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28 January 2010

Ultimate effacement

“The only recent photograph of him (taken many years ago) is of him wearing a furious face as he fends off an intruding cameraman.”

Indeed. His name is JD Salinger, and now he’s dead.

In some ways, it feels wrong to reproduce that picture, but let it underscore the mechanical age we live in, an age in which people’s likenesses and personalities are reproduced with the same brutal efficiency as texts and records and automobiles and television shows and microwave ovens. It was the exact thing Salinger’s life seemed a silent protest against. This Rick Moody tribute which appeared on NPR today encapsulated a number of my thoughts. His one time literary home The New Yorker is running a memorial, including subscriber-only access to his stories.

My main thought is about the work which might await us. Yes, there’s been speculation about boxes of unpublished work, recapitulations of Salinger’s statement in 1963, a few years before he went quiet…

“I like to write. I love to write. But I write just for myself and my own pleasure.”

…but there’s been little notion that maybe now (or at least soon) these writings will be published. Let’s remember it’s not publication that Salinger seemed to mind, so much as it was the dangerous, self-exposing, quintessentially modern phenomenon of widespread renown. He committed to staying away from the spotlight, and stuck to it like few others one can recall.

Greta Garbo said: “I never said, ‘I want to be alone.’ I only said, ‘I want to be let alone.'”

Artie Shaw said: “Tell ’em I’m insane. A nice, young American boy walking away from a million dollars, wouldn’t you call that insane?”

Posted by Alec Hanley Bemis  

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