I think you are right. You write damn fine poetry so, natch...
If you have something nice to say about me you should visit my mother.
Yes, you must visit my mother and tell her this. She won't listen to me.
She's just down the road from you -- right on 30 -- Coatesville, Pa. Probably
you could carry a volume of William James. Otherwise she will suspect that
you intend to smoke cigarettes and talk of Heidegger and she has had enough
I am, of course, not saying anything against the higher criticism (too many
commas etc.). But here's an example of how, for me, all this comes into
For example, the ouevre of J.D. Salinger has recently come under my one
eye. How to reconcile "Catcher in the Rye" with "A Great Day for
Bananafish?" I humbly offer this as an example to anyone who wishes to
explicate my own poesy.
Let's begin with Holden wanting to know where the ducks go in winter.
At first Holden wants to know what happens to the ducks. That's what he asks
the first cabdriver. However, when he meets the second cabbie (Horowitz?) H.
tells him he shouldn't be worried about the ducks but should be worrying
about "the goddamn fish." Holden seems to agree! The readers of _Salinger
Watch_ are pretty sophisticated. They already know all about the ducks for
God's sake. They want to know about the fish. Publishing something about the
ducks is like a Milton scholar publishing something like "Milton and the
Pendant World_ or _The Two Handed Engine: Sheephooks, Blind Mouths and the
Regii Sanguinis Clamor."
What we have here is an aporia. De Man (had he lived) might have been good
on this but he is dead (and turned out to be a phony anyway). So we are left
with the aporia between Holden's rhetoric of performance and his rhetoric of
irony. This turns out to be as important as what poems were written on
Allie's baseball glove. (BTW the best article that I have seen on this does
for sure eliminate Spenser's Epithelamion. I am certain that Thomas Lovell
Beddoes' "Dream Pedlary" was definitely there and equally certain that not a
single line by that phony Thomas Love Peacock was included).
Anyway, what seems to me to be important about the fish is the same thing
that is important (and essential) about Gregory Corso`s remark that Ted
Williams was a poet -- perhaps the best American poet.
By the way, asking whether a bananafish is real won't get you anywhere with
that story. This is a kind of new historical approach that would have been
called new historical had the new historicism existed when it was first
suggested. In fact, the new historicism suggests that we can call this
approach new historical and even criticize it for being new historical even
though the term new historical did not exist when the suggestion was made.
Pay attention to the little feet.
Think about Phoebe's little feet (we are back to Catcher in the Rye) and
even about Lolita's little feet (which should take you back to little feet
in Pushkin and from here it shouldn't be too big a leap a certain
personage's habit of crushing serpent's heads under her _little feet) and
you are back to Milton (old Milton as Holden might have said) and the key to
the two handed engine and the bananafish).
Once you get that, you are ready to take another look at the "goddamn fish"
and perhaps by now realize that the fact that the second cab driver seems to
direct Holden's attention to the fish not as one might direct Christ's
attention to his mission but as one might direct Samson's attention to a
certain woman's previous inamoratii.
Holden's choice here is between Christ and Dagon -- a choice that is _not_
resolved until his final meeting with Phoebe (with her oh! so little feet)
and is, perhaps, not even finally resolved when Seymour asks his fellow
elevator passengers why they are staring at his "goddamn feet." The feets
Multiple allusions in Salinger to the Great Tradition! And so, poetry not
subject to the higher criticisms of fleshy readers (even those who are sound
on punctuation) but to, as you say, other poems (your own internalized
My mother disagrees so don't bring this up!
The Pleasant Reviewer
Headmaster, St. John Boscoe Laboratory School
Switchboard Captain, Hollywood Colonial Hotel
All complaints shall be directed to:
The Fallows, 200 Fifth Avenue, Fredonia City
"That's Double Dependability"
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