Friday, January 29, 2010

Short Stop In the Wry

I find it a poetic coincidence that the banning of a dictionary containing the definition of “oral sex”* came out in the same week as the death of J. D. Salinger who wrote The Catcher in the Rye, which "had the dubious distinction of being at once the most frequently censored book across the nation and the second-most frequently taught novel in public high schools” (Whitfield, Stephen J. "Raise High the Bookshelves, Censors!")

“Catcher” contained “what Catholic World reviewer Riley Hughes called an "excessive use of amateur swearing and coarse language".

I did not know that there was amateur and professional swearing. I wonder how I can get involved because, with all the practicing I do while driving home, I am sure I could go pro. I wonder if there is league play. Are there teams in my area? Can I make enough money at it to quit accounting?

And what is “excessive” amateur swearing? Wikipedia says, “One diligent parent counted 237 appearances of the word ‘goddam’ in the novel, along with 58 of ‘bastard,’ 31 of ‘Chrissake’ and 6 of ‘fuck.’ I checked with Riley Hughes and he said he would have been more comfortable if it were reduced to, say, 79 goddams, 19 bastards and 10 chrissakes and he would have been satisfied by a couple of random fucks.**

MSNBC's story reports that the real danger of a book like Catcher in the Rye and a character like Holden Caulfield was found by more inciteful sources such as the Christian Science Monitor: "Fortunately, there cannot be many of him (Caulfield) yet. But one fears that a book like this given wide circulation may multiply his kind - as too easily happens when immortality and perversion are recounted by writers of talent whose work is countenanced in the name of art or good intention." (I assume “immortality” is a misprint and the Monitor actually said “immorality”.

The Monitor is wise to understand that any young people reading about the sweet, sweet life of Holden Caulfield would immediately aspire to be acne-faced, angst-ridden, adolescent outcasts like him. Sixty years after the fact, they are proven to be correct.

Corroborating what school counselors have observed nationwide, a new study found that five times as many high school and college students are dealing with mental health issues as students that were surveyed during the Great Depression. (I can’t believe they wrote that without even a winking emoticon).

I blame it all on Catcher in the Rye. Ironically, Holden Caulfield, who wanted only to protect children from the stresses and despair of adulthood, has lead generations of young people into depression.

J. D. Salinger said that Catcher was semi-autobiographical. Obviously Salinger had his own mental health issues, which show up in his other stories as well.

In “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” the adult Seymour Glass stands in the ocean with a little girl and tells her about bananafish, which, he says, are "very ordinary looking" when they swim into a hole, but once in the hole, eat so much they cannot escape. Freud says sometimes a cigar is just a cigar but I say a bananafish is a penis and Seymour Glass is a pervert. I imagine Seymour invites the girl back to his blanket on the beach so they can lay down and watch the submarine races.

In another story, young Seymour throws a rock at a girl’s face because she is so beautiful that it disturbs him; therefore, it must be destroyed. Salinger’s real life treatment of women and his own children does not do anything to counter balance the troubling elements of his stories.

His work was either highly praised for his portrayal of disaffected youth or highly criticized for the “excessive amateur swearing” and descriptions of Holden’s wanton “immortality”. Somebody should have tried to get Salinger help rather than laud or criticize the language of despair.

*personally I found it more shocking that a student actually used a classroom dictionary in the internet age.

** I previously told about my grandmother counting goddams in the book, though she quit after finding too many on one page for her sesibilities.

1 comment:

mark hoback said...

I thought Catcher in the Rye was boring when I was a kid, but I did liked 'Bananafish', and Franny & Zooey. Maybe I should read it again, but there's so much more to read, and I'm a slow reader.