(Dear readers: some of you may have been wondering why I have not blogged my thoughts about the stunning news that five new J. D. Salinger books will be posthumously published. The truth is, I’m dumbstruck. I never expected to read another book about the wonderful Glass family, and I guess I won’t know what to say about this or any other book until I read it and find out if the work rings true to me or not.
At least one other Litkicks contributor, Eamon Loingsigh (who has written previously here about Lautreamont) had a less ambivalent reaction to the news. He’s pissed off — not about the books, but about the whole manipulative mystique of Salinger’s seclusion. Here’s what Eamon thinks. — Levi)
Well, it is the age of irony. How could we not have seen this coming?
Some writers have the gift and intelligence of knowing exactly how they’ll be seen when their work hits the bookstores. Some writers write about the immortal things in life and avoid the trends.
When news broke that J.D. Salinger had planned his books to be published after his death, I immediately had a vision too. Posthumously Published Press! The new rage!
Tag line? “Why publish your books while still alive when you can assure yourself of immortality by having them published after you’ve died.”
You wouldn’t even need a publicist! It’s an even better schtick for a writer than committing suicide.
When once suicide and posthumously published works were a matter of earnest struggle, emotional turbulence, disease or divine intervention metamorphosing into invoked immortality, now it can easily become the norm. Let’s turn it into an industry. This is America!
Okay, that’s enough of the snarky attitude.
In reality, Salinger was known as the penultimate recluse. Even though we would have paid any price for anything that came out with his name on it.
In 1951, he wrote The Catcher in the Rye and for generations afterward, the name Holden Caulfield became a symbol for our youthful striving for truth, and our subsequent rebellion in the perverted adult world. The official bildungsroman in a genre that churns them out all year, every year.
By 1965, he had published his last work. The literary world would never again hear from him. But we hoped he would publish more. We waited. Jumped at rumors of impending releases only to be left with the big question mark (see: tension building) when in 2010, he died.
Salinger got it right. Just like he got a lot right in his books and short stories. He knew how to tell a story, even if it is a meta fiction turned on its ear. When I look at the few Salinger author photos known to exist, I see a perfectionist. Not a hair out of place. A manicured half-smile. A subliminally humble tweed jacket from a conspicuous Upper West Side childhood.
You can see it in his work too. This was a man that poured over the use of every word. Every syllable. I won’t go into his personal life, but there too we can see the evidence of a rigid nit-picker.
Can it not be agreed that Salinger was a recluse because he felt he lost control over the perception of his work after it entered the public domain? There are many reasons why he would choose to have his work published posthumously, control over perception is certainly one.
Another glance into the mind of a perfectionist in a field where articulate criticism gives birth to careers for young hungry writers, is to witness his feeling of necessity to be among the elite.
Hermann Hesse used to describe Wolfgang Von Goethe as an “immortal” among writers — like Mozart among musicians. Salinger too knew the ultimate value in immortality and was willing to pay the ultimate price.
Most writers know the value of their personal brand in an age of brands. A good publicist can make quite a nice living by creating a literary personality, a “life-narrative” solely designed to pull public heartstrings.
Making a story out of the writer is business, and Salinger now, after his death, is writing his own script for literary heaven.
When we read the new works, which will be detailed soon in a PBS American Masters series, we must keep in mind that this is the contrivance of a manipulative and quite intriguing master of his own fate.
I’m sure that won’t stop us, though.