[lit-ideas] Re: Salingeriana

  • From: "Lawrence Helm" <lawrencehelm@xxxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Mon, 23 Sep 2013 14:53:05 -0700


Something like this question is debated in Biblical Hermeneutics.  One of the 
precepts of the Reformation was that Scripture needs no priest to interpret it; 
it is understandable as written to the layman.   That position was apparently 
never intended to be an absolute, but some laymen took it as such and advanced 
heretical doctrines.  Calvin and Luther both wrote voluminously in order to 
supplement this perfectly plain Scripture and keep the layman on the straight 
and narrow.  Even today many assume that Scripture "clearly" defines the 
particular doctrine that their denomination advances.  

The conclusion drawn by many in regard to Scripture, but also any text, is that 
"no text is self-authenticating."  Two people with the same sets of 
presuppositions might go to the text and come away with the same 
interpretation, but if it is at all complex the chance of that is slim.  If the 
presuppositions are different then the chance of even similar interpretations 
is markedly reduced.  

Another way of putting this might be, "nothing can be said that precludes 
someone from misunderstanding it."   Or, to modify Popper's words slightly "It 
is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood by 


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Subject: [lit-ideas] Re: Salingeriana

In a message dated 9/23/2013 10:31:11 A.M. Eastern Daylight Time, 
donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx writes:
Popper expressed a view on [J. D.  Salinger's novella, "The Catcher in the 
Rye"], surprisingly enough. Tried to  google this and came up 
http://americandigest.org/mt-archives/grace_notes/salinger.php where the  
following quotation from Popper is used 
"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood."  
I find this too full of negatives. It seems equivalent to:
It is possible to communicate in such a way that you may be  understood.
-- which is _hardly_ news.
McEvoy continues:
"This, though worth quoting, isn't the view I had in mind. Anyway, it might  
interest (JLS at least) to guess which of the following expresses Popper's  
"(a) Catcher is an incisive portrait of the adolescent mindset."
-- I don't think so. As I read elsewhere, Salinger was an ADULT when he wrote 
"Catcher" and he writes and thinks like an adult. A case in point is the  
conversation between HOLDEN CAULFIELD and his little sister, Phoebe Caulfield.  
Neither of them adults.
Yet the conversation goes on (something along the lines):

HOLDEN: We  should leave all this and head for the West [adolescent ridiculous  
PHOEBE: I think we are right. When are we leaving? [adolescent or non-adult  
ridiculous support to ridiculous thought] HOLDEN [having decoded how ridiculous 
his first thought was]: That _is_ ridiculous, ain't it. Surely we SHOULDN'T be 
heading West.
I'll try to trace the quotation where this analysis takes a more serious
"[W]riter and academic Louis Menand thought that teachers assign the novel 
because of the optimistic ending, to teach adolescent readers that "alienation  
is just a phase."[16] 
"While Brooks maintained that Holden acts his age, Menand claimed that Holden 
thinks as an adult, given his ability to accurately perceive people and their 
motives such as when Phoebe states that she will go out west with Holden,  and 
he immediately rejects this idea as ridiculous, much to Phoebe's 
Onstad, Katrina (February 22, 2008). "Beholden to Holden". CBC News.  
Archived from the original on 25 February 2008.
Graham, Sarah (2007). J.D.  Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye. Routledge, p. 33

Elsewhere, I read commentary to the effect that a teenager, when reading 
"Catcher in the Rye", found that, as he recollected later, it was hardly 
feasible of a teenager to be taking cabs to Central Park, etc. It seems most of 
 the behaviour Holden Caulfield engages in in "Catcher", to contradict McEvoy's 
 claim, does "NOT" 
provide "an incisive portrait of the adolescent mindset."
----- What Holden Caulfield engages in is hardly the typical stuff that fills 
the days of typical adolescents or teenagers. 
By the same token, we may, mutatis mutandis, say that Lewis Carroll's 
description of Humpty Dumpty (in "Through the looking glass and what Alice found
 there") is an incisive portrait of an egg mindset" -- which Geary may argue  
McEvoy continues:
"(b) Catcher is a significant document of the US-Soviet Cold War."
I would think it's more of a 'document significant' than a 'significant 
document'. Salinger would agree as he was VERY CAREFUL editing things:
NPR.org » New Documentary Tells The Story Of J.D. Salinger's Life 
Sep 9, 2013 -
"Salinger was a perfectionist who could get melancholy about a misplaced comma."
Finally, there's (c):
"(c) "Catcher" illustrates how American society and culture is 'rootless'  
in comparison to the European."
Salinger possibly had a complex view of identity: was he American? Was he a  
Scots? Was he Irish? Was he Jewish? -- His background is pretty interesting, 
but  hardly rootless. I was fascinated by the fact that his mother changed his 
name  "Marie" to "Miriam", and that Salinger never knew she was NOT Jewish 
until quite  late in life.
Born in the Harlem (New York) -- from wiki: "His mother, Marie (née Jillich), 
was born in Atlantic, Iowa, of Scottish, German, and Irish descent.[9][10][11] 
His paternal grandfather, Simon, born in Lithuania, was at  one time the rabbi 
for the Adath Jeshurun congregation in Louisville,  Kentucky.[12] His father, 
Sol Salinger, sold kosher cheese.[13] Salinger's  mother changed her name to 
Miriam and passed as Jewish. Salinger did not learn  his mother was not Jewish 
until just after his bar mitzvah."
I see a lot of roots there. On the other hand, I find a lot of Icelanders (in 
Iceland, Europe), seem to lack roots.
In fact, there's a "d":
(d) "Catcher" takes a Lockean theory of knowledge and applies it,  
comically, to the growing pains of a sensitive young man.
I don't think Locke believed in "knowledge": 'belief' at most. His is an  
'ideational theory' of this or that, but hardly 'knowledge'. 
(Alston, in "Philosophy of Language", says that Grice and Locke share an  
'ideational theory' of meaning).
It's more like a Condilacian theory. 
There's what Hume later will call impressions versus ideas. We are never  
sure if Holden has ideas, or mere impressions. 
A lot of those impressions concern items ('ideas') such as "goddam",  
"bastard", "Chrissake" and "f*ck". 

This from Wiki (Salinger's entry):
""The Catcher in the Rye"'s initial success was followed by a  brief lull 
in popularity, but by the late 1950s, according to Ian Hamilton, it  had 
"become the book all brooding adolescents had to buy, the indispensable  manual 
from which cool styles of disaffectation could be borrowed.""
"It has been compared to Mark Twain's The Adventures of Huckleberry  Finn."
"Newspapers began publishing articles about the "Catcher Cult", and the  
novel was banned in several countries—as well as some U.S. schools—because of 
 its subject matter and what Catholic World reviewer Riley Hughes called an 
 "excessive use of amateur swearing and coarse language"".
"One diligent parent counted 237 appearances of the word "goddam" in the  
novel, along with 58 of "bastard", 31 of "Chrissake" and six of "f*ck"."
So, according to what McEvoy calls a "Lockean" (but I prefer Condilacian)  
approach, there are 237 impressions of 'god's damnation' (expanding on  
'goddam'), 58 different impressions of 'bastardisation', 31 impressions (or as 
 prefer 'sense data') of "the sake of Christ" (to expand on "Chrissake) and 
6  impressions on sexuality as an act -- rather than gender identity.
From wiki's entry for Condillac:
"In the second section of his "Treatise", Condillac invests his  statue 
with the sense of touch, which first informs it of the existence of  external 
objects. In a very careful and elaborate analysis, he distinguishes the  
various elements in our tactile experiences-the touching of one's own body, the 
touching of objects other than one's own body, the experience of movement, 
the  exploration of surfaces by the hands: he traces the growth of the 
statue's  perceptions of extension, distance and shape."

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