I just finished watching Shane Salerno's documentary, Salinger. It has left me at once troubled, motivated and hopeful; hopeful that with the right blend of intention, immersion into his work, consistent, heart-sourced writing and those mystic siddhis that years of yoga practice have offered me, I might be able to communicate with him telepathically over time and space; much like he claims to have communicated with his first, ex-Nazi wife. That detail, the Nazi one, may not be so important – except that it highlights the marked, man-making trait of flat-out unwavering allegiance to not giving a F what people, what a misshapen and misguided society might believe to be right or wrong; an allegiance, moreover, to a transcendent code that, given some of his actions to the contrary, could only be truly understood and appreciated by a minority.
Indeed, his seeming contradictions are enough to set page-loads of questions after him, though departed he may be from this mortal coil. That's the part that troubled me: that the media, fans, writers, reporters, all felt the need to question him, to hound him with questions, nay – with insignificant questions. When faced with such a mind, a spirit, a being; if you're going to take the effort to go after him, wouldn't there at least be a "How's your heart?", "How's your life going?" rapport? Perhaps there had been, but as the documentary painted it, his enigma drew out the crazed and demanding vs. kindred seeking-souls. Though the truth is, the world we face (or would it be the world which faces us?) really is our mirror.
His contradictions were just indicators, signs pointing to some deeper truth, a bigger question begging to be asked, one I don't believe he pretended to have the answer to, but was at least astute and interested enough to uncover and present to the world for the unpacking. That is, "Don't you see what a waste this all is?" And then, “So, what’s golden?” What frustrated me some is that, instead of asking him about the root cause for and therefore, solution to, The Catcher in the Rye (which in truth, could only be Salinger’s own inner state), his hounds wanted to know what to do about their own lives, their own writing careers, how to manage their own frail and suspicious conceptions of self. This newly revealed conception of self and society, by the grace of Salinger’s cutting observation and commentary, caused many to lose their grip on life as they thought they’d known it, leaving newly disillusioned (some might even say awakened) souls foundering amidst and fighting against the foggy motives of a superficial, lie-filled world, just like Holden Caufield. But I do understand that to stand face-to-face with a writer, an artist, a being of incalculable depth and intelligence, one who has so suddenly invested you (and so many of your generation) with the utmost meaning, is debilitating on a critical, frontal-lobe-level.
This artistic process of projecting one’s psychology onto a character (or a work), sending it into the world to come head-to-head with similar experiences and perceptions contained in receivers, who in a moment of utter mercy and open-armed acceptance, look into that long-sought for mirror, reveals the essence of the primum, the primal, the original exchange. Therein, his occupation with Vedantic teachings doesn't surprise me in the least. Indeed, it reassures me that his talent wasn't a clever fluke, but instead a studied and soulful stream stemming from the artery of eternal knowledge, of timeless truth, of ecstatic bliss. And like many connected voices who, almost besides themselves, cannot but tap into the thoughtsphere to hungrily (even manically) draw out the marrow for the times, he had this higher understanding before he even knew what it was. Via his commitment to his craft, his dharma, he was led back to the spring, the fountainhead.
Which brings me to Roark. Howard Roark, Ayn Rand’s protagonist who refused to sell out. I couldn't help but marvel at and find joy in their parallels: the indefatigable commitment to the creative act as the path, the goal and the reward; the rigorous dedication, self-control, and determination to remain 100% integral, or at least the attempt to. Perhaps the figure falls somewhere at 98.6%. But could you ever measure integrity? Even those bold enough to strive for perfection, for total integrity in purpose and execution must realize the sheer madness, vanity and self-indulgence it requires, thereby nullifying any possible arrival at such an unwieldy apex. Yet most men (and women) of significance are fiercely uncompromising. And the best of them, a rare breed if there ever was, never have their own interests at the center of their integrity, have instead built a wall of growing greens around higher principles meant to serve a core of love, beneficial to all who come in contact with them, keepers of the most precious commodity. The warrior surely can be understood to be he who, despite his raging gift, chooses to remain unexploited, protected from the selfishly motivated (no doubt existing within himself as well) by a buffer of nature as they buy-in to what may appear to the uninitiated as strange ways.
Which is where Salinger’s contradiction came in. After sharing the most intimate parts of himself through his story telling, he turned around and held fast to his privacy; to his right to unequivocally own his life and mind and time. He insisted on being published in the most celebrated and widely respected journals. And when he got his praise, dancing with a world ready to throw their arms around him and toss him to the heights, he glimpsed a bigger picture, and backed out; recommitted himself to a deeper dedication, one detached from the rabid recognition that comes with great talent. Nevertheless, he allowed a select few to penetrate those walls. He exchanged countless letters with young women (girls, really). They kept him soft-hearted. I would imagine, connected to some sense of innocence and purity that only a war-torn soldier (aren't we all?) could seek with such fantasy-tinged desperation and consistent need as he.
Which leads me to his overriding need for absolute control. He was in love with a striking and intelligent girl. At the same time, he was let off the hook from military service, considered unfit. If that’s not some sense of fate, then I don’t know what is. I'm sure he saw the acceptance of this rejection as utterly fatalistic. Perhaps the real fate was, in all actuality, his self-created destiny, his obstinate, hard-working character (he was a Capricorn, after all). He insisted on going to war. He eventually got his wish, and lost his lover. What could compel such a hard-nosed insistence on calling the shots, on demanding another, what some may consider lesser, hand of cards? Was it inspiration he was seeking; knowing that through war and the head-on confrontation of death one is assuredly on the path to emerge on the other side? It’s a truly beautiful, if not awe-inspiring understanding of duality: to know that if you go so far in one direction, you will come out on the other end, moreover, having culled some hefty fodder (certainly the most precious of resources for artists) along the way.
A divine play, is it not? And oh, to live on that level of consciousness!
The thrilling thing about biographies for me, for most of us I'd imagine, is the opportunity to view a life in its entirety, to glean the bigger picture without being mired in a myopic scene or temporary drama as we may often find ourselves in our own daily lives. There's a free-handed ease in approaching the drawing out of another's life from start to finish. And with that comes a sense that I too, that we all, can take our lives into consideration on this scale and play out the stages with full-faith and commitment to a cause – should we be so lucky to grasp one as all-important, as transformative as JD Salinger had.