Monday, May 10, 2010

Westport-y


From a postcard dated December 22, 1990 (15 cent stamp with image of a beach umbrella), written by J.D. Salinger to the artist Michael Mitchell, whose art work appeared on the dust jacket of The Catcher in the Rye (wouldn't it be fun to create art for a dust jacket? I believe it would. the creation would be the easy part and securing approval from "Marketing", the B&N brigade, and the Amazon people, and so forth would be the difficult part):

So many thoughts of old years, this cockeyed Westport-y time.

Jerry Salinger meets Franny Glass? As with so many words, context makes the difference. Without cockeyed, Westport-y would be twee.

On Sunday I read this card in the library (room) of the Morgan Library, a small group behind me speaking in low-toned Spanish arpeggios. It was the final day for viewing the Salinger letters (note to the Morgan: did anybody consider propping them up?), and I wished Mitchell's letters had been on hand to round out the conversation.

At one point, parents with small children entered; the toddler in the stroller went on and on (pre-lingually) about the ceiling. I thought of Morgan and his friends and Salinger and his friends, and wondered how friendships figured for both. Also, what would Salinger and Morgan have to say if they met? How would two men of such different strengths pronounce upon each other?
I imagine Salinger would have something to say about Morgan. Certainly he has much to say about John Wayne (he recommends "The Shootist").

In April 1985, he writes to Mitchell that he's not sure the result of his efforts "is any of my business." Also: "I don't know really that the kind of life I live is tellable in any of the normal ways t hat friends tell each other how things are going." And: "I don't think I've ever had any discernable real talent for being a friend to anyone." (If Henry Darger had been articulate and wordy, perhaps he might have written something similar.)

Do friends sign books for people they call friends? Can a genuine friendship be sustained in epistolary fashion over years and years? Supposedly Mitchell (now dead) sold his Salinger letters to a book dealer out of anger, after Salinger declined to sign a copy of a book ("I don't think I can sign a book anymore. . . . Most stuff that is genuine, anyway, is better left unsaid.")

Clearly Salinger cherished his Westport days with Mitchell and his wife, but so many references to them makes a reader wonder if he loved even more the act of turning the memories over and over. A.S. Byatt's novel Possession speaks eloquently to the guessing games that inevitably come into play when people begin to make literary investigations. As with any piece of reportage, a reader can venture only as far as the printed word.

"The attractive assignment or task alone is what I wanted," Salinger tells Mitchell. I couldn't help noticing how the title almost writes itself: The Attractive Assignment: An Attempted Biography of J.D. Salinger.

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