Wednesday, December 20, 2017
The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
So much has already been said about this book that I'm afraid of just being another ripple in an ever increasing pond of analysis, but at the risk of going to far I want to introduce an entirely different interpretation.
It's a book about alienation, that much is true, but Holden's alienation is a self-imposed alienation, one that he uses as a form of self-preservation because the book itself, I think, is a chronicle of childhood sexual abuse among the privileged classes.
If we remember his teacher Mr. Antolini we can infer from what happened that night in his apartment that he was a pederast. Holden himself says that, "When something perverty like that happens, I start sweating like a bastard. That kind of stuffs happened to me about twenty times since I was a kid." So we can infer further that he's experienced this kind of abuse before.
Holden saw the perverted nature of privilege and could understand it only as "phony" which is why so many demented individuals have used this book as a sort of manifesto to explain and justify their own madness.
"It's easier to slit a mans throat than it is to punch him in the face," Holden says, but the question is why? Because the formers too intimate and Holden's afraid of intimacy, he has been betrayed by those authority figures he trusted in life. How else can we understand this one scene and Holden's comments afterward, as well as his behavior throughout the book? I think it's quite clear that this is a book about the obscenity of paternal authority. This authority presents itself as neutral and even compassionate, and this guise prevents us from questioning the exercise of symbolic power, but when we see the paternal authorities obscene dimension, we begin to question its legitimacy. We see it as Holden himself saw it, as "phony."
Tuesday, December 12, 2017
The Trouble with Being Born by Emil M. Cioran
My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Cioran is a writer who occupies that venerable space where philosophy and literature meet. He is a writer who delivers us from despair simply because he is so far removed from it.
“Only optimists kill themselves, he says, “optimists who no longer succeed at being optimists. The others, having no reason to live, why would they have any to die?” An apt question. It’s also where most critics of Cioran go wrong. Far from being a brooding pessimist, maybe he’s simply a veiled optimist.
“We dread the future only when we are not sure we can kill ourselves when we want to.”
Never have I felt more liberated than when considering this idea. It’s like what Cassius says in Julius Caesar, “But life, being weary of these worldly bars, never lacks power to dismiss itself.”
This book comes very close to what the Denial of Death tried to do, except here Cioran focuses on birth as opposed to death as the worst thing that can can happen to us.
Some people have called his ideas dangerous, but at the end of the day, if philosophy is not dangerous, what use do we have for it?
If we take nothing else from the work of Cioran, let it be that question, asked without presentiment.
Tuesday, December 5, 2017
My Father, the Pornographer: A Memoir by Chris Offutt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
“Families,” a therapist once said. “Keep us in business.” I think writers would most likely say the same.
This is an intense memoir about an unusual childhood. A childhood much like my own in the sense that we both grew up in Kentucky amidst crushing poverty and isolation, although in his case he was more closely tied to middle class life than I was. We both had absent, or rather disinterested fathers, and both had the same feelings of inarticulate yearning characteristic of the place we grew up. That hopeless feeling of not belonging, of feeling unfit for your current environment, moving away once your able to and then being even more unfit once you return home.
Memoirs like these help people, not just the authors but the readers, to find their place in the world and in turn that life review helps people come to terms with their own past.
It’s no question really, and a story like this helps to bring this point home, your parents are the ones who fuck you up, and then you end up spending the rest of your life trying to unfuck yourself.