Tuesday, January 02, 2007

The Catcher in the Rye and Unread Writers

I was talking to someone today on the phone and we realized from reading blogs that for most writers in 2006 the birth of world literature started with The Catcher in the Rye. That the whole history of literature begins with The Catcher in the Rye. That is as far as their reading habits have gone. And that is only because they were forced to read it in high school.

Most writers only have read what they were forced to read in school and what is called "the new IT book."

This is why I get called Holden Caulfield. Even though i only read that book once and thought it sucked.

Because in The Catcher in the Rye nothing happens. There is a guy who is rich and does nothing, nothing bad happens in that whole book, there is no conflict, there is nothing existential said, he is sad why? nobody knows.

These are my lit protagonist heroes:

Nikolai Stavrogin
Arkady Dolgoruky
Antoine Roquentin
Cross Damon
Sean Bateman

Okay, read those names, none of them is Holden Caulfield

Also the people who shit on my thing on Tao's blog.

This is why you argued?

Because you are in fact part of the problem and don't even know it.

You are so stuck in your type of literature and don't read anything else you don't even know there are different kinds of literature going on in America. You read these certain books and only these certain books. You were just confused, you were like, "I don't know what he is talking about." And you wrote a reply based on not knowing what you were talking about but wanting to be part of a conversation, but really it was yourself talking to yourself.

No one is battling for supremacy in the lit world, the movie books won if you haven't noticed.

To Kristin and Tao, I'm not talking about innovation or experiments, i'm talking about you two asses. Both of you are original, you write from yourself. You are innovative because you work hard and try desperately to express yourselves. Gene Morgan's Bear Parade is innovative because it has taken ebooks to a new level, they are free, they have cool layouts, he is doing something new with literature. Instead of just making people pay three dollars for a PDF file. You have unique voices and personalities. And THERE IS ALWAYS MORE BE DONE WITH LITERATURE, PEOPLE WERE SAYING THAT IN LIKE 1850. THERE IS ALWAYS MORE TO BE DONE, AND YOU TWO ASSES ARE DOING IT, QUIT BEING MODEST. SPIKE THE BALL AND DO A LITTLE DANCE.


adam said...

Is he mentally ill? Does he know it? Yes and yes. The end.

Mike Young said...

Though I don't really think I shit on your thing, I did find it sort of funny, and I didn't really think you were being as serious as you seem to be here.

Noah: "You are so stuck in your type of literature and don't read anything else you don't even know there are different kinds of literature going on in America. You read these certain books and only these certain books."

But only three or maybe five different kinds, right?

Also: I don't understand how you "know" that people have only ever read Catcher in the Rye if they disagree with "cram-everything-into-two-giant-asscheeks" style arguments. I mean, I just think that style of sorting is categorically fucked up. Whether it's literature or football offenses.

Also: if writers even get as far as blogs, e-zines, etc, wouldn't it be fair to think they probably are at least looking for writing outside of "what they were forced to read in high school?" I mean, maybe I know some young fantasy and sci-fi writers who think "serious literature" begins and ends with Salinger and Vonnegut and Neil Gaiman, but they certainly aren't around these sorts of blogs bothering to wise up or absorb any cranky comments.

In conclusion: I think your argument is sort of unfair to people who aren't your enemy but who think the world is fundamentally complicated. For instance: should I feel insulted because I like Denis Johnson's stuff? He went to Iowa, after all. And while I apologize for picking such a radically popular example, it's sort of fundamentally true that he doesn't write like John Updike or a ton of other MFA grads. Yet there he is with his MFA.

In other words, you said when you read modern books you can usually put them into three categories without problems. Dude: just because I can't really do that without plenty of problems doesn't mean 1) I'm an idiot or 2) I don't read books.

Chief said...

I hang around here because I'm deeply curious about Noah--I can't quite figure him out. One minute he seems really unguarded and frank, a plainspeaking voice of the people, the next he's sort of cynical and insincere, A la Rimbaud.

Sometimes Noah seems to write like he's completely out of control, others, like he's firmly in charge of his material. Is it raw or is it calculated? I really can't tell.

I gave The Condemned to my brother-in law over Christmas, and like 30 minutes later he came back to me with this consternated expression, and asked, "Dude, what's up with this guy (meaning Noah)? Is he retarded or is he a genius?"

"Beats me," I answered, and we started laughing.

Part of me sees Noah as Ed Wood (infamous director of "Plan 9 from Outer Space") another part of me sees Noah as Johnny Depp playing Ed Wood in Tim Burton's excellent biopic. Whichever way you slice it, Ed Wood is still extremely entertaining.

The only time Noah ever bores me is when he posts long passages of Sartre. But guys like you, Mike Young (and on some level, I am a guy like you, so...) with your insistence upon having considered opinions and your milquetoast idealism, you bore me to tears. I'll bet my life savings that your favorite band is Yo La Tengo and that you're into photography--you guys are goddamn dime a dozen.

AT least Noah's brand of Outsider Writing has the ability to hurt my sinuses. Who've you ever hurt? Huh? Mike Young, you poster-boy for affable shoegazers--name a single feather that you've ruffled in your lifetime.

Mike Young said...

Mr. Chief:

I'm not sure I have a favorite band. I think I've heard maybe one Yo La Tengo song that I like. Most of their music is boring wanky sigh-shit. Most of what I like is country music or hmm, bouncy folk-pop.

I enjoy Noah's writing and have bought his books.

I'm sorry I haven't hurt you.

Did you read what I wrote in Tao's comment section?

Thank you for using my first name and my last name.

Mike Young said...

Oh shit. I used the word "fundamentally" twice in my comment. Bummer. My delicate argument is assfucked.

Chief said...

Argh!!! My life-savings!

(reaches in front-trouser pocket, pulls out a lint-covered packet of cinammon gum)

Chief said...

Sorry, let's pray for renewable resources.

trevor johnson said...

I'm battling for a little success in the lit world.

And I like Bright Eyes a lot.

Mike Young said...

Thanks for reading my interview, Chief. Most of it is pretty ridiculous.

I did this other interview you can read with a person named Erica who works for NASA in Texas.

I would link to it, but that would be rude to do in Noah's blog.

You can find the link on my blog thing, though.

Thank you.

MadisonGlass said...

Noah, I had no idea there was so much Tao Lin bashing in your comments sections. I never bothered to read your comments sections. Huh. And chief's here.

When I read "Arkady" I was thinking Turgenev. That book is great. Hilarious. I haven't read that much Dostoevsky. It sounds like I should. I read the one, the famous one, and then I didn't feel like I needed more. That's the point. You read things you're going to like, or that will inform your own writing. I don't have time to read things I don't think I'm going to get anything out of. But I'm trying to read all the classics. Because I want to be an upper-class snob, and upper-class snobs need to have read such things. And I'm always open to suggestions by people who know my taste. I'm reading "Good Morning, Midnight" on Tao's suggestion right now. I've only read a chapter, but I think it's going to be one of my favorite books, up there with some of the Duras stuff.

On the other hand. I know, it's uncool to like Salinger. It's uncool to like a lot of things I like. And I've read everything he's ever published (even the stuff you can't find anymore, the under-published, via a small and now defunct anarchist publisher). But I liked Catcher in the Rye. I read it twice in junior high. It's the true "coming of age novel" that everything is always supposed to be but isn't. I haven't read it in over a decade but things do go on. It's a character piece. Caulfield is depressed and ornery. He doesn't know why and it's mostly because he's an adolescent (even if he's supposed to be, I don't know, seventeen or whatever). Anyway we assume that's what it is. But his brother died as a child. His parents no longer seem affected by it and he hates them for it (because he's young and he deals with everything like a petulant child). But by the end of the novel, he's realizing that all he's doing is trying to fight off adulthood, because he feels like he's losing something, and he's losing his brother all over again. And he wants his little sister to stay a child forever, and never to have to go through what he's going through. He wants her to stay like his little brother, innocent and good, because he loves her, but in the end it's too late, because it happens to everybody, if they are going to live that long, and so he has to let her and his brother go. He is on the brink of adulthood. He realizes he needs to grow up. Perfect novel for teenagers. So, even if you don't like it, which I understand, things do go on. Dislike it for the right reasons.

Did I shit on your thing on Tao Lin's blog? I don't even know. I do things and then immediately forget. I'm sorry if I said something, and you felt that way. I like you.

Kristen Iskandrian said...

Hi Noah, you called me and Tao asses. It made me laugh. Thank you. I AM in a constant desperate state of trying to express myself, even when I am alone, even when I'm not writing. I am looking at my brain and sick over what it's doing or not doing, which is I think 'expressing' onself. The more closely what I say or what I write resembles the sickness in my brain, the happier (?) I feel. I've spent some time thinking about these ideas and I think I figured something out; it's probably more elementary than it seems to me. But it occurred to me that true innovation happens more for the reader than for the writer; that is, it is, or should be, a 'readerly' construct, and not necessarily a writerly goal. It is maybe not so much 'newness' as it is an encounter, a moment of truth. So, certain things will always seem innovative, regardless of trend or style or pedigree. Truth, I think it is a lasting thing. But 'relating' to or 'identifying' with, say, a character or a certain milieu--these things maybe are subject to change. Truthfulness is innovation maybe for writer and reader. I was thinking this stuff, and then I read this quote from Blanchot and felt smug, followed immediately by feeling like an asshole:

"That is why the work is a work only when it becomes the intimacy shared by someone who writes it and someone who reads it, a space violently opened up by the contest between the power to speak and the power to hear."

In another part he says that a person has to BE fascinated in order for a thing to be fascinating--that fascination isn't merely intrinsic to the thing. Similarly, I guess, I have to recognize the truth when I read it.

I am nervous this doesn't make as much sense here as it does in my head, and that there is an 'a-ha!' part of this I can't articulate clearly. I'm going to eat a sandwich now.

I want to read your books, Noah, I will do that.

Tao Lin said...

this comments section is nice now, it became nice and calm, and i like it

adam said...

I was a homeschooler. I wasn't forced to read anything. I still picked up "Catcher In The Rye," and I didn't like it.

I guess the problem I have with Mike's interpretation is that it's a bit too close to a happy ending for me-- it sounds like he's going to change, and entirely for the better, if you buy that he's crazy. It's missing the mental illness Salinger's describing as fueling Holden's behavior, and Salinger himself misses the implications of that illness.

It's weird that he fumbles there, if you ask me, because in other stories of his, like "A Perfect Day For Bananafish," he's willing to show someone who, like most people in real life, loses their sanity and never gets it back. It's like he liked Holden too much to really hurt him and became a caring God to the protagonist.

Or, the alternative: Holden's not ill, he just wants to pretend he is and screw around in New York City before someone cleans up his messes. That actually seems more likely to me, and to be fair to Salinger, there's plenty of rich kids who do this kind of thing. So I'm putting my interpretive vote into the "fake crazy" bin.

But in that case, Noah's right. Pretty much nothing interesting or deep is happening. If Salinger was honest about the shallowness of the story, that'd be cool, but Holden's narration is a mix between things no teenager would ever say or think and kindly, thoughtful advice from all the adults. The first is a lie for obvious reasons; the second, an overstatement of the wisdom of adults.

And Kristin and Tao:

Sup, you're cool.

Anonymous said...

tao lin, you should be promoting yourself

please return to your blog and promote yourself

MadisonGlass said...

I feel rejected. I am sensitive. I won't post here anymore.

Anonymous said...

Hey Rouse this is Clint and Kyle

I think Holden represents the weaknesses of American society and how too many people take things for granted and go through life without caring about what really matters, and concentrating all their energy on just trying to look good for other people. I think he is more of a symbol than an actual protaganist, because as stated above, he doesn't actually "do anything" of importance throughout the entire book.

Anonymous said...

I think you are not a very good writer because a good writer would not call Catcher in the Rye a bad book. I am a writer and I think the book is funny and has a mix of different genres in it. Also you don't even have good proff of your opinion and why you think it is so bad......Your ridiculous!

Anonymous said...

wow...u are obbsessed with hating that book...arent u? who cares anyway..u are ridiculous!

Anonymous said...

if you don't think Catcher in the Rye is a good book than you obviously don't know a good book.
And at least they read that book in High School because I'd seriously doubt that not 1 High School student otherwise would read that book.
And if you would have got that book, you would have understood al the things going on in the story, like the fear of growing up leaving childhood behind. It has so many relevant things in it, I think you can read that book 100 years from now and it wouldn't be out of date.

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About Medicine Blog said...

Even though i only read that book once and thought it sucked.

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