I'm happy to see the woman packing up her things at the only table near an electrical outlet. Good timing, as I have just arrived at the cafe and want to plug in my computer to write one of these little reports. Before I can ask she says I can take the table. She has a clear plastic bag filled with many copies of the same soft cover book. What’s the book? Art therapy texts for the students of the class she’s on her way now to teach. I joke (I think) that I need therapy against art.
- What do you mean?
- Well, I was writing about J. D. Salinger’s story "Hapworth 16". It's complicated. The god-like child narrator suffers from having too great a talent for compassion. Because he can forgive everything he never feels lost and betrayed. He never needs to fight to find a way back to being at home again. He has no use for art. Since a strong sense of much being wrong with the world remains with him, his acceptance of everyone and everything becomes a kind of irony. His compassion, as something made up of knowledge, is a life-long continuous performance, an art of thought instead of making things and doing things in the world. His life is one long ironic statement. He says that when irony substitutes for genuine art it is destructive, and he waits patiently for what fate has in store for him. He knows it’s not good. He ends up killing himself.
- Interesting. I think Salinger may have been suffering from mental illness himself.
- His withdrawal from the world.
- Why assume his wanting to keep his life and writing private was caused by fear, by some kind of irrationality?
- I have got to go now. You said you’ve written this down?
- Yes, you can read it on my blog. Join the other 3 readers. I'll write down the address. I'd say Salinger was sane in his consistent disdain for the world, exactly as much as the character in his story was sick from an excess of compassion and consequent lack of detachment necessary for art - and even his sickness was not irrational. He was sick from understanding. In a way he was sick from Buddhism. He needed the cure for that. Is there anything in your book?
- I’ll see. Nice meeting you.