Sunday, August 25, 2013

Salinger vs. Fitzgerald in the Quest for Inter- Cultural Interest (or Thoughts after Killing a Whole Sunday with the New York Times)

I just finished reading the New York Times article on the release of new Salinger works and I thought "ehh". Now, before anyone gets up in arms, before Salingerologists  call for my head on a platter, I mean no great offence. What I mean is simply that I have a lukewarm response to the author's published works (fingers crossed for the new work!). In fact, I voiced the nefarious 'ehh' at the kitchen table during breakfast and so, there it was- hanging in the air between the toast and tea and I had to address it, since my husband questioned its existence.

I have to clarify the expertise of my opinion here- I admit the obvious fallacy of having only read Fran and Zooey and (of course, collective eye roll) The Catcher in the Rye. So my response is based on this limited intake. I explained that I read The Cather in the Rye with a voracious appetite, waiting for my life to change, and it didn't. In fact I was bored. Its not that I didn't read beyond the lean prose and into the dense alienation or the undertones of loneliness and disenfranchisement with an inherited identity; it was just that simply, it didn't 'speak' to me or my experience or really, my worldview. I talked myself into a corner and found myself arguing my way back out, though my husband had said nothing to my reply at all. 

"Its not that I think that literature belongs exclusively within and for the culture in which it was created, I just can't find the link into this privileged, caucasian, American world."  Jesus, did I really say that? I did. And its true. I don't agree that First Nations authored literature is for our communities only or that Italian operas are for Italians exclusively, for that matter (on this, my friend Tomson Highway and I agree). So why was I finding it so difficult to penetrate the cultural settings in Catcher? 

I blame Salinger. (Ok, call for the knife and platter now.) I think that if you  are going to each beyond the immediate layer of culture and nomenclature that surrounds your understanding of the world, that you need to be an exacting and profound writer. The first thing that comes to mind is the book I always hold forth to students when illustrating the beauty and magic of a great edit 'The Great Gatsby.' What the hell do I care about privileged, caucasian Americans frolicking, fucking and killing in the 20's? Except that Fitzgerald makes me care. The words in this novel are one of the most carefully curated collections I've encountered. The way each consonant clicks at the right time and each vowel pours when they should. The way the scenes are illuminated first by the moon and then by the glare of noon-day sun is purposeful and emotive. And I suddenly give a shit about this motley group of degenerates and socialites- often one in the same. 

Be great or stay home... or rather, be great or those at home with be your biggest fans and others will find you lukewarm. 

The important thing that happens with Gatsby, for me, is that Fitzgerald never lets the thread of this particular community slacken; never veers from the worldview, language, political and highly problematic racial standings, yet manages to present this world in such a beautifully crafted frame that I linger at the portrait long enough to be drawn in.

So, I will give Salinger another try, I promise (suggest more of his work to sway to skeptical here, fans), but in the mean time, I'm going to re-read Gatsby.

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