Saturday, March 01, 2008


I continue (to try) to weed. Franny and Zooey, by JD Salinger — I don't remember reading it. I'm not sure why I have it; I mean, apart from it being Salinger, I never felt a particular draw to reading this or any other of his work, no matter how much I love-love-loved The Catcher in the Rye. It's sat there for years. Occasionally my eyes set upon it, and I think I should get round to reading it one of these days.

I start reading on the metro platform the next morning. Inside the front cover is a brief dedication. My heart breaks a little.

love to izia
on her 21st

From my best friend, a very long time ago.

We were messed up at 21. And somehow I managed to cast aside this gift she gave me. That is, I kept it, on a shelf, but I failed to receive its message. Or non-message. And this makes me tremendously sad.

We knew there's no keeping a born scholar ignorant, and at heart, I think, we didn't really want to, but we were nervous, even frightened, at the statistics on child pedants, and academic weisenheimers who grow up into faculty-recreation-room savants. Much, much more important, though, Seymour had already begun to believe (and I agreed with him, as far as I was able to see the point) that education by any name would smell as sweet, and maybe much sweeter, if it didn't begin with a quest for knowledge at all but with a quest, as Zen would put it, for no-knowledge. Dr. Suzuki says somewhere that to be in a state of pure consciousness — satori — is to be with God before he said, Let there be light. Seymour and I thought it might be a good thing to hold back this light from you and Franny (at least as far as we were able), and all the many lower, more fashionable lighting effects — the arts, sciences, classics, languages — till you were both able at least to conceive of a state of being where the mind knows the source of all light. We thought it would be wonderfully constructive to at least (that is, if our own "limitations" got in the way) tell you as much as we knew about the men — the saints, the arhats, the bodhisattvas, the jivanmuktas — who knew something or everything about this state of being. That is, we wanted you boh to know who and what Jesus and Gautama and Lao-tse and Shankaracharya and Hui-neng and Sri Ramakrishna, etc., were before you knew too much or anything about Homer or Shakespeare or even Blake or Whitman, let alone George Washington and his cherry tree or the definition of a peninsula or how to parse a sentence. That, anyway, was the big idea. Along with all this, I suppose I'm trying to say that I know how bitterly you resent the years when S. and I were regularly conducting home seminars, and the metaphysical sittings in particular. I just hope that one day — preferably when we're both blind drunk — we can talk about it.

We've seen each other only a handful of times since we were 21. We even got drunk, though not quite blind. We've talked in circles around something essential; we manage to get a little closer to it when we talk with our pens, now our keyboards — a dialogue at such lengthy intervals, it may as well be conducted by message in bottle.

(The conversation started some 10 years previously and is primarily about the nature of happiness.)

By 21, we'd made fundamentally different life choices, and non-choices; talking was strange, but also strangely... unnecessary.

What was she trying to tell me, with this book, when we were 21?

Did she see herself in Franny? Or Buddy? Or was that supposed to be me? She admired the writing, thought I'd like it too.

I read further; I recognize parts. I have read this book. Simply, it failed to make an impression on me. Which makes me tremendously sad.

That's why Franny and Zooey is on my shelf.


Pearl said...

That's a heart-tugging story. Yours I mean; the novel I haven't read.

Anonymous said...

Wow -- I have a very similar association with that book. Also read it as a messed-up 21yo, was very bound up with the best friend who gave it to me, have since grown completely apart. Only difference is that I loved it back then. I put Epictetus quotes on my wall and dreamt of having a glass of ginger ale with Jesus. Ick.

Catechi Bicycle Accident Lawyer said...

I got this book so that I can give it to my nephew who is the age when he is searching for ultimate meanings. I think that he will find a lot here to like.