J.D. Salinger (1919-2010)

J.D. Salinger died yesterday. I’ve been reading the news reports, each describing his life since he found fame and fortune with The Catcher in the Rye. They call him a recluse; his decisions strange and odd, which I suppose is true. One report mentioned that he had made some strange choices, preferring to be in relationships with much younger women, choosing to live an ascetic life. I can’t help wondering how far from the truth of his life the reports are. I wonder if the sort of fame he experienced made his choice to get away the only sane option. How many bizarre examples (Tiger, Brittany, Michael) to show the destructive power of that sort of legendary and universal fame.
I love the book Franny and Zooey, 1964. He’s the only writer I’ve ever read who clearly articulated the dark side of the ascetic life. The upside is well documented albeit often attacked and distorted by fundamentalists. The downside is that facing your own demons and giving yourself to God can drive you, in a sense, mad. It affirms the reality that only in tension do we change. And tension can become a sort of addiction which is destructive to the person. Still, he’s such a good writer that I still find hope and inspiration in the book.
I’ve heard that Salinger went on writing in seclusion all these years; that a stash of material is slated to be published posthumously. Here’s hoping that it’s true.

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  • Help me understand how "tension" (the only route to change) can be destructive to the person? I get the addiction bit, can lead to disquiet/discontent, but destruction? Been wondering about this very idea of late……? I raise my class to Salinger!

  • Hey Mandy!

    These are not organized thoughts… I'm just rambling.

    I think what I mean is that meditating through the Jesus Prayer is meant to help one to get beyond the love of self for self's sake, right? The return trip is to love the self (and the world) for God's sake, but in between are all kinds of slip ups, especially if one has had a really fractured upbringing or serious past trauma, which Franny had in the book and which so many people have. Staring down one's demons is no simple task and should be neither prescribed nor scripted. If we do this, well, we are off the map and will certainly lose the way from time to time. Some people never find their way back. It's a really dangerous thing to allow God to root around in one's whole heart. Most people never do it. There is a lot of darkness and pain to go through and I think there is a certain amount of madness (I call it madness because it's vague… some people think you are insane & you look insane to those who live above ground. You feel insane sometimes and that's the part nobody tells you about.), that goes along with the process of allowing God to heal the whole person. There is no guarantee in terms of how you come out on the other side, or even that you will come out at all, at least in any recognizable form as "you."

    In a culture bent on serving the self, one who lives to serve God and others looks crazy. The pilgrim who meditates on the Jesus prayer over time – months and years – sees the world in a completely different way. In the light of what is going on in their heart, the cultural importance of dinner out or a football game can literally seem absurd. But this reality (the tension, discontent) emerges before the way through it does, and there are no guarantees. That's the dark side of the ascetic life.