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ALBERT B. CASUGA, a Philippine-born writer, lives in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada, where he continues to write poetry, fiction, and criticism after his retirement from teaching and serving as an elected member of his region's school board. He was nominated to the Mississauga Arts Council Literary Awards in 2007. A graduate of the Royal and Pontifical University of St. Thomas (now University of Santo Tomas, Manila. Literature and English, magna cum laude), he taught English and Literature (Criticism, Theory, and Creative Writing) at the Philippines' De La Salle University and San Beda College. He has authored books of poetry, short stories, literary theory and criticism. He has won awards for his works in Canada, the U.S.A., and the Philippines. His latest work, A Theory of Echoes and Other Poems was published February 2009 by the University of Santo Tomas Publishing House. His fiction and poetry were published by online literary journals Asia Writes and Coastal Poems recently. He was a Fellow at the 1972 Silliman University Writers Workshop, Philippines. As a journalist, he worked with the United Press International and wrote an art column for the defunct Philippines Herald.

Monday, February 1, 2010

J.D. SALINGER, 1919-2010


(JANUARY 1, 1919 – JANUARY 27, 2010 (+))

Media had its final revenge on J.D. Salinger (Jerome David).

When his family announced his death “through natural causes” in his reclusive refuge at his rural Cornish , New Hampshire house, newspapers all around the world were ready with his obituary the next press roll – all the four national Canadian dailies, for instance, front-paged his unexpected demise, and got archivists salivating with full-page obits, and tried scooping each other silly with coup de grace stories on his being the grand recluse, the nemesis of “phoniness”, “the great writer, even better recluse”, with his “early fame, then decades of silence”, a “generation’s silent hero”, “an authentic in a world of phonies, Salinger gave us the gospel of Holden”, was a “silent hero (who) changed a generation”, oh, yes, a “literary giant (who) lived as a recluse”, and Hollywood film producers drooled over what may be “Salinger’s unpublished Gold Mine”, yah-dah-yah-dah.
O, how he would have turned in his yet un-dug grave to read about the news on his untimely demise. At 91, “untimely” would have been phony, and, indeed, the news about his death is embarrassingly “exaggerated.” After all, did not his recondite existence in cemented bunkers all through these years forswear any of these extravaganzas?

After the 1951 publication of his debut novel The Catcher in the Rye in 1951, he foreswore media interviews (including an appearance in Oprah’s TV show), publication, unauthorized biographies, fictionized sequels to Catcher, all communication with the literary world especially with publishers. No more publishers. No more stories (except that 1965 Hapworth 16, 1924, that ran in The New Yorker). After all, 65 million copies of Catcher have sustained his hermitage, and all publishers, book-tours, and book hawking be damned!

The Toronto Star obit written by its books columnist Geoff Pevere said, “He seldom spoke to the press, except in 1974 when, trying to fend off the unauthorized publication of his uncollected stories, he told a reporter from The New York Times: 'There is a marvellous peace in not publishing. It’s peaceful. Still. Publishing is a terrible invasion of my privacy. I love to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure.’ ”

The Globe and Mail obit by Hillel Italie (Jan. 29) subheaded: “The Catcher in the Rye’s Holden Caulfield defined an emerging postwar adolescence, in all its rebelliousness and alienation. He also embodied the author’s disdain for the world. Though the novel became an instant sensation, Salinger eschewed the trappings of literary stardom and retreated into a fiercely defended solitude.”

Italie quotes Salinger: “I love to write and I assure you I write regularly,” Mr. Salinger said in a brief interview with Baton Rouge (La.) Advocate in 1980. “But I write for myself, for my own pleasure. And I want to be left alone to do it.”

Italie cites New Hampshire neighbour Jerry Burt who said that the author had told him years earlier that he had written at least 15 unpubblished books kept locked in a safe at this home.” His literary representatives ( Ober Agency’s Phyllis Westberg. Heather Rizzo of Little, Brown and Co., however, disavow any information to that effect or that there are plans to open the vault to plan “for future releases.”

Mark Medley of the Weekend Post (National Post) quoted novelist Jay McInerney, “whose novel Bright Lights, Big City was compared to The Catcher in the Rye when it was published in 1984, told ABC News that he wasn’t sure Salinger had even written anything worth reading since publishing his final story, Hapworth 16, 1924, in the June 19, 1965 issue of the New Yorker.”

“I think there’s probably a lot in there, but I’m not sure if it’s necessarily what we hope it is,” McInerney told the network on Thursday (Jan. 28) when asked about the contents of Salinger’s legendary safe, where it ‘s alleged he ‘s kept his unpublished work. “Hapworth was not a traditional or terribly satisfying work of fiction. It was an insane epistolary monologue, virtually shapeless and formless. I have a feeling that his later work is in that vein.” Medley reported.

In the Globe’s January 29 front page, novelist Andrew Pyper chimed in with his estimate of Salinger’s legacy: “What stays with me from The Catcher in the Rye aren’t the events of the story, not even its oft-imitated prose style (trust me when I say you can’t teach a writing course today without finding at least one student trying to “do” Holden), but the sour consciousness of its protagonist, its prep school god of gloom.

“Holden Caulfield is the American Hamlet: a troubled maybe-genius haunted not by his father’s ghost, but by the ghouls of phoniness, the posturing culture of self aggrandizement that, at the time when Salinger was writing his novel, was only just beginning to come into fully realized hideousness.” Pyper pitched in to explain the influence of Salinger in the works of beat generation authors like Jack Kerouac (On the Road) and mores of a generation who would deify James Dean as filmdom’s reincarnation of Holden Caulfield.

National Post’s Barbara Kay explained Holden Caulfield (aka J.D. Salinger as an “urban, middle class Jewish, alienated John O’Hara for some; for others, a mystic whose principal motif was the ‘human exchange of beatific signal,’ a kind of Central Park Dostoevsky.”)

“Certainly, the slim Salinger oeuvre marks a turning point in American literary and social culture. Before Holden Caulfield arrived in the scene, maturity was something young people looked forward to with impatience and eagerness as a state in which one could set about doing things. After The Catcher in the Rye, the title a reference to Holden’s evocative image of himself saving children from falling off a cliff into a abyss of sexualized adulthood, maturity began to be perceived by adolescents as a place you become “phony” (the worst sin for Salinger), a kind of death of the soul’s authenticity (which itself is presented as a yearned-for state of being that is possible only in pre-sexualized children).”

Among North American school boards, Catcher became “both required and restricted reading, periodically banned by a school board or challenged by parents worried by its frank language and the chip on Holden’s shoulder.

Italie reports Salinger responding to this situation: “I’m aware that a number of my friends will be saddened, or shocked, or shock-saddened, over some of the chapters of The Catcher in the Rye. Some of my best friends are children. In fact, all of my best friends are children,” Mr. Salinger wrote in 1955, in a short note for 20th Century Authors.”

By the time Salinger wrote his final story, Hapworth 16, 1924, (in 1965) “he was viewed increasingly like a precocious child whose manner had soured from cute to insufferable. “

“Salinger was the greatest mind ever to stay in prep school,” Norman Mailer remarked once, Italie reported in the Globe obit.

That explains his disappearance from the scene.

Sulking about the “phoniness” that The Star’s Geoff Pevere assigned as among the “most tantalizing of Caulfield’s neuroses, given the nature of the man who created him, is the kid’s somewhat overwrought disinclination for social interaction. In short, whether out of fear or loathing, he can’t stand people: ‘I thought what I’d do was, I’d pretend I was one of those deafmutes,’ says Caulfield in the book. ‘That way I would not have to have any stupid useless conversations with anybody. If anybody wanted to tell me something, they’d have to write it on a piece of paper and shove it over to me. I’d build me a little cabin somewhere with the dough I made.”

“That’s more or less exactly what Salinger, with all the dough he made from Catcher (which still sells some quarter-million copies a year), did by purchasing a 36-heactare compound on a wooded hillside in Cornish, in 1953.” Pevere concluded.

Salinger, as his Caulfield, kicked the can out of the sandbox, ran away, and hid in the forest. In the process, he made hermitage another literary event that must now be grazed upon by the media in their frenzy to strip carrion from the deceased “recluse extraordinaire.”

I write for my own pleasure, Salinger said. Leave me alone, he said. Is that a plausible reason for ceasing publication of one’s works? Did he continue writing? Will his literary estate reveal that to an incredulous literary world?

To the credulous fans, why not? To every scribbler, a motive.

One writes not only for the money (Salinger got that with his first novel). But would one write to satisfy the cravings of the ego which has decided to anoint oneself as a vessel holding gems of wisdom that readers would be poorer without?

Or could one cocoon oneself into a universe of letters to explain phenomena that infringe on one’s existence? A escape into an organized world designed by contrived plots, characters, and epiphanies?

Would the solitude of writing without publishing help in shaping an understandable Weltanschauung for the author who virtually continues Adam’s work of naming things in one’s Paradise Regained? Would that process of identifying experience (necessarily through an aesthetic mode) make for a more acceptable universe, a fortiori a more tolerable existence?

Did Salinger simply want to explain his world without “phoniness”, so that every innocent Phoebe would inherit the earth? Why write at all?

I read The Catcher in the Rye eight years after its publication. I was a freshman at the university then. A published campus writer by that time, my university publication, The Varsitarian, accepted my short stories that might have serendipitously been “influenced” by Salinger’s Catcher.

Among those stories, I remember my protagonist, a young man impatient to understand his world and arrive at an acceptance of its grotesqueries: El Gato, (published by then literary editor Caesar Leyco Aguila); On a Hill Verdant (accepted by then literary editor Jaime Maidan Flores); Monday Morning in a Bus (published by then literary editor, Francisco S. Tatad), Orpheus in Canaoay (published by then literary editor Cirilo F. Bautista). All of my editors were themselves writers of excellent standing in the Philippine literary scene in the 60’s, (and certainly at present) a generation for those who lived and died by the code of the James Deans and the Marlon Brandos, and certainly the Holden Caulfields.

Literary pundits assign Salinger’s Holden Caulfield the quintessence of the unsullied conscience of the “authentic” and the rebel with a cause, but they seem to have forgotten that James Joyce in his A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man presented a more sterling Stephen Dedalus, who had himself exiled “to encounter for the millionth time the reality of experience and to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race.”

Caulfield is a phony for not seeing experience as fraught with the aberrations of scarred humanity. Dedalus would ask: Are you weary of ardent ways, /lure of fallen seraphim? /Tell no more of enchanted days.”

J.D. Salinger has gone to his ultimate retreat – may his reclusion give him peace. In Barbara Kay’s words: “Several generations of readers evidently have shared the same longing --- which is why Salinger lives on as a nostalgia figure, if not a prophet. Unless and until inner peace becomes the new American norm, his niche in the American canon is secure.”

Meanwhile, in Mark Medley’s National Post obiter dictum: “Read a headline on The Onion soon after the author’s death: “Bunch of Phonies Mourn J. D. Salinger.”

Further, this blog sayeth naught.

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