Salinger: Attention, lire peut tuer (Watch myself getting tough in the mirror: Looking back at the violent subtext of The Catcher in the Rye)

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C’est une casquette de chasse à l’homme. Moi je la mets pour chasser l’homme. Holden Caulfield (Catcher in the rye, chap. 3)
Et alors je serais probablement resté sans bouger pendant cinq bonnes minutes, les foutus gants à la main et tout, en me disant que ce type je devrais bien lui balancer mon poing sur la gueule et lui défoncer la mâchoire. La suite, c’est que je manquerais d’estomac. Je resterais là à m’efforcer d’avoir l’air d’un dur. Ou alors peut-être je dirais quelque chose de cinglant et vachard pour le vexer au lieu de lui casser les dents. (…) Et ça pourrait durer des heures. Finalement, je me tirerais sans l’avoir effleuré. J’irais sans doute aux chiottes pour fumer une sèche en douce et me regarder devenir un gros dur dans la glace des lavabos. Holden Caulfield (Catcher in the rye, chap. 13)
Quelqu’un avait écrit « je t’encule » sur le mur … J’aurais bien tué celui qui avait écrit ça … je me voyais le prendre sur le fait et lui écraser la tête contre les marches de pierre jusqu’à ce qu’il soit mort et en sang. Holden Caulfield (Catcher in the rye, chap. 25)
Most young male characters in the movies are based on the character of Holden Caulfield. It’s been a very steady influence in the last 30 years. Every young man goes through the experiences of Holden Caulfield. Toby Maguire has made a career of being an updated Holden Caulfield. ‘The Ice Storm’ is almost a direct takeoff on ‘Catcher in the Rye.’ Since ‘Dead Poets Society,’ Ethan Hawke has played on that type of theme. Even Edward Burns, although not as young as the others, seems to fit that category. Raymond Haberski
Salinger touched on what’s at the heart of American repression: familial neglect. Parents are not paying attention or are aware of the movement of their children. That’s one of the worst things you can do. My ‘Good Girl’ character is disturbed, and I place the blame on the parents. Jake Gyllenhaal
I’ve been comparing ‘Igby’ to ‘Catcher in the Rye, Like Holden, Igby is very bright and very ironic, while the adults are lost and miserable and also affluent. When I first read ‘Catcher in the Rye,’ I didn’t identify with that kind of rebel. At the time, I thought he should get his act together. Boys are just much slower to mature in ways critical to society. They’re a couple of years behind the gals. It’s a developmental kind of glitch. Susan Sarandon
I wasn’t consciously influenced by ‘Catcher in the Rye’. I got kicked out of a prep school in Connecticut and a military school in Indiana. I liken it to being a musician and being influenced by the music ingrained in you, like the Beatles. It’s that journey of finding out. It’s a mythic story — just like ‘The Graduate’ or ‘The 400 Blows’ or ‘Hamlet.’ You feel like an anachronism in the world you’ve been born into. Everyone around you seems insane, and they see you as insane. A lot of movies have been influenced by this myth: ‘Flirting,’ ‘Rushmore,’ ‘The Graduate,’ ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien.’ I don’t think this situation will ever be played out. It’s mythic. It didn’t start with ‘Catcher in the Rye.’ It started with Christ, who rebelled against everything around him. It’s always been about iconoclasts rebelling against what came before them, challenging the rules and customs. Burr Steers
To me, ‘Catcher in the Rye’ is part of a literary trend that goes back to Goethe’s ‘The Sorrows of Werther’ (1774). I don’t think Salinger discovered it. He just did the quintessential American version. Mike White
« American Beauty, » for example, is at odds with « the tone and general warmth of Salinger. Salinger’s influence takes a comedic form, a life-affirming form. ‘American Beauty’ showed the dark underside of American culture, going further than I think Salinger would ever dream of. As for « Finding Forrester, you might find some kind of resonance with Salinger himself in Sean Connery’s character, although the boy (Rob Brown) is a little bland rather than plucky. And there is a kinship with ‘Wonder Boys.’ Toby Maguire’s character is plucky to a certain extent, and he takes chances. Anthony Caputi (Cornell University)
Ever since the book came out, it’s been a touchstone of that demographic — the 17-year-old kid who sees himself not fitting in. Movies like ‘American Pie’ and ‘Beavis & Butthead’ — guys looking for a good time — that genre is playing out. ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien’ is the perfect example of a movie that bridges the two kinds of movies. It starts out like ‘Dude, Where’s My Car?’ but becomes a thoughtful movie about the kids’ relationship to society. ‘Orange County’ (the teen movie White wrote last year starring Colin Hanks) had a Salinger element. It featured a book that changed a young man’s life, and he goes and seeks out the professor who wrote it. For me, it was about a kid’s quest for the meaning of life. Maybe a more thoughtful teenage coming-of-age movie is coming back into vogue. Mike White
it’s likely that Hinton’s echo of the testimonial frame Salinger used in “The Catcher in the Rye” (“If you really want to hear about it”) wasn’t consciously intended, nor was Hinton’s literalization of Holden’s “If a body catch a body coming through the rye” into the rescue of a group of children from a burning church. In fact, what struck me most as an adult reader (and sometime Y.A. novelist) is the degree to which “The Outsiders” is derivative of the popular literature of its time, sometimes obliquely, as in the Salinger parallels, sometimes more directly. Dale Peck
A substitute teacher out on Long Island was dropped from his job for fighting with a student. A few weeks later, the teacher returned to the classroom, shot the student unsuccessfully, held the class hostage and then shot himself. Successfully. This fact caught my eye: last sentence. Times. A neighbor described him as a nice boy. Always reading Catcher in the Rye. John Guare (« Six degrees of separation »)
You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? You talkin’ to me? Then who the hell else are you talkin’ to? You talkin’ to me? Well I’m the only one here. Who the fuck do you think you’re talking to? Travis Bickle (« Taxi driver »)
God is a concept by which we measure our pain I don’t believe in Bible I don’t believe in Jesus (…) I don’t believe in Beatles (…) I just believe in me Yoko and me and that’s reality … John Lennon
Imagine there is no heaven It’s easy if you try No hell below us Above us only sky It isn’t hard to do (…) Nothing to kill or die for And no religion, too. (…) Imagine no possessionsJohn Lennon
When I left England I still couldn’t go on the street. It was still Carnaby Street and all that stuff was going on. We couldn’t walk around the block and go to a restaurant unless you wanted to go with the business of ‘the star going to the restaurant’ garbage. Now, here, I’ve been walking the streets for the last seven years. When we first moved to New York we actually lived in the village, Greenwich Village, the arty farty section of town where all the students and the would-be’s live, and a few old poets. Yoko told me, « Yes, you can walk on the street! » but I would be walking all tense-like, waiting for someone to say something or jump on me. It took me two years to unwind. I can go out of this door now and go to a restaurant. Do you want to know how great that is? Or go to the movies? People come up and ask for autographs or say « Hi! » but they won’t bug you. They say « How ya doing? Like your record » or « How ya doing? How’s the baby?… John Lennon
Who does he think he is saying these things about God and heaven and the Beatles? Mark David Chapman
I wasn’t killing a real person. I was killing an image. I was killing an album cover. Mark David Chapman
The notorious murderer Haig who killed and drank blood said he was inspired by the sacrament of the Eucharist. Does that mean we should ban the Bible? Anthony Burgess
I begin to accept that as a novelist, I belong to the ranks of the menacing. Anthony Burgess
I discussed the matter of the novelist’s moral responsibility with George Dwyer in his Leeds Bishopric. I was invited to a Yorkshire Post literary luncheon at which he said grace. George had written his master thesis on Baudelaire and knew all about flowers of evil. Literature, even the kind celebrated at a literary luncheon, was an aspect of the fallen world and one of its tasks was to clarify the nature of the fall. Thoughtful readers of novels with criminal, or merely sinful protagonists achieved catharsis through horror, setting themselves at a distance from their own sinful inheritance. As for thoughtless readers, there was no doing anything with them. With the demented literature could prime acts of evil, but that was not the fault of literature. the Bible had inspired a New York killer to sacrifice children to a satanic Jehovah; the murderer Haigh, who drank the blood of the women he slaughtered, was obsessed with the Eucharist. Anthony Burgess
The city’s schisms reflect a cultural schizophrenia as well. As Paul explains in a soliloquy inspired by  »The Catcher in the Rye, » we live in a time when imagination has become  »something outside ourselves » – not an integral part of our identities, a tool for the essential act of self-examination, but an anesthetizing escape from the inner life we should be embracing and exploring. So topsy-turvy is our definition of culture, in Paul’s view, that J. D. Salinger’s  »touching, beautiful, sensitive story » has been turned into  »a manifesto of hate » by assassins like Mark David Chapman and John Hinckley who use Holden Caulfield’s social estrangement as an excuse to commit murder. Frank Rich
The nitwit — Chapman — who shot John Lennon said he did it because he wanted to draw the attention of the world to The Catcher in the Rye and the reading of the book would be his defense. And young Hinckley, the whiz kid who shot Reagan and his press secretary, said if you want my defense all you have to do is read Catcher in the Rye. It seemed to be time to read it again. (…) I borrowed a copy from a young friend of mine because I wanted to see what she had underlined and I read this book to find out why this touching, beautiful, sensitive story published in July 1951 had turned into this manifesto of hate. I started reading. It’s exactly as I remembered. Everybody’s a phony. Page two: « My brother’s in Hollywood being a prostitute. » Page three: « What a phony his father was. » Page nine: « People never notice anything. » Then on page 22 my hair stood up. Remember Holden Caulfield — the definitive sensitive youth — wearing his red hunter’s cap. « A deer hunter hat? Like hell it is. I sort of closed one eye like I was taking aim at it. This is a people-shooting hat. I shoot people in this hat. » Hmmm, I said. This book is preparing people for bigger moments in their lives than I ever dreamed of. Then on page 89: « I’d rather push a guy out the window or chop his head off with an ax than sock him in the jaw…I hate fist fights…what scares me most is the other guy’s face… » I finished the book. It’s a touching story, comic because the boy wants to do so much and can’t do anything. Hates all phoniness and only lies to others. Wants everyone to like him, is only hateful, and he is completely self-involved. In other words, a pretty accurate picture of a male adolescent. And what alarms me about the book — not the book so much as the aura about it … John Guare
If one person uses something I have written as the justification for killing somebody, I’d say: “God, people are crazy!” But if three people use something I’d written as justification, I would be very very troubled by it. John Guare
In the months and years after Lennon’s murder, it was as if the secret life of The Catcher in the Rye came above ground for the first time since the book’s publication in 1951. It was found in Hinckley’s hotel room after he was arrested, and in 1989 Robert John Bardo had a copy of it on him when he murdered the actress Rebecca Schaeffer. The next year, in John Guare’s play Six Degrees of Separation, the con man protagonist holds forth on the book’s attraction to the violently disturbed, quoting Holden’s remark that his ever-present red hat is a “people-shooting hat.” In Richard Donner’s 1997 thriller Conspiracy Theory, the mere purchase of the book at a Barnes & Noble is enough to trip a signal to the computers of an unnamed government agency. Whoever reads Catcher, it seems, is up to no good. You could say that those events are signposts on the novel’s journey from shared totem to shared joke, or that the journey is part of the postmodern irony we’re all drowning in, when we’ve become too cool to be affected by Holden’s open wound of a psyche. But Catcher has become something even less harmless than a joke or postmodernism: a classic. The generations that once had to read it on the sly, or who saw their teachers face the ire of school boards and parents for assigning it, are now senior citizens or entering late middle age. While the book has retained its status as one of the most-censored books in American schools, that distinction now seems almost quaint. But God help The Catcher in the Rye should it ever stop being persecuted. What better confirmation for Holden’s disciples of the threat still posed by the phonies? It’s axiomatic that Holden Caulfield is the patron saint of adolescent sensitivity, that Catcher shows the cruelty with which the world treats such sensitivity and that the novel ends with a saddened, bruised Holden poised to re-enter that world and thus aware that, to make his way in it, he has to leave his sensitivity behind. What makes it hard to sustain that image of the book is reading it. “The cruellest thing you can do to Kerouac is to reread him at thirty-eight,” says a character in Hanif Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia. The cruelest thing you can do to Salinger, who died a year ago, on January 27, is to reread his fiction when an adolescent’s sneer and perpetual outrage over perceived injustice no longer seem an adequate way to view the world. If Holden Caulfield, that relentless hunter of phonies, hadn’t been there for Mark David Chapman to discover, Chapman could have invented him. Chapman’s claim that the book was his statement is disarmingly honest. Chapman, like many of us, heard the hypocrisy in John Lennon’s singing “Imagine no possessions.” But Chapman couldn’t chalk that silly line up to rock-star folly or, as Neil Young did many years later in a telethon performance to raise money for 9/11 families, rewrite the line to point it back at the person singing it: “Imagine no possessions/I wonder if I can.” Chapman, a 25-year-old with the zero-sum ethics of the most self-dramatizing adolescent, saw it as the inevitable betrayal. How dare Lennon sing about imagining no possessions while living in the Dakota? (…) As a public figure, Salinger was due the kind of freedom and anonymity Lennon enjoyed in Manhattan. But in the small town in New Hampshire to which Salinger retreated in 1953, you really can withdraw from the world. Yet for Salinger, retreat was immersion in a familiar point of view. Withdrawal—physical, emotional, spiritual—is the overriding preoccupation of his fiction. There are few authors who argue so strenuously, so consistently for exclusivity and insularity, who are so repulsed by human imperfection, especially the physical kind, as Salinger. In his fictional world compassion is extended only to those who have made the cut or whose need of compassion—like the mythical Fat Lady at the end of Franny and Zooey—can provide a vessel into which the characters can pour their higher sensibility. (…) Just as the stories constrict physically, they retreat emotionally into realms of Eastern mysticism that, for all the words Salinger lavishes on them, remain vague astral paths to some presumed higher state of consciousness. It all starts with Way of the Pilgrim, the book that unhinges Franny; and though it’s a Christian tract, Zooey likens its aim of automatic incessant prayer to the Eastern concept of the seven chakras, the opening of the third eye and such. It’s a short hop from there to Buddy (in “Seymour; an Introduction”) saying that the true poet or painter is “the only seer we have on earth” and that Seymour’s aim, the “hallmark, then, of the advanced religious,” was to find Christ in the most unimaginable places, Seymour’s preferred spot for Savior-sighting being loaded ashtrays. Some people take those spiritual preoccupations very seriously. In his new Salinger bio, Kenneth Slawenski suggests that the reason Mary McCarthy couldn’t abide Franny and Zooey is that her memoir Memories of a Catholic Girlhood, revealed “her disgust with religion, her descent into atheism, and the transfer of her faith into her own intellect.” The crude reduction of McCarthy’s book aside, it’s clear that acolytes, not apostates, are the ones qualified to enter Salinger’s higher realms. (…) The Catcher in the Rye, written before Salinger started larding his work with quotations from The Way of a Pilgrim and koans from the Mu Mon Kwan, can’t fall back on higher aspirations to disguise its misanthropy. The book squirms with a physical revulsion that is far too consistent and far too strong to belong merely to Holden—and besides, it remained a staple of Salinger’s writing. Salinger couldn’t get through the first paragraph of “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” without having Muriel tweezing hairs from a mole. Franny imagines the Fat Lady as not just having veiny legs but cancer. Catcher has a puerile, disgusted fascination with nose-picking, toenail clippings, grotty teeth, razors clogged with hair and lather. The essentials of a prep-school wardrobe can’t disguise the unkempt bodies they adorn. At times, the novel is all pimples and tweed. (…) Because so many of the people who repulse Holden are Ivy Leaguers or preps or the sort who might get fawned over by a snobbish bartender, it has been easy to talk of Catcher as a book about being an outsider when really it’s the exact opposite. There are so few people who make the cut—not just in Catcher but in all of Salinger’s work—that the reader who surrenders is reduced to hoping he or she is cool enough to be admitted to this club. This is what Mary McCarthy meant when she said that the book reads us. Don’t ever tell anybody anything,” the book ends. “If you do, you start missing everybody,” affirming silence over an admission of need. Only disconnect. It’s an attitude that puts Catcher in opposition to the great American coming-of-age novels—The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Member of the Wedding, True Grit—all books in which the protagonist is brought into close contact with people very unlike the protagonist, people whose humanity he or she can’t deny. Charles Taylor

John Lennon (pour attirer l’attention de la jeune actrice du « Taxi driver » de Scorsese), Reagan (via le même « Taxi driver » inspiré du journal de l’assassin de George Wallace et son « se regarder devenir un gros dur dans la glace des lavabos »), Rebecca Schaeffer

A l’heure où l’un des jeux vidéo les plus violents de l’histoire qui apprend à nos jeunes à abattre de simples passants se voit qualifier par nos sociologues de « fresque digne des œuvres de Steinbeck ou de Welles » …

Et suite à nos deux derniers billets sur la sortie d’une nouvelle biographie et d’un documentaire sur l’auteur culte de L’Attrape-coeurs » …

Comment ne pas repenser à tous ces livres ou films qu’il a plus ou moins directement ou consciemment influencés …

Mais aussi à tous ces livres qui, comme son « Catcher in the rye » avec son bilan de pas moins de trois assassinats ou tentatives d’assassinat, ont pu inspirer la pire violence ?

When books kill

Movies and video games get blamed for acts of senseless violence all the time. But some famous murderers got their ideas from literature.

Aidan Doyle

Salon

Dec 15, 2003

We’ve all heard about how computer games and films have supposedly influenced people to commit violence. In October a $246 million lawsuit was lodged against the makers of the game Grand Theft Auto III by the families of two people shot by teenagers allegedly inspired by the game. Such movies as “Natural Born Killers,” “A Clockwork Orange” and “Money Train” have routinely been accused of inspiring copycat crimes. But what about novels? Is literature incapable of inspiring moronic acts of mayhem?

Many of the controversial novels of the last century were publicly condemned because it was believed they would lead to a decay in public morals. These criticisms were often patronizing (“Won’t somebody please think of the children?”), expressing the belief that less educated members of society were likely to imitate anything and everything they read. The prosecutor in the 1960 British obscenity trial of “Lady Chatterley’s Lover” asked jurors if it was the kind of book they wanted their wife or servants to read.

As ludicrous as that may sound today, obviously people are influenced by what they see and read, and authors have little control over how people will react to the ideas in their books. Although Isaac Asimov was a fierce critic of religion and New Age thinking, the Japanese doomsday cult Aum Shinrikyo was heavily influenced by his “Foundation” series of novels. The novels depict a universe where a galactic empire has become decadent and ripe for collapse. The empire’s ruling planet is a vast hive of people and the only natural environment is the garden surrounding the emperor’s palace. Only the foresight of Hari Seldon and his secret society of scientists can preserve civilization’s knowledge before it is lost in the dark ages. Seldon’s followers convert their society into a religion, believing “it is the most potent device known with which to control men and worlds.”

Although Asimov based his empire on ancient Rome, members of Aum Shinrikyo saw similarities between Asimov’s empire and modern Japanese society. The cult’s founder, Shoko Asahara, preached that civilization was coming to an end and only the faithful would survive. He gathered around him a team of scientists from diverse disciplines. David Kaplan and Andrew Marshall’s “The Cult at the End of the World” outlines how the cult’s chief scientist, Hideo Murai, saw Aum’s mission to save humanity from the coming apocalypse as mirroring the Foundation’s struggle:

“In an interview, Murai would state matter-of-factly that Aum was using the Foundation series as the blueprint for the cult’s long term plans. He gave the impression of ‘a graduate student who had read too many science fiction novels,’ remembered one reporter. But it was real enough to the cult. Shoko Asahara, the blind and bearded guru from Japan, had become Hari Seldon; and Aum Shinrikyo was the Foundation.”

Asahara directed his scientists to create a variety of chemical and biological weapons to fight their enemies. When the predicted apocalypse wasn’t forthcoming, Asahara decided to take matters into his own hands. On March 20, 1995, some of his followers released sarin gas in the Tokyo subway, killing 12 people and injuring more than 5,000.

An article in the Guardian, the British newspaper, speculated that “Foundation” may have also influenced Osama bin Laden and al-Qaida. It related claims that “Foundation” had been translated into Arabic under the title “al-Qaeda” — which means the base or foundation — and that bin Laden might have identified with the idea of a small group of rebels fighting against a decadent evil empire. This speculation has not, however, been widely accepted. It isn’t even clear that an Arabic version of the novel was ever published.

“Foundation” is not the only novel to have influenced terrorists. A copy of “The Turner Diaries” was found in Timothy McVeigh’s car when he was arrested. The novel was written by a leader of the National Alliance and tells the story of a white supremacist group that overthrows the government and subsequently eradicates nonwhites as well as “race traitors.” The narrator destroys FBI headquarters by detonating a truck loaded with ammonium nitrate and fuel oil. McVeigh used a similar mechanism to destroy the federal building in Oklahoma City, killing 168 people.

Several of McVeigh’s friends testified he had given them copies of the book, encouraging them to read it. McVeigh had highlighted phrases in his copy of the book including: “the real value of all of our attacks today lies in the psychological impact, not in the immediate casualties,” as well as one promising that politicians will not escape: “We can still find them and kill them.” The novel ends with the narrator flying a bomb-laden plane into the Pentagon.

Another bomber with a fondness for reading was Ted Kaczynski. The Unabomber was a big fan of Joseph Conrad’s “The Secret Agent,” an ironic novel in which a university professor turned anarchist is recruited to blow up a scientific icon, London’s Greenwich Observatory. A Washington Post article revealed that prior to Kaczynski’s arrest, the FBI had suspected the novel’s influence and contacted Conrad scholars to help them in constructing their profile.

Author Joe Haldeman has spoken about the unintended influence of a short story he published in the Magazine of Science Fiction & Fantasy in 1974. In “To Howard Hughes: A Modest Proposal,” a blackmailer forces world disarmament by developing his own nuclear bomb. Haldeman says the story contained “pretty detailed instructions for acquiring plutonium and constructing a subcritical nuclear device (information not that easy to find, pre-Internet, but nothing classified) … [Someone] used the story as a template and wrote a blackmail letter to the mayor of Los Angeles, saying he had a van parked somewhere downtown with a nuclear bomb in it, and he’d blow it up in 24 hours if he didn’t get a million dollars, delivered to such-and-such a park at noon. Evidently the details were accurate enough for them to respond with a suitcase full of money, and of course a park full of agents disguised as normal people. The miscreant turned out to be a 15-year-old science fiction fan.”

Science fiction operates on a grander scale than other genres, often portraying world-changing events that can be attractive to people who want to change the world. Such was the case with Robert Heinlein’s highly influential novel “Stranger in a Strange Land.” Time magazine reported that Charles Manson used the novel as a blueprint for his infamous family and that it led to the murder of Sharon Tate and others. It was later revealed, however, that Manson had never read the novel.

Some of Manson’s followers had indeed adopted ideas and terminology from the book into their rituals. “Stranger in a Strange Land” features a Martian with superpowers who comes to earth and starts a free love movement. The novel also influenced others to form their own polygamous societies, including a “neo-pagan” group known as the Church of All Worlds. The church’s Web site explains how its founders were inspired by Heinlein’s novel: “This book suggested a spiritual and social way of life and was a metaphor expressing the awakening social consciousness of the times.” (The Church of All Worlds has not been linked to any murders.)

Films reach a much wider audience than novels and often the real public outcry about a book isn’t raised until the film version is released. “A Clockwork Orange” was blamed for inspiring so many copycat crimes — from homeless people beaten to death to a gang rape where the attackers sang “Singin’ in the Rain” — that director Stanley Kubrick had it withdrawn from cinemas in England. The book’s author, Anthony Burgess, insisted that there was no definitive proof “that a work of art can stimulate antisocial behavior … the notorious murderer Haig who killed and drank [his victims’] blood said he was inspired by the sacrament of the Eucharist. Does that mean we should ban the Bible?”

Burgess was later to change his mind after the 1993 murder near Liverpool, England, in which 2-year-old James Bulger was abducted and tortured to death by two 10-year-old boys. The horror film “Child’s Play 3″ was linked to the case, and Burgess wrote that he now accepted the arts could exert a negative influence, adding, “I begin to accept that as a novelist, I belong to the ranks of the menacing.”

Criminals will sometimes blame a work of fiction for their crimes, hoping to shift responsibility. These claims are inevitably treated with considerable skepticism. But one book that has been linked to a number of serial killers is John Fowles’ “The Collector.” The 1963 novel tells the story of a butterfly collector who becomes so obsessed with a woman called Miranda that he kidnaps and imprisons her in his cellar. California serial killers Charles Ng and Leonard Lake named one of their schemes “Operation Miranda.” Lake later committed suicide, but Ng was found guilty of the imprisonment, torture and murder of 11 people during the 1980s. Ng blamed Lake for the murders and said he had been inspired to capture the women after reading “The Collector.”

In Fowles’ novel, Miranda encourages her kidnapper to read “The Catcher in the Rye,” hoping he might identify with Holden Caulfield’s feelings of alienation. Her captor complains that he doesn’t like the book and is annoyed that Holden doesn’t try harder to fit into society. There are enough rumors about murders linked to J.D. Salinger’s classic that the unwitting assassins in the Mel Gibson film “Conspiracy Theory” are portrayed as being brainwashed with the urge to buy the novel.

John Lennon’s murderer, Mark David Chapman, was famously obsessed with “The Catcher in the Rye.” Chapman wanted to change his name to Holden Caulfield and once wrote in a copy of the book “This is my statement,” and signed the protagonist’s name. He had a copy of the book in his possession when the police arrested him.

French author Max Valentin (a pseudonym) got more than he bargained for when he wrote “On the Path of the Golden Owl,” a 1993 novel featuring clues to the location of a real-life buried treasure. France was gripped with treasure-hunting fever as readers tried to find a replica of the golden owl (which could be exchanged for the real one) that Valentin had buried somewhere in rural France. In an interview with the Times of London, the author said he had received death threats and bribes amid the torrent of mail from people wanting to know where the owl was hidden.

He does not customarily respond to questions about the owl’s location, but once had to intervene to stop someone from digging up a cemetery. Others have gone even further. “There was one who tried to dig up a train track,” he said, “and another who walked into a bank with a pickaxe and started to dig up the floor of the lobby. I’ve told everyone it is buried in a public place but some people are crazy … a man had firebombed a church and left behind a book containing the message: ‘The golden owl is underneath the chapel.’” After more than 10 years, no one has yet managed to find the golden owl.

Voir aussi:

The Ballad of John and J.D.: On John Lennon and J.D. Salinger

Mark David Chapman was carrying a copy of The Catcher in the Rye when he shot John Lennon. The murder was a collision of cultures.

Charles Taylor

The Nation

January 26, 2011 (February 14, 2011 edition)

“A local crackpot.” That’s how a New York City cop, quoted by a TV reporter, described the man who had just been arrested for shooting John Lennon at the entrance to the Dakota. The cop turned out to be only half right: Mark David Chapman had come from Hawaii.

I can’t find the remark in any of the accounts of December 8, 1980, but it has stuck with me for thirty years. The cop didn’t appear on camera, but the way the reporter quoted him still makes me think that I’d heard the remark straight from his mouth. Cutting through all the breaking-news urgency, through the anchors and reporters who, having failed to rise to an unthinkable occasion, fumbled for shopworn lines about the man whose music united a generation, the policeman’s words conveyed disgust, dismissiveness, a determination to keep this killer, whoever he was, in his place. Who, the cop was asking, was this nobody to have murdered John Lennon?

Chapman’s identity, as it was pieced together through the following day, was slotted into a narrative predicated on his being a nobody. He was a fat loser who couldn’t hold a job, the newscasters said, who drifted from place to place, who wrestled with mental problems. Killing John Lennon was Chapman’s shortcut to fame—just as shooting Ronald Reagan would be John Hinckley’s a few months later.

But to Chapman, the nobody was Lennon. Chapman later reportedly said that in the week before the assassination he’d been listening to John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band, the raw and abrasive 1970 record on which Lennon purged his music of the gorgeous harmonies and studio lushness of the Beatles. And yet for everything that was stripped down about the record, it is, like the music it turned its back on, magisterial. The penultimate track, “God,” builds to a close with Lennon’s rising list of denunciations: “I don’t believe in Bible … I don’t believe in Jesus … I don’t believe in Beatles.” “Who does he think he is,” Chapman remembered thinking, “saying these things about God and heaven and the Beatles?”

“I kept wanting to kill whoever’d written it…. I kept picturing myself catching him at it, and how I’d smash his head on the stone steps till he was good and goddam dead and bloody.” That’s not Chapman talking, though he had wished that it was. The voice belongs to Holden Caulfield, the name that Chapman signed in the paperback copy of The Catcher in the Rye that he was carrying with him when he shot Lennon. The signature appeared under the words “This is my statement.” After murdering Lennon, Chapman began reading from J.D. Salinger’s novel, which is what he was doing when the cops found him. A few months later at his sentencing hearing, asked if he wished to give a statement, Chapman offered these lines from Catcher:

Anyway, I keep picturing all these little kids playing some game in this big field of rye and all. Thousands of little kids, and nobody’s around—nobody big, I mean—except me. And I’m standing on the edge of some crazy cliff. What I have to do, I have to catch everybody if they start to go over the cliff—I mean if they’re running and they don’t look where they’re going I have to come out from somewhere and catch them. That’s all I’d do all day. I’d just be the catcher in the rye and all.

Using Caulfield’s words to explain himself was taken as more proof that Chapman, who instructed his lawyer not to mount an insanity defense, was crazy. In any event, at the time it was easier to think Chapman was nuts than to think about the collision of two totems, easier than asking how many members of the American generation that had embraced John Lennon could also feel their adolescent angst was given voice by a book so opposed to everything Lennon and the Beatles had stood for. No one dwelt on that side of the story.

* * *

In the months and years after Lennon’s murder, it was as if the secret life of The Catcher in the Rye came aboveground for the first time since the book’s publication in 1951. It was found in Hinckley’s hotel room after he was arrested, and in 1989 Robert John Bardo had a copy of it on him when he murdered the actress Rebecca Schaeffer. The next year, in John Guare’s play Six Degrees of Separation, the con man protagonist holds forth on the book’s attraction to the violently disturbed, quoting Holden’s remark that his ever-present red hat is a “people-shooting hat.” In Richard Donner’s 1997 thriller Conspiracy Theory, the mere purchase of the book at a Barnes & Noble is enough to trip a signal to the computers of an unnamed government agency. Whoever reads Catcher, it seems, is up to no good.

You could say that those events are signposts on the novel’s journey from shared totem to shared joke, or that the journey is part of the postmodern irony we’re all drowning in, when we’ve become too cool to be affected by Holden’s open wound of a psyche. But Catcher has become something even less harmless than a joke or postmodernism: a classic. The generations that once had to read it on the sly, or who saw their teachers face the ire of school boards and parents for assigning it, are now senior citizens or entering late middle age. While the book has retained its status as one of the most-censored books in American schools, that distinction now seems almost quaint. But God help The Catcher in the Rye should it ever stop being persecuted. What better confirmation for Holden’s disciples of the threat still posed by the phonies?

It’s axiomatic that Holden Caulfield is the patron saint of adolescent sensitivity, that Catcher shows the cruelty with which the world treats such sensitivity and that the novel ends with a saddened, bruised Holden poised to re-enter that world and thus aware that, to make his way in it, he has to leave his sensitivity behind. What makes it hard to sustain that image of the book is reading it. “The cruellest thing you can do to Kerouac is to reread him at thirty-eight,” says a character in Hanif Kureishi’s The Buddha of Suburbia. The cruelest thing you can do to Salinger, who died a year ago, on January 27, is to reread his fiction when an adolescent’s sneer and perpetual outrage over perceived injustice no longer seem an adequate way to view the world.

If Holden Caulfield, that relentless hunter of phonies, hadn’t been there for Mark David Chapman to discover, Chapman could have invented him. Chapman’s claim that the book was his statement is disarmingly honest. Chapman, like many of us, heard the hypocrisy in John Lennon’s singing “Imagine no possessions.” But Chapman couldn’t chalk that silly line up to rock-star folly or, as Neil Young did many years later in a telethon performance to raise money for 9/11 families, rewrite the line to point it back at the person singing it: “Imagine no possessions/I wonder if I can.” Chapman, a 25-year-old with the zero-sum ethics of the most self-dramatizing adolescent, saw it as the inevitable betrayal. How dare Lennon sing about imagining no possessions while living in the Dakota?

* * *

Salinger and Lennon may each have been a touchstone for youth culture, but Lennon’s sensibility could not help irritating the preciousness of Salinger’s. Lennon was hungry, ambitious (“I came out of the fuckin’ sticks to take over the world”). His vision, even with his slashing, acerbic wit, was exclusive, expansive. (“Love you every day, girl … Eight days a week,” as if time itself could expand to encompass the parameters of his love.) He argued for living in the world openly, even foolishly. You could send two acorns to world leaders and ask each to plant a tree for peace; or spend your honeymoon in bed with your bride, invite reporters over to talk about peace and even record a new single at your bedside. Or you could do something as petty and self-serving as returning your MBE to the queen, conflating Britain’s presence in Nigeria with your new single, “Cold Turkey,” slipping down the charts.

Lennon dropped out of the public eye for five years or so after the birth of his and Yoko Ono’s son, Sean, and his victory over the witch hunt begun by President Nixon to deport him. But if you want to cut yourself off from humanity, you don’t decide to retreat to New York City. “I can go out this door now and go into a restaurant,” Lennon was quoted as saying in Jay Cocks’s Time magazine cover story on his murder. “Do you want to know how great that is?” What Lennon was saying is that, after unimaginable, isolating fame, New York offered him what might be called companionable anonymity.

As a public figure, Salinger was due the kind of freedom and anonymity Lennon enjoyed in Manhattan. But in the small town in New Hampshire to which Salinger retreated in 1953, you really can withdraw from the world. Yet for Salinger, retreat was immersion in a familiar point of view. Withdrawal—physical, emotional, spiritual—is the overriding preoccupation of his fiction. There are few authors who argue so strenuously, so consistently for exclusivity and insularity, who are so repulsed by human imperfection, especially the physical kind, as Salinger. In his fictional world compassion is extended only to those who have made the cut or whose need of compassion—like the mythical Fat Lady at the end of Franny and Zooey—can provide a vessel into which the characters can pour their higher sensibility. Empathy, a new fragrance by Chanel.

Nothing Salinger wrote takes place on as large a physical scale as Catcher, in which Holden roams over New York City. The first half of Franny and Zooey occurs in a crowded restaurant, the second half in the Glass family’s overstuffed New York apartment—and most of that in the bathroom. Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters is set in an uncomfortably crowded and sweltering hired car (there never seems to be enough air in any of Salinger’s locales), and then that crowd transfers to Buddy and Seymour Glass’s small, sweltering Manhattan apartment. “Seymour; an Introduction,” from 1959, never leaves the confines of Buddy’s head. Even if it did, where would we be? In his cabin in the woods, a place to squawk over the inanity of the papers his job as a college professor obliges him to grade, and a meaner version of the home his creator had retreated to six years earlier.

Just as the stories constrict physically, they retreat emotionally into realms of Eastern mysticism that, for all the words Salinger lavishes on them, remain vague astral paths to some presumed higher state of consciousness. It all starts with Way of the Pilgrim, the book that unhinges Franny; and though it’s a Christian tract, Zooey likens its aim of automatic incessant prayer to the Eastern concept of the seven chakras, the opening of the third eye and such. It’s a short hop from there to Buddy (in “Seymour; an Introduction”) saying that the true poet or painter is “the only seer we have on earth” and that Seymour’s aim, the “hallmark, then, of the advanced religious,” was to find Christ in the most unimaginable places, Seymour’s preferred spot for Savior-sighting being loaded ashtrays. Some people take those spiritual preoccupations very seriously. In his new Salinger bio, Kenneth Slawenski suggests that the reason Mary McCarthy couldn’t abide Franny and Zooey is that her memoir Memories of a Catholic Girlhood, revealed “her disgust with religion, her descent into atheism, and the transfer of her faith into her own intellect.” The crude reduction of McCarthy’s book aside, it’s clear that acolytes, not apostates, are the ones qualified to enter Salinger’s higher realms.

The attempt to move beyond the corporeal is always, in the most fundamental sense, inhuman. In Salinger, though, it’s a pretense for a tone that’s overwhelmingly judgmental, sneering and cruel. Consider the kind of people who don’t merit sympathy in Salinger. The cracked guru Seymour Glass permanently scars a little girl’s face by throwing a stone at it because “she looked so beautiful sitting there in the middle of the driveway” with his sister’s cat. There are also fleeting hints that Seymour held up an impossible standard for his younger siblings to follow. “Is he never wrong?” Buddy asks on the last page of “Seymour; an Introduction.” (“Seymour; an Intervention” might have accomplished more.) But the people whose life Seymour makes hell are afforded no sympathy. Certainly not Muriel, the bride he leaves at the altar in Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenters, because he’s “indisposed by happiness.” Muriel’s bridesmaid, worried for her friend and angered at how she’s being treated, is presented throughout the story as a meddling bitch. Salinger ends “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” before we have to register Muriel’s shock and horror at waking from her nap to find Seymour has blown his brains out. Earlier in the story we learn that Seymour calls his wife “Miss Spiritual Tramp of 1948,” and by that point Salinger has already spent pages characterizing Muriel as a vapid bimbo—washing, primping and reading a crummy women’s magazine.

Salinger’s characters don’t want higher knowledge; they just want to be left alone. Franny and Zooey—which ends with Zooey’s plea to his sister, Franny, to recognize the holy in the everyday, “a cup of consecrated chicken soup”—isn’t an argument for experiencing life on a higher plane but for being superior to it. Zooey tells his sister about how Seymour chastised him for disdaining the audience of the radio show the Glass brood were all on as children by telling him to remember the Fat Lady, listening at home. “This terribly clear, clear picture of the Fat Lady formed in my mind,” says Zooey. “I had her sitting on this porch all day, swatting flies, with her radio going full-blast from morning till night.” Seymour told Franny, too, it turns out, and she pictured the Fat Lady with “very thick legs, very veiny. I had her in an awful wicker chair. She had cancer, too, though, and she had the radio going full-blast all day!” Neither Franny nor Zooey is expected to engage with the Fat Lady, to talk to her, to get beyond her tacky furnishings or veiny legs or cancer, to see her as a person. They are performers, she is the audience, and they are expected merely to lavish their presence on her. For someone whose characters loved to talk about the phoniness of Hollywood, Salinger was outdone by the movies. In 1950, seven years before “Zooey” appeared in The New Yorker, Billy Wilder ended Sunset Boulevard with Gloria Swanson’s crazy Norma Desmond lauding “those wonderful people out there in the dark.” The noblesse oblige Wilder satirized is what Salinger holds up as salvation.

The Catcher in the Rye, written before Salinger started larding his work with quotations from The Way of a Pilgrim and koans from the Mu Mon Kwan, can’t fall back on higher aspirations to disguise its misanthropy. The book squirms with a physical revulsion that is far too consistent and far too strong to belong merely to Holden—and besides, it remained a staple of Salinger’s writing. Salinger couldn’t get through the first paragraph of “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” without having Muriel tweezing hairs from a mole. Franny imagines the Fat Lady as not just having veiny legs but cancer. Catcher has a puerile, disgusted fascination with nose-picking, toenail clippings, grotty teeth, razors clogged with hair and lather. The essentials of a prep-school wardrobe can’t disguise the unkempt bodies they adorn. At times, the novel is all pimples and tweed.

* * *

John Lennon was not above that kind of physical disgust. In the “Lennon Remembers” interviews he did for Rolling Stone in 1971, he told Jann Wenner about the nightmare of having crippled children foisted on the Beatles, as if they were capable of healing them. He said of the group’s first American tour, “When we got here you were all walking around in fucking Bermuda shorts with Boston crew cuts and stuff on your teeth…. The chicks looked like fuckin’ 1940s horses. There was no conception of dress or any of that jazz. I mean we just thought, ‘What an ugly race.’”

But Lennon was also one of the most frankly sexual rock ‘n’ roll singers, the man who was capable of bringing an erotic urgency to the Beatles’ cover of Smokey Robinson’s “You Really Got a Hold on Me” that wasn’t present in the original, and to the wry reverie of “Norwegian Wood,” his tale of a one-night stand that should have been. He was a man who, in one of the gestures of foolish bravery that caused Norman Mailer to mourn, “We have lost a genius of the spirit,” put the imperfect bodies of himself and his new lover bollocks-naked on an album cover.

It’s that kind of openness that both Holden Caulfield and his creator are incapable of imagining. In Salinger’s work, when people are not physically ugly, they are spiritually ugly: old Sally Hayes, who says “grand” and “marvelous,” and her Ivy League friend whose verdict on the Lunts is that they’re “angels.” There are the cabdrivers who can’t be asked a question without taking it as an invitation to a fight, hotel elevator operators who are pimps, bartenders who won’t talk to you unless you’re a celebrity, tourists dumb enough to think Gary Cooper has just sauntered into a shabby nightclub, and the “flits” (Salinger has a special distaste for homosexuals).

Because so many of the people who repulse Holden are Ivy Leaguers or preps or the sort who might get fawned over by a snobbish bartender, it has been easy to talk of Catcher as a book about being an outsider when really it’s the exact opposite. There are so few people who make the cut—not just in Catcher but in all of Salinger’s work—that the reader who surrenders is reduced to hoping he or she is cool enough to be admitted to this club. This is what Mary McCarthy meant when she said that the book reads us.

John Lennon read us a little, too. He couldn’t possess sarcastic wit without some sense of superiority. And yet he chose to work in the most populist art form, rock ‘n’ roll, always touting it above all the avant-gardisms and political trends he fell for. As part of the Beatles, he delineated a utopian vision that nonetheless admitted contingency, ambiguity and heartbreak, a vision in which camaraderie and love colored every aspect of life, made the work of living worthwhile: “It’s been a hard day’s night, and I’d been working like a dog … But when I get home to you I find the things that you do/Will make me feel alright”; “Life is very short, and there’s no time/For fussing and fighting, my friend”—those last two words asserting the bonds always present in Lennon’s work, whether the friend was Paul McCartney or, later, Yoko (“My best friend’s me wife,” he said in a radio interview on the day he was killed).

These human bonds are denied by Holden throughout Catcher and are what Salinger had no use for in any subsequent work. “Don’t ever tell anybody anything,” the book ends. “If you do, you start missing everybody,” affirming silence over an admission of need. Only disconnect. It’s an attitude that puts Catcher in opposition to the great American coming-of-age novels—The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Member of the Wedding, True Grit—all books in which the protagonist is brought into close contact with people very unlike the protagonist, people whose humanity he or she can’t deny.

* * *

For all the books that have been called descendants of The Catcher in the Rye, to me the closest relative to Holden Caulfield is Patrick Bateman, the serial-killer protagonist of American Psycho (1991). The sadistic torture killings Patrick inflicts on the trendy girls he picks up feel like the logical extreme of the contempt Holden shows the girls he meets in the nightclub, a demented echo of the way he recoils from the vulgarity of the prep crowd. The pages near the beginning detailing the products Patrick uses to clean and groom himself could have been inspired by the pages devoted to Zooey’s near-ritualistic ablutions.

There is, too, a connection between the era Bret Easton Ellis attempts to satirize in the book, the greed-is-good ’80s, and the time of Lennon’s murder, one month after the election of Ronald Reagan, the man who would make that era possible. In Lennon’s Rolling Stone obituary, Greil Marcus was the first person to note that “nothing like Lennon’s killing has happened before.” While Marcus was careful to say that Reagan’s election did not inspire Mark David Chapman—any more than Salinger did—he did note the confluence of Chapman’s actions with the “secret message” of Reagan’s election: “some people belong in this country, and some people don’t; that some people are worthy, and some are worthless; that certain opinions are sanctified, and some are evil.” He went on, “Such a message, which tells people they are innocent and others are to blame, can attach a private madness to its public justification.”

In 1980 John Lennon was far from the canonized figure he has become. The people who grew up with the Beatles had not yet moved into controlling positions in the media. In his Time cover story, Jay Cocks was talking about himself and his contemporaries when he wrote that some people “wondered what all the fuss was about and could not quite understand why some of the junior staff at the office would suddenly break into tears in the middle of the day.” It’s easy to dismiss Cocks’s piece for its openness of feeling. For all the things that Cocks had to do, and did exquisitely, in that piece—it was a news story, an obituary, a career retrospective—what still comes through strongest is shellshock, his disbelief that he is writing the story. Which is why it was a risk, and essential, for him to insist that the shooting was an assassination. Putting Lennon’s killing in the company of the killings that had preceded it in the previous decades is not, though, a contradiction of Marcus’s claim that this had never happened before. It had—but not to a popular artist. What both Cocks and Marcus understood was that Lennon’s murder was a symbolic murder of what he represented. Chapman was disturbed by the denunciations that ended “God,” Lennon’s brutal elaboration of Dylan’s line “don’t follow leaders.” But the Beatles, for all the adoration they inspired, stood for a vision in which people, as Marcus wrote, did not lose their identity but found it.

A vision that tells you it’s possible to live a good life and to live it your own way holds out possibilities that other visions—Reagan’s or Salinger’s—deny. Those visions judge who belongs and who doesn’t, who shuns contact with the wrong kind of people, chooses to withdraw from or tries to control the world rather than embrace it. Reagan’s America gave us the dimwit Forrest Gump as a fount of wisdom. Salinger gives us Phoebe Caulfield, and all the other little girls who turn up in his work, children who have not yet been contaminated by knowledge or experience.

Mary McCarthy called Salinger’s work a closed circuit. It can just as easily be an exclusive club, a nation drawing psychic borders around a false vision of itself, a monastery whose holy relics are those spare, monkish volumes designed by the high priest, Salinger himself. Because really, what is there to read after you’ve prostrated yourself before Salinger? What wouldn’t seem like a regression back to the dirty world? Better to immerse yourself further in the book, as Salinger’s perfect reader, Mark David Chapman, did, to open the book and turn from the still-warm body lying a few feet away.

Voir encore:

‘Rye’ misfit’s rugged spirit inspires works

« The Catcher in the Rye » has influenced the work of many writers, filmmakers and musicians. Here’s a look at some of the more notable entries.

Rachel Leibrock

The Sacramento Bee

June 7 2001

« The Blackboard Jungle » (1954): Evan Hunter’s novel about New York City’s public-school system may seem a million miles away from Holden’s tony prep-school environment – but the adults vs. kids theme is similar.

« Rebel Without a Cause » (1955): Nicholas Ray’s classic film stars James Dean as Jim Stark – the title rebel – a character that shares the same overwhelming sense of angst and alienation as Holden Caulfield.

« The Outsiders » (1967): S.E. Hinton’s story about the greasers and the socs (socials) is the quintessential tale of adolescent distress generated by social classes. The 1983 film version starred Matt Dillon and C. Thomas Howell.

« The Graduate » (1969): Benjamin Braddock, portrayed by Dustin Hoffman, is basically Holden Caulfield as he faces a lifetime of plastics.

« Heathers » (1989): A tour de force of teen isolation. Stars an anguished, ostracized Winona Ryder fighting for nonconformity and authenticity.

« Six Degrees of Separation » (1990): John Guare’s play (the 1993 silver-screen adaptation starred Will Smith and Stockard Channing) chronicles the exploits of Paul, an impostor who tries to ingratiate himself with a high-society New York family. Pretending to be a Harvard undergraduate, Paul claims that his thesis is devoted to « The Catcher in the Rye » and its connection to criminal loners.

« Smells Like Teen Spirit » (1992): The classic Nirvana song (from the album « Nevermind ») sums up an entire generation of Holden Caulfield-esque angst with just one line: « Well, whatever nevermind … »

« Who Wrote Holden Caulfield? » (1992): From Green Day’s album « Kerplunk, » this song muses about a boy « who fogs his world and now he’s getting lazy / there’s no motivation and frustration makes him crazy. »

« Buffy the Vampire Slayer » (1997): The 1992 movie spawned this popular TV series about a young vampire slayer’s quest to save the world. The theme evokes Holden’s timeless wish to be the « catcher in the rye. »

« The Perks of Being a Wallflower » (1999): Stephen Chbosky’s novel gives us the shy and intelligent Charlie. We learn his story through a series of letters he writes to an unknown person (that person’s name, age or gender is never revealed) and in the process rediscover truths about adolescence.

Voir de même:

Holden Caulfield’s many pretenders / Protagonist of ‘The Catcher in the Rye’ is a continuing influence on Hollywood

Nancy Mills

The Chronicle

August 25, 2002

Hollywood — When J.D. Salinger’s « The Catcher in the Rye » was published in 1951, millions of teenage boys found a model for their confusion and rebellion in protagonist Holden Caulfield. Naturally, Hollywood wanted a piece of the character.

But Salinger would never allow his novel to be filmed. In fact, Holden consistently puts Hollywood down with such choice comments as: « Now he’s out in Hollywood, D.B. (his older brother), being a prostitute. If there’s one thing I hate, it’s the movies. »

But Salinger’s refusal hasn’t stopped the studios from borrowing the Holden model for such movies as « The Graduate, » « Diner, » « Dead Poets Society, » « Rushmore, » « American Beauty » and « The Royal Tenenbaums. »

« Most young male characters in the movies are based on the character of Holden Caulfield, » says Raymond Haberski, 33, author of « It’s Only a Movie! Films and Critics in American Culture. » « It’s been a very steady influence in the last 30 years. Every young man goes through the experiences of Holden Caulfield.

« Toby Maguire has made a career of being an updated Holden Caulfield. ‘The Ice Storm’ is almost a direct takeoff on ‘Catcher in the Rye.’ Since ‘Dead Poets Society,’ Ethan Hawke has played on that type of theme. Even Edward Burns, although not as young as the others, seems to fit that category. »

Add Jake Gyllenhaal to the list. In the current « The Good Girl, » Jennifer Aniston starts an affair with Gyllenhaal, a disturbed young man who has renamed himself Holden and is fascinated with « The Catcher in the Rye. »

Gyllenhaal, 21, has epitomized qualities of Holden in all his most recent films: « Donnie Darko, » « Lovely & Amazing, » « The Good Girl » and the forthcoming « Moonlight Mile. » « I’ve read all of J.D. Salinger’s books, and my production company is called Nine Stories Productions (named after a Salinger book of short stories), » Gyllenhaal says.

« Salinger touched on what’s at the heart of American repression: familial neglect. Parents are not paying attention or are aware of the movement of their children. That’s one of the worst things you can do. My ‘Good Girl’ character is disturbed, and I place the blame on the parents. »

The parents are also the bad guys in « Igby Goes Down, » opening Sept. 13. « Igby » depicts yet another young man, played by Kieran Culkin, floundering through adolescence. « I’ve been comparing ‘Igby’ to ‘Catcher in the Rye,’  » says Susan Sarandon, who plays Igby’s mother. « Like Holden, Igby is very bright and very ironic, while the adults are lost and miserable and also affluent. »

Young women may not identify with Holden in quite the same way as young men,

but they are equally responsive to films about such characters, Sarandon adds.

« When I first read ‘Catcher in the Rye,’ I didn’t identify with that kind of rebel. At the time, I thought he should get his act together. Boys are just much slower to mature in ways critical to society. They’re a couple of years behind the gals. It’s a developmental kind of glitch. »

« Igby » writer and director Burr Steers, 36, contends his script is more of an autobiography than a nod to Salinger.

« I wasn’t consciously influenced by ‘Catcher in the Rye,’  » he insists. « I got kicked out of a prep school in Connecticut and a military school in Indiana. »

Yet he recognizes the influence of the book: « I liken it to being a musician and being influenced by the music ingrained in you, like the Beatles. It’s that journey of finding out. »

Steers, whose uncle is Gore Vidal, sees « Catcher in the Rye » as « a mythic story — just like ‘The Graduate’ or ‘The 400 Blows’ or ‘Hamlet.’ You feel like an anachronism in the world you’ve been born into. Everyone around you seems insane, and they see you as insane. A lot of movies have been influenced by this myth: ‘Flirting,’ ‘Rushmore,’ ‘The Graduate,’ ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien.’

« I don’t think this situation will ever be played out. It’s mythic. It didn’t start with ‘Catcher in the Rye.’ It started with Christ, who rebelled against everything around him. It’s always been about iconoclasts rebelling against what came before them, challenging the rules and customs. »

Mike White, 32, who wrote « The Good Girl, » agrees.

« To me, ‘Catcher in the Rye’ is part of a literary trend that goes back to Goethe’s ‘The Sorrows of Werther’ (1774), » he says. « I don’t think Salinger discovered it. He just did the quintessential American version. »

According to Anthony Caputi, a Cornell University dramatic literature specialist and avid moviegoer, « The Catcher in the Rye » inspires variations as well as imitations. « American Beauty, » for example, is at odds with « the tone and general warmth of Salinger, » Caputi believes.

« Salinger’s influence takes a comedic form, a life-affirming form. ‘American Beauty’ showed the dark underside of American culture, going further than I think Salinger would ever dream of. »

As for « Finding Forrester, » Caputi says, « You might find some kind of resonance with Salinger himself in Sean Connery’s character, although the boy (Rob Brown) is a little bland rather than

plucky. And there is a kinship with ‘Wonder Boys.’ Toby Maguire’s character is plucky to a certain extent, and he takes chances. »

« The Good Girl’s » writer and co-star White, who has also written for such teen series as « Freaks & Geeks » and « Dawson’s Creek, » thinks « The Catcher in the Rye » may become even more influential in Hollywood.

« Ever since the book came out, it’s been a touchstone of that demographic —

the 17-year-old kid who sees himself not fitting in, » he says.

« Movies like ‘American Pie’ and ‘Beavis & Butthead’ — guys looking for a good time — that genre is playing out. ‘Y Tu Mama Tambien’ is the perfect example of a movie that bridges the two kinds of movies. It starts out like ‘Dude, Where’s My Car?’ but becomes a thoughtful movie about the kids’ relationship to society.

 » ‘Orange County’ (the teen movie White wrote last year starring Colin Hanks) had a Salinger element. It featured a book that changed a young man’s life, and he goes and seeks out the professor who wrote it. For me, it was about a kid’s quest for the meaning of life.

« Maybe a more thoughtful teenage coming-of-age movie is coming back into vogue. »

 Voir encore:

Six Degrees of Separation

from the play « Six Degrees of Separation » written by John Guare

(Paul, a black man in his early twenties, has conned his way into the posh New York apartment of an art dealer and his wife, Louisa and Flan. They are examples of the politically correct and the socially concerned; he is an example of a con man par excellence, who has convinced them he is the son of Sidney Poitier, knows their children, and graduated from Harvard. They inquire about his thesis and how he became intrigued with its subject.)

Paul: Well…a substitute teacher out on Long Island was dropped from his job for fighting with a student. A few weeks later, the teacher returned to the classroom, shot the student unsuccessfully, held the class hostage and then shot himself. Successfully. This fact caught my eye: last sentence. Times. A neighbor described him as a nice boy. Always reading Catcher in the Rye.

The nitwit — Chapman — who shot John Lennon said he did it because he wanted to draw the attention of the world to The Catcher in the Rye and the reading of the book would be his defense.

And young Hinckley, the whiz kid who shot Reagan and his press secretary, said if you want my defense all you have to do is read Catcher in the Rye. It seemed to be time to read it again.

Flan: I haven’t read it in years. (Louisa shushes him.)

Paul: I borrowed a copy from a young friend of mine because I wanted to see what she had underlined and I read this book to find out why this touching, beautiful, sensitive story published in July 1951 had turned into this manifesto of hate.

I started reading. It’s exactly as I remembered. Everybody’s a phony. Page two: « My brother’s in Hollywood being a prostitute. » Page three: « What a phony his father was. » Page nine: « People never notice anything. »

Then on page 22 my hair stood up. Remember Holden Caulfield — the definitive sensitive youth — wearing his red hunter’s cap. « A deer hunter hat? Like hell it is. I sort of closed one eye like I was taking aim at it. This is a people-shooting hat. I shoot people in this hat. »

Hmmm, I said. This book is preparing people for bigger moments in their lives than I ever dreamed of. Then on page 89: « I’d rather push a guy out the window or chop his head off with an ax than sock him in the jaw…I hate fist fights…what scares me most is the other guy’s face… »

I finished the book. It’s a touching story, comic because the boy wants to do so much and can’t do anything. Hates all phoniness and only lies to others. Wants everyone to like him, is only hateful, and he is completely self-involved. In other words, a pretty accurate picture of a male adolescent. And what alarms me about the book — not the book so much as the aura about it — is this: the book is primarily about paralysis. The boy can’t function. And at the end, before he can run away and start a new life, it starts to rain and he folds.

Now there’s nothing wrong in writing about emotional and intellectual paralysis. It may indeed, thanks to Chekhov and Samuel Beckett, be the great modern theme.

The extraordinary last lines of Waiting For Godot — « Let’s go. » « Yes, let’s go. » Stage directions: they do not move.

But the aura around this book of Salinger’s — which perhaps should be read by everyone but young men — is this: it mirrors like a fun house mirror and amplifies like a distorted speaker one of the great tragedies of our times — the death of the imagination.

Because what else is paralysis?

The imagination has been so debased that imagination — being imaginative — rather than being the lynchpin of our existence now stands as a synonym for something outside ourselves like science fiction or some new use for tangerine slices on raw pork chops — what an imaginative summer recipe — and Star Wars! So imaginative! And Star Trek — so imaginative! And Lord of the Rings — all those dwarves — so imaginative —

The imagination has moved out out the realm of being our link, our most personal link, with our inner lives and the world outside that world — this world we share. What is schizophrenia but a horrifying state where what’s in here doesn’t match up with what’s out there?

Why has imagination become a synonym for style?

I believe that the imagination is the passport we create to take us into the real world.

I believe the imagination is another phrase for what is most uniquely us.

Jung says the greatest sin is to be unconscious.

Our boy Holden says « What scares me most is the other guy’s face — it wouldn’t be so bad if you could both be blindfolded — most of the time the faces we face are not the other guys’ but our own faces. And it’s the worst kind of yellowness to be so scared of yourself you put blindfolds on rather than deal with yourself… »

To face ourselves.

That’s the hard thing.

The imagination.

Voir enfin:

Who Was J. D. Salinger?
Adam Gopnik
The New Yorker
September 5, 2013

Sometime in late 1968, Charles Manson was listening to “The Beatles,” to use the proper name of what’s most often called the White Album, and decided that “Helter Skelter,” an upbeat rocker about a roller coaster at an English amusement park, was a call to black insurrection in America, to be set off by the brutal murders of an actress, a hairdresser, a coffee heiress, and several other innocents. The question that this horrible incident has always provoked was not just: How could anyone have thought anything so murderously insane? It was also: Why was Charles Manson listening with such hallucinative intensity to an album whose other highlights were John Lennon’s delicate bossa-nova ballad to his mother Julia, Paul McCartney’s lyrical invocation of Noël Coward, and George Harrison’s mystical celebration of the varieties in a box of English chocolates—not to mention a nine-minute-long tribute to concrete music? Why did he pay such close attention to something so inherently unsympathetic to his, ahem, sensibility?

The simple, sad answer is: because everyone did. There are certain artists, and some art, that become so popular that everyone peers into them, finding whatever they will, however they will. All the usual tests of sympathy, natural feeling, and do-I-really-respond-to-this? are lost in the gravitational pull of ubiquity. Not surprisingly, the artists who are, briefly, the beneficiaries and thereafter the victims of this kind of attention get totally freaked out by the intensity of it all: not too long after, Bob Dylan, another of the tribe, recorded his notorious “Self Portrait,” just back out in a new version, trying to demonstrate to his admirers the simple truth that he was an American singer, with a broad taste for American songs, not some kind of guru or mystic or oracle, please go away. It didn’t help.

These questions come to mind in reading David Shields and Shane Salerno’s heavily hyped biography “Salinger” (Simon & Schuster), not least because, in one of the most bizarre sections of a bizarre book, they themselves raise the issue of murder-by-bad-reading, in connection with the murder (fearful symmetry!) of the Beatles’ John Lennon by Mark Chapman, who happened to have hallucinated a motive within “The Catcher in the Rye.” Shields and Salerno’s own peculiar view of Salinger forces them to insist that Chapman was not just a crazy hallucinant, but in his own misguided way an insightful reader, responding to the “huge amount of psychic violence in the book.” Now, there is a section in “Catcher” in which Holden fantasizes about shooting the pimp who has set him up with a prostitute, but it is exactly a bit of extended irony about the movies and their effect on everyone’s imagination: a defusing of vengeance fantasies. In Salerno’s “acclaimed documentary film” (as the book’s jacket calls it), meanwhile, a witness points out that the word “kills” occurs with ominous regularity in the text—failing to acknowledge that this is Holden’s slang for the best things that happen to him. “She kills me” is what Holden says about his beloved little sister Phoebe. There’s no more “violence” implicit in the usage than there is sublimated religiosity in Holden’s New York cabbies saying “Jesus Christ!” It’s just an American idiom, lovingly preserved by a master of them.

That Chapman’s reading strikes the authors as logical, if unfortunate, is just one demonstration, in a strange chop-shop biography, that they are no more interested in Salinger the writer or artist than the people who go through Dylan’s garbage cans are really interested in Dylan. In both book and bad movie, a simple theory is flogged: that Salinger was a victim of P.T.S.D., screwed up by a brutal combat experience in the Second World War. It’s a truth that, as far as it goes, Salinger himself dramatized at beautiful length in his story “For Esmé—with Love And Squalor,” and then left behind. (Holden is far too young to be a veteran, and Seymour Glass, so far as a close reader can tell, was in the armed forces, like most of his generation, but never in combat: the proximate cause of his suicide is a bad marriage, not a bad war.)

In any case, Salinger’s work emphatically editorializes its moral point, which is about as far from celebrating or even sublimating violence as any writing can be. No writer could ever have had his moral pluses and minuses so neatly, so columnarly, arranged and segregated off from each other. Phoebe, the Fat Lady, Esmé, innocence, and small domestic epiphanies are good. Violence, the military, cruelty are all bad. To make this view somehow its opposite is to refuse to read what’s there on the page, in search of something that might sit better on Page Six. That Salinger was wounded, like many of a generation, by combat is obvious; that it “explains” everything he wrote after is the kind of five-cent psychiatry that gives a bad name to nickels. (In any case, as the authors admit, Salinger already had six or so chapters of the book finished before he set foot in France, while the Holdenish sensibility—if not Holden’s sweetness and essential helplessness—was shared by hundreds of artists of the period, most of whom had never held a rifle.)

***

But then Salinger as writer, or craftsman, or just listener—with a perfect ear for the sound of American mid-century speech—is invisible throughout. The subject of the book and documentary is not Salinger the writer but Salinger the star: exactly the identity he spent the last fifty years of his life trying to shed. Cast entirely in terms of celebrity culture and its discontents, every act of Salinger’s is weighed as though its primary purpose was to push or somehow extend his “reputation”—careerism is simply assumed as the only motive a writer might have. If he withdraws from the world, well, what could be more of a come on? If it turns out that he hasn’t entirely withdrawn from the world but has actually participated in it happily enough on his own terms: well, didn’t we tell you the whole recluse thing was an act? This kind of scrutiny might possibly say something about a writer like Mailer, whose loudest energies (if not his best ones) were spent playing in the public square, not to mention Macy’s windows. But it couldn’t be worse suited to a writer like Salinger, the spell of whose work is cast, after all, entirely by the micro-structure of each sentence—on choosing to italicize this word, rather than that; on describing a widower’s left rather than right hand; on the ear for dialogue and the feeling for detail; above all, on the jokes. (Salinger, as Wilfrid Sheed long ago pointed out in the best thing ever written about his style, was first of all a humorist, trained on other humorists. The two writers who meant the most to Salinger, Ring Lardner and Scott Fitzgerald, seem left largely, if not completely, out of the book’s discussion—though Hemingway, the celebrity writer whom he briefly courted but never imitated, is made much of. A book about J. D. Salinger with no Ring Lardner in it, one can say with certainty, is a book about something other than J. D. Salinger.)

The “documentary” method that the book employs is what was once quaintly called a “clip-job”—the kind of celebrity bio where, in the guise of research, previously published work is passed off, with varying degrees of honesty, as original discovery. Journalists who never met Salinger, old “friends” who saw him last in 1948, are quoted fragmentarily, in the manner of the kind of oral history that Jean Stein and George Plimpton used to honorably assemble, while large chunks of quotations are lifted out of other people’s published work and plunked right down alongside the rest, as though these writers, too, had stopped by for a chat. These unwilling contributors see their work chopped up and recycled without any indication on the page of its source. (You can, with diligent effort, figure out what’s from where by consulting the notes in the back, but surely the ordinary reader can’t be expected to show such diligence, and will understandably assume that everything is, so to speak, on the same level.) Gossip is offered interchangeably with fact, bald speculation is sold as though double-checked, salacious rumor (Salinger had one testicle!) is accepted with a shrug: well, somebody said it. To take one example among a hundred, John Updike’s intricately wrought review of “Franny and Zooey”—indicating both his debt to Salinger, which he admits is enormous, and his qualms about “Zooey,” which are real, and his conviction that, in any case, Salinger was a brave artist making a journey on behalf of us all—is reduced to a “merciless” dismissal, one writer from the grave breezily zinging another. (A significant bit of praise from that review appears in another place, pages from the put-down.)

Shields, of course, has written an entire testament, the manifesto-like book called “Reality Hunger,” in defense of the chop-shop approach to prose, with a high-minded po-mo appeal to the constant recycling of other people’s words as itself a kind of originality. Like many other capitalist ventures, though, this involves taking intricate handiwork done by other people, breaking it up, and selling it off again without permission, not to mention payment. If you have persuaded yourself that invention and recycling are the same thing, then you can’t begin to make sense of someone who would spend seven or eight hours a day laboring over a single line. This puts you in terrible shape with a writer like Salinger, who feels his entire life at stake over a semi-colon. What can he be doing all day in his “bunker” except stewing over his obsessions?

Throughout book and film both, the focus is leeringly on Salinger’s presumed oddities, the authors of this book seeming never to have met any others. That the writer who can be contagiously charming on the page might be actually rather ornery and difficult to live with is a revelation only to one who has never spoken to a writer’s spouse. And an urge to escape from the world, far from being an aberrant impulse driven by neurosis, or shame at an anatomical oddity, is just part of what American writers have always been up to. E. B. White, as Sheed points out, beat Salinger to the north country by a decade, for similar reasons, while Thomas Merton became a major literary figure in those same fifties by going into a honest-to-God monastery and publishing his stuff from there.

What is true is that Salinger, through no fault or even an act of his own, save publishing a book whose reception no one could have anticipated, became the victim/beneficiary of the kind of hyper-fame that usually gets reserved for singers and actors. Seen that way, there is little that’s peculiar or pathological about Salinger’s retreat, though much in it that’s sad. A book about a week in the life of a sensitive, observant kid—affectionately viewed by the author, as one might a teen-age son or a younger brother, but hardly idolized—became a bible to a whole generation. (The ironies could not have eluded the author, since the one thing that a loner like Holden doesn’t want to be is the voice of a generation—his contemporaries being the very thing he has most contempt for.)

That the book gave Salinger the real, mind-bending, freak-out kind of fame early on was a blessing in certain respects—one important reason that he didn’t publish was because he didn’t have to. It was a curse in most others, however, since it created the circumstance in which a parade of random stalkers felt free to come up to his driveway and ask him to tell them how to run their lives. His trouble was that the writing was him, or seemed to be, in the sense that the stories gave an impression, however misleading, of being personal sources of wisdom, judgment, or good advice. Most people who get this treatment retreat to a Graceland or Neverland. Salinger retreated to New Hampshire. (Philip Roth got the treatment for a period after “Portnoy,” and it was so disconcerting—success on such a scale being “as baffling as misfortune”—that he wrote a couple of novels just about what it felt like.) For what it’s worth, the movie suggests that Salinger responded to most of the stalkers with surprising generosity, trying to explain to them that he was a fiction writer, not a guru. It didn’t help him, either.

For the rest—aside from the genuine news that Salinger made a strange, short marriage to a German girl he met during the occupation—there are no real revelations here, with the New Hampshire years mostly sketched from already familiar memoirs by family members and ex-lovers. There is a lot of prurient gossip about Salinger and his courtship of teen-age (not, to be sure, prepubescent) girls, although it does seem that if you had been imprinted on, and then rejected by, the exquisite seventeen-year-old Oona O’Neill, there would be no mystery in spending your life searching for her duplicate. (Of their claim of new books to come from Salinger, tacked on in the movie in titles with pointlessly ominous music playing, about all one can say is, Hope so! And add that it seems unlikely that someone with so good an ear would call anything “The Family Glass,” and that one of the few forthcoming stories specified, about a party in the nineteen-twenties, was already explicitly promised by Salinger himself, in the introduction to his story “Hapworth 16, 1924.”)

We have decided, legally and mostly morally, that our interest in telling truths about human life is always greater than our need to protect people’s privacy, at least after the people are dead, and so be it. But if you want to grasp why silence is so appealing to artists whose audience has grown too loud—John Lennon himself withdrew for many years, then tried peeking out again, with the tragic results we know—here it is. Indeed, the great advantage of the whole new episode is this: from now on, if you want to understand why the young J. D. Salinger fled New York publishing, fanatic readers, eager biographers, disingenuous interpreters, character assassination in the guise of “scholarship,” and the literary world generally, you need only open this book.

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