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Why Did Salinger Once Seem So Modern? It Was Not Holden Alone.

Filed under: The Squib Report   Tagged: , , , , ,

Martin Schneider writes:

A few days ago, on slender justification, I concocted a post about J.D. Salinger out of a news report I happened to see about the (either cancelled or postponed) premiere of a TV game show about child prodigies. The implied connection was fatuous—and yet it sparked a thought.

Until today I have shielded myself from the response to Salinger's death (although expect a roundup post on same anon), so I would have no way of knowing if the import of this post is trite or profound. I did notice that Garth Risk Hallberg at The Millions made the case that Salinger shifted the center of American literature from "manly" attributes like courage and honor to something more urban and intellectual—it doesn't take much imagination to trace that particular lineage. In the broadest sense Jonathan Lethem, Jonathan Safran Foer, Jonathan Ames, David Foster Wallace, and even Philip Roth are in Salinger's debt.

So okay—the intellect, add to it the focus on adolescence. That's two big parts of the puzzle, obvious ones at that. But I want to draw attention to another one.

As a commenter named "liza" reminded me, "It's a Wise Child" was based on a real radio show called "Quiz Kids" (curiously, the Wikipedia entry does not mention Salinger, as it surely should).

So what does that tell us about the Glass siblings? In short, in addition to being neurotics and prodigies and suicides, they were celebrities. I speak only for myself, but in thinking about Buddy, Franny, Seymour, and the rest of them, I tend to forget this fact—partly because Salinger's skill, whether in dialogue or the "panoramas" of "Zooey," keeps us so firmly in the present tense.

One of the big stories of the postwar era is the rise of fame itself as a subject for contemplation. Salinger may have been the first American writer to explore it with any thoroughness. Who else did it, before Salinger?

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