A DIFFERENT SOPHISTICATION
I came across J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye in 1962, just before stepping into the travelling-pioneering arena. It had little impact on me at the time. Recently I read several analyses of the book, Salinger’s sophisticated writing and a biography of the man. After reading these commentaries I felt there was an interesting comparison and contrast with my Baha’i experience in the last half of the twentieth century. Salinger also was a wonderful example, a relevant lesson, for any writer who becomes popular and wants desperately to preserve his privacy.
The year you1 set off in search of a retreat
we went to one hundred new countries, the
biggest spread in any one year in our history.
We were in retreat from corrupt America
just like you, but we played it differently
with our ever onward and outward Plans
than you and your Zen which was just
beginning to make its mark on men, then.2
Space, solitude, silence and self-sufficiency
seemed to be the core of your dream, all
your life after Catcher in the Rye made you
famous and you withdrew into anonymity.
The teenage revolution began about the same
time and millions saw their problems, endless
sensitivities, spiritual aloneness, silent suffering,
withdrawal, the drying of their hope and wonder
in your skilful words. You spoke a language that
resonated throughout America in the ninth and early
tenth states of history3, my teenage and adult years.
The voice that I had found, had heard, had
resonated in my inward being as I walked
through silent streets alone, or at night as I
read in my bed, or at meetings in my home
was far removed from your’s. It was a
nightingale’s that sang on the twigs of the
Tree of Eternity with holy and sweet melodies,
subtle, silent and of the rarest sophistication,4
plummeting my soul outward across the planet.
And now, I seek that same solitude and silence,
after three dozen years of endless outreach in
community with my endless words and words.
I have learned from your sad days and ways, as
I make my own way through the minefield that
publicity offers up. I enjoy the freedom from the
great publicity and media machines that our world
has thrown up on the detritus of our dieing age and
yours: how long, how long? Will this poetry remain
forever in Obscurity? One of the wonders of WWW
is that one can move out of obscurity and never have
to deal with fame and with those rigours of renown!!
29 January 1998
updated on 30/1/’10
on hearing of the death of J.D. Salinger.
1 J. D. Salinger published Catcher in the Rye in 1951 and set off for a winter retreat in late 1952. In some ways this marks the beginning of his search for solitude and anonymity that characterized the rest of his life. See In Search of J.D. Salinger: A Biography, Ian Hamilton, Random House, NY, 1988, p. 132.
2 Suzuki’s Zen texts were first published in the USA in 1949, but it was not until 1953 that they began to make their mark. That was the year of the opening of the Baha’i temple in Chicago and the inception of the Kingdom of God on earth as the Guardian characterized this event in God Passes By.
3 Catcher in the Rye started to really sell and be reviewed in 1956.(ibid.,p.155) It was one of the most popular books in the last years of the Ten Year Plan and in the first quarter-century of the tenth stage of history.(1963-1988)
4 one of the meanings of sophisticated is “to deprive of simplicity”. I do not find the Baha’i writings ‘simple’, or characterized by ‘simplicity.’ Indeed they are, as a body, quite complex. They “can be read over and over without understanding.”(John Hatcher, The Ocean of His Words, Wilmette, 1997, p.7.)