Thursday, October 21, 2004

Still Holden after all these years

Haven't often felt the inclination to write to writers on the Web. But this article a friend of mine sent me a link to deserved one. Don't know if I made my point, though. But here it is...


Dear Jonathan Yardley,

Hi. Feel the introduce myself first: I am a journalist with an Indian English-language newspaper called The Indian Express. Writing to you after reading a piece you wrote on October 19 in The Washington Post.

Now, while I realise — and I can see that you have pre-empted — that your discussion of Salinger, Caulfield and Catcher will serve to off-put a number of readers, and I am sure you have received a few mails already, I feel the need to add to the pile. Or invade your desktop further as it were. [Note: Frankly, I don't think many Americans would have written in, because while Catcher remains an American classic, my reading of the America as we have it today suggests not many people would have read it in the last few decades and might not even be aware of Catcher or Holden] get to the point: Umm, well, to say it straight, I don't agree with you on most counts. Though I thought I would having checked the headline: J.D. Salinger's Holden Caulfield, Aging Gracelessly. I agree totally with that, but I also believe that it shares the same problem that, say, Clockwork Orange has, or Natural Born Killers has, or even, as you do mention, James Dean pictures have. Ag(e)ing, that is. Catcher and Holden have to be encountered and countered strictly between ages 14 and 20. After that, well, they don't quite serve what Antoine Saint De-Exupery or his Little Prince does.

But, I will contradict you on where you call Holden "self-regarding and callow" in a critical way. Well, what's wrong with that? Who ever thought Holden was super? Holden's greatest achievement was in being self-regarding, callow, phon(e)y too. And being downright ridiculous.

You also write: "The combination of Salinger's execrable prose and Caulfield's jejune narcissism produced effects comparable to mainlining castor oil". Gaaah! 'Execrable prose'? Blimey! You might not like Catcher now, when you are older. But heck, this man also wrote Franny and Zooey and some masterly short stories which were published under Nine Stories. 'Jejune narcissism'! Yes. And how! And why not?

I think the prime problem with your thesis is that you have based far too much of your assessment on what people have said and felt about Catcher down the years. You rely far too heavily on that. It's like, you should really have approached a thesis on 'Why people think what they do of CITR and where they go wrong'. You are criticising a man and his work based on public perceptions of the man and his work. It's not so much what you found, having gone back to the book many years after you read it first, than all that you absorbed in the years in between.

Also — and I say this knowing full well that I am writing to a man about 20 times more qualified — I think you missed the point somewhat.

But thanks a ton for writing what you did. Found something worth thinking about, about a book I haven't seen anything interesting coming out on in ages.


Shamya Dasgupta