Dr. Chen Edelsburg
One of my biggest loves is Buddy Glass – Salinger’s alter Ego, the narrator of his two later books. Buddy’s uniqueness as a narrator is the immense love he has for his characters. It is not a coincidence that all the characters he writes about are his siblings. How else can one explain so much love, without relying on family ties? Buddy's love, as strange as it sounds, is a conscious aesthetic decision. In one of the letters that his older brother Seymour writes, he urges Buddy to love (or at least to like better) his characters: “I think it should be done over, Buddy.
The Doctor is so good, but I think you like him too late. The whole first half, he's out in the cold, waiting for you to like him, and he's your main character” (from “Seymour: An Introduction”). The narrator’s feelings toward his characters are fundamental in shaping the readers’ attitude toward them.
However, Salinger's love is not only a writing technique, but also one of the central themes of his texts. In the opening of "Zooey," for example, Buddy instructs us to read it as a love story: “Somewhere in ‘The Great Gatsby’ (which was my ‘Tom Sawyer’ when I was twelve), the youthful narrator remarks that everybody suspects himself of having at least one of the cardinal virtues, and he goes on to say that he thinks his, bless his heart, is honesty.
Mine, I think, is that I know the difference between a mystical story and a love story. I say that my current offering isn't a mystical story, or a religiously mystifying story, at all. I say it's a compound, or multiple, love story, pure and complicated.” Buddy sees his story as something that not only deals with love, but also as its embodiment. His story is a gift of love for his readers, and he asks us to read it as such.
One of the main criticisms of Salinger's later works, from which the above quotes were taken, was that he loves his characters too much. This love stood out especially against the background of his early stories, in which the narrator was sometimes quite cruel towards the characters (for example in “A Perfect Day for Bananafish” the narrator describes Muriel as she tweezes out “two freshly surfaced hairs in her mole”). Why did this love bother critics? And even more bizarre, perhaps, is that it did not bother the “amateur” (non-professional) readers, to which Salinger's last book was dedicated.
I suspect that his love bothered critics because of the antagonistic relationship that sometimes exists between love and interpretation. Love is often thought about as something that cannot be interpreted, something that even resists interpretation (as Freud claims in “Observations on Transference Love”). Therefore, scholars may have felt that Buddy-Salinger's love for characters blocked their ability to interpret the text, to understand it, and to produce knowledge about it.
They were left helpless when faced with it, deprived of their intellectual tools. Due to this sense of deprivation, they sought revenge against him by writing bad reviews of his later works. The rift between Salinger and scholars who followed his work was so intense that it was neglected by academia from the early 1960s until after his death. The cost of this revenge was so severe that Salinger totally stopped publishing from 1965 onwards. The radical change in his writing was seen as evidence of the author's mental and spiritual crisis and not as a poetic development. Amateur readers, on the other hand, —“who just read and run” as Salinger writes in the dedication for Raise High the Roof Beam, Carpenter— remained faithful to his later works, which are immersed in love.
It is not surprising, therefore, that there has been renewed interest in Salinger’s work in recent years. The rise of reading theories that focus on trauma and affect allows for a different understanding of his works. My reading of Salinger uses a psycho-Marxist perspective that combines narratology, ideology and emotion, in an attempt to read in a way that does not ignore the bi-directional love generated by the text, but uses it as a kind of knowledge.
Seymour also suggests that Buddy should produce knowledge from emotion: “Guilt is an imperfect form of knowledge. Just because it isn't perfect doesn't mean that it can't be used. The hard thing to do is to put it to practical use before it gets around to paralyzing you.” My goal in writing “Restorative and Traumatic Interpellations: The Second-Person Address in Salinger’s Works” was to put my love of Salinger's work into practical use, and think of the ways the text allows me to love it back.
This paper emerged from one sentence in which Buddy addresses his readers at the beginning of “Seymour: An Introduction,” by calling them “Great bird lovers.” This struck me not only as an act of love towards readers (myself included), but also an instruction asking me to love the text back, in a specific way, practicing a different kind of reading. My attempt to explore this request, and to live up to it, led me to writing this essay.