All That J.D. Salinger Crap

Writer and academic David Lodge, in his collection of articles for the Independent on Sunday: The Art of Fiction, uses an extract from J.D, Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (first published in book form in 1951) to illustrate what he calls “Teenage Skaz”:

“Skaz is a rather appealing Russian word (suggesting “jazz” and “scat”) used to designate a kind of first-person narration that has the characteristics of the spoken word rather than the written word.

… For American novelists, skaz was an obvious way to free themselves from the inherited literary traditions of England and Europe. The crucial impetus was given by Mark Twain.  Twain’s masterstroke was to unite a vernacular colloquial style with a naive, immature narrator, an adolescent boy (Huck Finn) who is wiser than he knows, and whose vision of the adult world has a devastating freshness and honesty.”

 TeenageSkaz

Try as I might, I was unable to find a photograph of the author and a typewriter. Not unless you count (and I don’t) a photograph floating around the Internet of what is purportedly Salinger, naked and typing out of the back of a car on a Lettera 31.

Hardly the behaviour of a man who was a semi-recluse.

In the absence of the truth, in the absence of the facts,  people resort to salacious gossip and conjecture; which is what gets served up in the two-hour-four-minute-long documentary Salinger.

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After serving his country, after suffering the trauma that went with serving his country, Salinger returned to the U.S., quickly got married, just-as-quickly got divorced, finished the novel he’d been working on, overcame rejection, got published, and garnered worldwide acclaim.

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He then retreated to the seclusion of the remote rural town of Cornish, New Hampshire, only to be harangued for the rest of his life by paparazzi, would-be documentary film makers, and “devoted fans” only marginally less creepy than the guy who shot John Lennon.

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For dramatic effect, what we get throughout the documentary is a staged (literally) reconstruction of the author using a large Royal standard typewriter.

Maybe the makers of the documentary knew something about the identity of the typewriter Salinger used in his “bunker”. If they did they weren’t letting on except to drop a few visual hints.

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Catcher on the Royal

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“Inside, a cot took up one side of a wall. On the opposite side was his desk and chair. His chair was actually a large car seat, believe it or not, large enough to sit on in the lotus position. The car was supported on wood and bricks to bring it closer to desk level. On the desk was a manual typewriter. Taped all over the place within reach of his writing position were small post-it-like notes. They were on the wall, his lamp, his typewriter, etc.”

Sarah Morrill, If You Really Want to Hear About it: Writers on J.D. Salinger and His Work, Part III: Deconstructing Jerry

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A large car seat, believe it or not. Big, big deal.

The only mention of a typewriter in the documentary is a childhood recollection from Salinger’s daughter, Margaret:

 “… it was very big, very old and it clicked.”

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A vague description and about as insightful as other contributions made by friends, colleagues, and members of Salinger’s so-called “inner circle”.

“My writing should speak for itself, and that should be enough.” said Salinger (or words to that effect). He was right. There is no mystery surrounding J.D. Salinger. The mystery is why this documentary was ever made.

“Mesmerising and revelatory” it was not.

ArtofFiction

 The Art of Fiction by David Lodge on the other hand …

3 thoughts on “All That J.D. Salinger Crap”

  1. JD has often been linked to using a Hermes Baby. There’s reports that during the war he used one, and in a short story, Salinger writes about using someone else’s Hermes Baby typewriter write a letter in french – ‘De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period.”

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  2. I was interested in seeing that Salinger movie…until I saw an excerpt showing Danny DeVito and Edward Norton talking about Salinger. Nothing against DeVito and Norton (fine actors), but I’m not really interested in hearing what a bunch of celebs think about an author, since their opinions would be as valid as yours or mine.
    Everybody should just leave Mr. Salinger alone. He clearly has never wanted “Catcher In The Rye” turned into a film ( Caufield is well known as not being fond of the movies, from memory. Been a couple of decades since I read the book).
    I don’t subscribe to the theory of ‘skaz’ either. To me, narration that takes on traits of the spoken word is merely the character’s ‘voice’ coming off the page.
    Interesting write-up.

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  3. It’s interesting how the process of writing is so fascinating to others, even other writers. Or maybe it’s the wannabe writers who are agog, like the wannabe photographers who want to know what camera a famous photog was using.

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