost-moral of “Zooey,” the almost-final Salinger story to appear in these pages: Seymour’s Fat Lady, who gives art its audience, is all of us.
As for Holden Caulfield, he is so much a part of the lives of his readers that he is more a person to phone up than a character to analyze. A “Catcher” lover in his forties handed Holden’s Christmas journey to his own twelve-year-old son a few years ago, filled with trepidation that time and manners would have changed too much for it to still matter. Not a bit—the boy grasped it to his heart as his father had, as the Rough Guide to his experience, and used its last lines as his yearbook motto. In American writing, there are three perfect books, which seem to speak to every reader and condition: “Huckleberry Finn,” “The Great Gatsby,” and “The Catcher in the Rye.” Of the three, only “Catcher” defines an entire region of human experience: it is—in French and Dutch as much as in English—the handbook of the adolescent heart. But the Glass family saga that followed is the larger accomplishment. Salinger’s retreat into that family had its unreality—no family of Jewish intellectual children actually spoke quite like this, or revered one of the members quite so uncritically—but its central concern is universal. The golden thread that runs through it is the question of Seymour’s suicide, so shockingly rendered in “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.” How, amid so much joyful experience, could life become so intolerable to the one figure who seems to be its master?
Critics fretted about the growing self-enclosure of Salinger’s work, about a faith in his characters’ importance that sometimes seemed to make a religion of them. But the isolation of his later decades should not be allowed to obscure his essential gift for joy. The message of his writing was always the same: that, amid the malice and falseness of social life, redemption rises from clear speech and childlike enchantment, from all the forms of unself-conscious innocence that still surround us (with the hovering unease that one might mistake emptiness for innocence, as Seymour seems to have done with his Muriel). It resides in the particular things that he delighted to record. In memory, his writing is a catalogue of those moments: Esmé’s letter and her broken watch; and the little girl with the dachshund that leaps up on Park Avenue, in “Zooey”; and the record of “Little Shirley Beans” that Holden buys for Phoebe (and then sees break on the pavement); and Phoebe’s coat spinning on the carrousel at twilight in the December light of Central Park; and the Easter chick left in the wastebasket at the end of “Just Before the War with the Eskimos”; and Buddy, at the magic twilight hour in New York, after learning from Seymour how to play Zen marbles (“Could you try not aiming so much?”), running to get Louis Sherry ice cream, only to be overtaken by his brother; and the small girl on the plane who turns her doll’s head around to look at Seymour. That these things were not in themselves quite enough to hold Seymour on this planet—or enough, it seems, at times, to hold his creator entirely here, either—does not diminish the beauty of their realization. In “Seymour: An Introduction,” Seymour, thinking of van Gogh, tells Buddy that the only question worth asking about a writer is “Were most of your stars out?” Writing, real writing, is done not from some seat of fussy moral judgment but with the eye and ear and heart; no American writer will ever have a more alert ear, a more attentive eye, or a more ardent heart than his.
Del New Yorker, edición del 8 de febrero, 2010
Imagen: Retrato de J.D. Salinger
Posted by Claudio Ferrufino-Coqueugniot at 2:19 PM