We are referring to Salinger and what Dylan (that’s a Nobel Prize) calls,
hyperbolically, “The Age of Masturbation,” _sic_ in capitals. McEvoy: “I know
[Dylan is being hyperbolic], it’s his type of humour. Hyperbolic, yes. His
"humour", yes. But he is also serious.”
This reminds me of a passage about how Griceian Salinger can be, as per the
NYT. Let me see if I find the passage. “Salinger … perfected the great trick of
… irony — of validating what you mean by saying less than, or even the opposite
of, what you intend.”
This is an obituarist writing, and a Griceian one at that. Grice found irony
difficult to deal with in terms of ‘conversational implicature,’ but not
impossible. His one example being:
i. He is a fine friend.
of someone meant to be a scoundrel. He notes that a metaphorical expression,
ii. You’re the cream in my coffee.
while standardly meaning ‘you’re my pride and joy,’ can “combine with irony” to
mean, “You’re my bane.” But back to the NYT quote:
“Salinger … perfected the great trick of … irony [i.e.,] of validating what you
mean by saying less than, or even the opposite of, what you intend.” Grice
would stick with the _opposite_. In terms of Witters’s Tractatus: “p” and “~p”.
Rogers Albritton, who attended the second William James lecture, held a
conversation with him, and the result was that in his THIRD William James
lecture, Grice came back to the topic of irony. To be ironic, it is not just
sufficient that, by uttering x (where x means p) U is being ironic if and only
if U means that ~p. Grice gives the example:
iii. Look! That car has all its windows intact!
which only HARDLY will be construed _ironically_ to mean that the car has a
crashed window. “Irony,” Grice appeals to the etymology of this Grecian term of
art, has to do with ‘pretense’, and an affective attitude need be involved (as
in the “fine friend” example). So, when the obituarist writes of Salinger:
“Salinger … perfected the great trick of … irony — of validating what you mean
by saying less than, or even the opposite of, what you intend.”
In Griceian parlance would read: Salinger was keen on irony, i.e. the uttering
of utterances by which Salinger has his characters meaning THE OPPOSITE of what
they _explicate_. Clumsy, eh? For saying LESS than what you mean, Grice has
‘disimplicature’ – with ‘implicature’ being meaning MORE than what you say. All
pretty confusing, and which reminds one of Alice’s Mad Tea Party (“Of course I
say what I mean!” “At least I mean what I say!” “Not the same thing a bit!”
“You might just as well say that you eat what you see is the same thing as you
see what you eat!” “It IS the same thing with YOU!”).
Actually, I don’t think Caulfield is THAT ironic. Oscar Wilde was! (and
coincidentally, Wilde, like Dylan, spoke of onanism: “it’s clean, practical,
and you mean the nicest people.”). McEvoy goes on:
“[Dylan] does believe we are in a changed 'age' I think, as, for example, the
very title (with its hyperbole and humour) "Modern Times" suggests (and as the
contents of that great record confirm).”
Perhaps he is ironizing on Charlie Chaplin? Oddly, the NYT has Salinger being
cuckolded by Chaplin. That was when Oona O’Neill, Salinger’s girlfriend, was
attending all the fashionable nightclubs with her friends Carol Marcus and
Gloria Vanderbilt and was chosen as "The Number One Debutante" of the season at
The Stork. It is then when she decides to pursue a career in acting and, after
small roles in two stage productions, headed for Hollywood, where she was
introduced to Chaplin, who considered her for a film role. The film was never
made, but O'Neill and Chaplin began a romantic relationship and married in June
1943, a month after she had turned 18. Apparently, she cried when she read “The
Catcher in the Rye.”
But back to Dylan. McEvoy: “[Dylan] thinks there is something profound being
lost by the direction of most mainstream modern culture - it's all over his
work: "I know that nobody sings the blues like Blind Willie McTell". Dylan
would not likely let mere flippancy go on permanent record as part of his
interview for the _Biograph_ compilation. I agree his view [of his being The
Age of Masturbation] is somewhat exaggerated, and would add that some of
Dylan's views are slightly weird: the truth is mainstream culture has always
had strong tendencies to aim for the lowest common denominator and to promote
fashions over depth - we may recall Bach was dismissed by the subsequent
generation as the Old Fusspot.
Dylan knows all this and he viewed the mainstream culture of his formative
years with the considerable suspicion (as shown by "Subterranean Homesick
Blues") - but I think he also feels that 'cultural forces' (for want of a
better term) are even more against creation of a genuine work of art than when
he was young. Taking other of his remarks, Dylan sees the problem as due to, or
reflected by, how the 'self' (in its worst sense) has become excessive focus of
the individual's life.”
Mmmm. ‘Self’ seems to be a necessary condition for the analysis of ‘personal
identity’. The sense may not be a ‘good’ one, but it’s the only one ‘self’ has!
Incidentally, Salinger became a bit of an anti-self philosopher after
“Catcher.” Some of his biographers regard this as a very serious matter, but
his daughter says that Salinger would adopt the latest fad.
McEvoy re: Dylan: “I doubt he is alone in this. It represents an important line
of thought, central to much ancient wisdom (where "Know thyself" always meant
something antithetical to its modern counterpart "Focus on yourself"):- a
variant of this view is central to the work of a former head of the American
Psychological Association, Martin Seligman, where it reflects a quite
mainstream and well-tested view within psychology - for example, it is used to
begin to explain the otherwise shocking fact that, despite continued material
improvements in the course of the twentieth century, the risk of depression
increases markedly the later in that century an individual was born.”
Well, Salinger apparently suffered from ‘clinical depression,’ the NYT notes. I
never understood ‘clinical’ there. It seems otiose.
McEvoy: “This ties in with the Prozac remark re: Holden Caulfield, which indeed
shows how he may be very differently received to the decade in which "Catcher"
was first published. But the dismissal of Holden in this unsympathetic way is
surely a symptom of INCREASED 'self-based' culture rather than a LESS
I think I agree.
McEvoy: “The remark reflects a lack of empathic understanding. There is almost
a near solipsism in terms of thinking what is fashionable or current, in
experience or in terms of references, creates an adequate and clever platform
for examining work from the past. That line, “Oh, we all hate Holden. We just
want to tell him, ‘Shut up and take your Prozac.’” says so much about a kind of
contemporary attitude. While it is intended to be somewhat caustic and funny,
it is probably not said as self-parody or with any deliberate irony. Like Bach,
Holden Caulfield has become another old fusspot to people who regard themselves
as from a much cooler school.”
Agreed. Part of the charm of “Rebel in the rye,” is, as the NYT points out,
that Strong – the director – following this hagiographic bio he was able to get
the rights for – takes Holden as Salinger’s ‘alter ego.’ This plays well as far
as we can trace STRONG similarities in their backgrounds --.
And so on.