28.1.10

 

 

 

I remember my first real glimpse into New York City — the first time I picked up The Catcher in the Rye. I was standing — if you really want to hear about it — in a bookstore, a sophomore in high school, and from the first sentence I was drawn in as with no book I had read before.

It’s a novel that forces you to ask distressing questions. How do you overcome cynicism in an age of manipulation, when social networking eclipses friendship, when what matters is to seem rather than to be? How do you get past the phoniness in everyone around you, the masks they wear, the sense that no one can be known as he really is? How, among the lonely masses of the city, can you remember that these commuters, these beggars, these cabdrivers and subway operators — are people?

After reading Catcher, I turned to other works by Salinger, and it was in these — notably in the stories of the Glass family — that I found his most compelling answer to Holden’s plight. Seymour Glass, the eldest of seven insanely precocious children, seems in many ways to represent triumph over cynicism.

Seymour sees the flaws in people, their shabby motives, their vanity, but, rather than spurn them, he has compassion. He sees their shortcomings, sees how their shortcomings deprive them of happiness, and he takes pity. He loves them. He looks for the virtues hiding behind their vices. He is attentive to “the main current of poetry that flows through things,” and bears in mind constantly — impossibly, it seems — the fact that every encounter with another human being is sacred. In short, Seymour sees more.

When Zooey, the youngest male of the Glass family, complains about having to appear on a children’s quiz show, Seymour responds by telling him to shine his shoes beforehand. “I was furious,” Zooey recounts. “The studio audience were all morons, the announcer was a moron, the sponsors were morons, and I just damn well wasn’t going to shine my shoes for them.”

Seymour’s answer: Shine your shoes for the Fat Lady. No details, no further explanation. The Fat Lady. Zooey imagines her sitting on a porch in the heat, swatting flies, listening to the quiz show on the radio, and he comes to understand the injunction to shine his shoes. Out of love for that woman. Out of respect for her lonely, downtrodden existence.

Ultimately, Zooey arrives at an even more radical epiphany: Everyone is the Fat Lady. Everyone, from the janitor in your college to the pretentious know-it-all in your section to the president of the United States — everyone is swatting flies on a lonely porch. Everyone has hidden fears, shameful struggles, a loneliness that can never be quite drowned out by the noise of parties or the solace of alcohol. Realizing this, Zooey has gotten beyond cynicism, beyond misanthropy. He can love.

 

Brice Taylor

in Untimely Meditations

publicado no "Yale Daily News" de 18 de Setembro de 2009 aqui

 

 

 

 

J.D. Salinger

1919 - 2010

 

 

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