Seymour Glass Says Good Night

I have some thoughts on J. D. Salinger up at Open Democracy.

Will we find out now what he was up to for the last forty-five years? There should be a word “privashing,” meaning “to do the opposite of publishing.” Kafka privashed most of his work – although the concept is clearly contradictory from the get go, since if he’d really privashed successfully, we wouldn’t have heard of him. Dave Eggers, being himself a publisher, naturally suspects it’s unlikely Salinger managed to produce anything coherent in isolation.

Eggers writes, “To me the question of whether or not he continued to write strikes at the heart of the nature of writing itself. If he indeed wrote volumes and volumes about the Glass family, as has been claimed, it would be such a curious thing, given that the nature of written communication is social; language was created to facilitate understanding between people. So writing books upon books without the intention of sharing them with people is a proposition full of contradictory impulses and goals.”

More perspectives on Salinger here. Christopher Hitchens reports anecdotal evidence that American teenagers no longer “get” Holden Caulfield.

I think I’ll be quoting Salinger’s Seymour Glass a lot this week. Here he is writing to Buddy Glass, from “Seymour – an Introduction” —

“When was writing ever your profession? It’s never been anything but your religion. Never. I’m a little over-excited now. Since it is your religion, do you know what you will be asked when you die? But let me tell you first what you won’t be asked. You won’t be asked if you were working on a wonderful, moving piece of writing when you died. You won’t be asked if it was long or short, sad or funny, published or unpublished. You won’t be asked if you were in good or bad form while you were working on it. You won’t even be asked if it was the one piece of writing you would have been working on if you had known your time would be up when it was finished – I think only poor Søren K will get asked that. I’m so sure you’ll get asked only two questions. Were most of your stars out? Were you busy writing your heart out? If only you knew how easy it would be for you to say yes to both questions. If only you’d remember before ever you sit down to write that you’ve been a reader long before you were ever a writer. You simply fix that fact in your mind, then sit very still and ask yourself, as a reader, what piece of writing in all the world Buddy Glass would most want to read if he had his heart’s choice. The next step is terrible, but no simple I can hardly believe it as I write it. You just sit down shamelessly and write the thing yourself. I won’t even underline that. It’s too important to be underlined. Oh, dare to do it, Buddy! Trust your heart. You’re a deserving craftsman. It would never betray you. Good night.”
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  • The other Olga

    I like your concept of "privashing" — it gets to the point that to share your work with people one does not necessarily need to "publish" it.. Didn't Emily Dickinson privash her work as well?
    Moreover, different writers require different kinds of readers to feel like they've communicated successfully — to some, the whole world is not enough; to others, the approval of one or two readers whose opinion they respect is the sign of ultimate success. I've read this theory somewhere and it makes a lot of sense to me.