Wednesday, October 16, 2013

The worst sentences in Salinger so far

I’m now up to page 408 of David Shields and Shane Salerno’s Salinger. For sheer hokum, pages 304 to 314, Shields’s trek through Nine Stories, are impossible to beat. But I can’t type all that. Here instead is a passage from page 376, also by Shields, prompted by a reference in “Franny” to Franny Glass’s “tense, almost fetal position”:

If pregnancy is not the main idea here, what is? That Franny, a mythological female, is suffering a postwar nervous breakdown? The mystic’s confused searching for meaning is fulfilled through the use of young girls’ bodies. The womb is the reincarnated war wound. Franny is prayerful witness to the necessity of her creator’s war survival.
Given these biographers’ reductive interpretations of imaginative writing (as disguised autobiography and symbols), it’s probably to the book’s advantage that it has relatively little to say about Salinger’s work. Salinger is reductive about the life as well. One example: Shields and Salerno write that “From his introduction to Vedanta until his death in 2010, Salinger’s life strictly followed the four stages of life, or asramas, as explained by Salinger’s spiritual teacher Swami Nikhilananda.” A clumsy sentence, sure. The bigger problem: Shields and Salerno date Salinger’s earliest acquaintance with Vedanta to 1946. But they offer a description of the first asrama that covers Salinger’s life pre-1946 : as student, suitor of Oona O’Neill, writer for “the slicks,” and infantryman. In other words, Shields and Salerno have Salinger following Vedanta before he was following Vedanta.

Shields and Salerno seem so intent upon believing in their four-stage scheme of things that they miss obvious humor: Buddy Glass’s description of himself (in “Seymour: An Introduction”) as “a fourth-class Karma Yogin” has, I venture to say, nothing to do with the four asramas. “Fourth-class” is a self-deprecating joke. It should make us think of fourth-class mail.

Related reading
The worst sentence in Salinger so far (to page 137)
The worst sentences in Salinger so far (to page 244)
All J. D. Salinger posts (Pinboard)

comments: 2

Adair said...

I am just appalled by the book. I think that watching the film will sicken me. I'll pass on it...

Michael Leddy said...

I’m content to wait until it airs on PBS. I don’t want to give these guys another cent.