Tuesday, June 6, 1944, was the turning point of J. D. Salinger’s life. It is difficult to overstate the impact of D-day and the 11 months of combat that followed. The war, its horrors and lessons, would brand itself upon every aspect of Salinger’s personality and reverberate through his work. As a young writer before entering the army, Salinger had had stories published in various magazines, including Collier’s and Story, and he had begun to conjure members of the Caulfield family, including the famous Holden. On D-day he had six unpublished Caulfield stories in his possession, stories that would form the spine of The Catcher in the Rye. The experience of war gave his writing a depth and maturity it had lacked; the legacy of that experience is present even in work that is not about war at all. In later life, Salinger frequently mentioned Normandy, but he never spoke of the details—“as if,” his daughter later recalled, “I understood the implications, the unspoken.”
An excerpt from Jason Epstein’s review Merchants of Culture: The Publishing Business in the Twenty-First Century by John B. Thompson for the latest NYRB:
Digital enthusiasts should… consider that as the embrace of other electronic media has widened, the average quality of their product has declined: from Masterpiece Theatre to Jersey Shore, from Franklin Roosevelt and Adlai Stevenson to Sarah Palin, from Julia Child to Rachael Ray. My own guess is that the digital future in which anyone can become a published writer will separate along the usual two paths, a narrow path toward more multilingual variety, specificity, and higher average quality and a broader path downward toward greater banality and incoherence, while the collective wisdom of the species, the infallible critic, will continue to preserve what is essential and over time discard the rest.
(The full review requires a subscription)
Most commentators on Hergé mention that he was a film fan and drew many situations from movies of the 1920s and 1930s. Like Hollywood studio cinema, his tales put striking technique in the service of fluent storytelling. Pause to study the narrative and you’ll find a surprising richness to the imagery; start by looking at the pictures as pictures, and you’ll see how composition, color, and detail smoothly advance the action. Hergé was well aware that his polished imagery could stand scrutiny in its own right, but he saw it as serving a larger narrative dynamic.
(Out of curiosity, does anyone compile annual list of the best online literary criticism?)
Montaigne and Monkeys — Saul Frampton, author of the ridiculously titled When I Am Playing With My Cat, How Do I Know She Is Not Playing With Me?: Montaigne and Being in Touch With Life, on 16th Century French philosopher Michel-de-Montaigne and neuroscience in The Guardian:
For Montaigne, as for contemporary neuroscientists, humans… have an inbuilt imitative, sympathetic capacity. Moreover, he does not see it as species-dependent… In one of his most famous aphorisms he asks: “When I am playing with my cat, how do I know she is not playing with me?” And he tells how animals themselves form “a certain acquaintance with one another” and greet each other “with joy and demonstrations of goodwill”. Then, in a lengthy comment added to the final edition of his essays, he completes the circle from animal-to-human to human-to-human again, concluding that we cannot help but communicate ourselves in some way… even if it is something to which we are habitually blind…
And finally (in the unlikely case anyone missed it)…