Monday, February 1, 2010

De Daumier-Smith's Long Blue Period

Jerry Fletcher, the character played by Mel Gibson in Richard Donner’s Conspiracy Theory (l997), fills his Greenwich Village apartment with copies of Catcher in the Rye. Of course, the twist lies in the fact that Fletcher, who was modeled to some extent on Mark David Chapman—John Lennon’s killer, who carried a copy of Catcher at the time of the killing and later said the book would explain his actions—is indeed the victim of a conspiracy involving the kind of mind control reminiscent of another classic, John Frankenheimer’s The Manchurian Candidate (1962). (Could the youthful Frank Sinatra, who starred opposite Angela Landsbury in that film, have played Holden Caulfield in the movie version of Catcher that will never be?)
Though Jerry Fletcher may have turned out not to be truly paranoid, paranoia is certainly part of the epitaph of the author he adored. In a way, Fletcher is a perfect metaphor for J.D Salinger’s enormous following. Fletcher has been damaged by events he no longer remembers, and so he is striking out blindly, manufacturing explanations for a world that makes no sense to him. Yet he finds solace in a literary character. The problems affecting Fletcher are far greater than anything that Holden Caulfield faced, but the same cannot be said about Caulfield’s creator, who might have been, for all his brilliance, one of the great miser’s of all time.
Authors copyright their inner lives. However, Salinger behaved as if someone was trying to steal his, slapping a “Top Secret” label on his creatiive life and ceasing to publish at all after 1965. If writing is ultimately about giving, and not just the kind of narcissism that led Salinger to spend the last 45 years of his life writing only for himself, then Salinger didn’t have a philanthropic bone in his body. “De Daumier-Smith’s Blue Period” is one of the Nine Stories Salinger published in 1953.  Speaking of Daumier, the nineteenth-century French caricaturist might have been the perfect artist to capture this egregious instance of creative hoarding.

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