God bless you, J.D. Salinger: A short critique on Franny & Zooey

January 27, 2010 § 1 Comment

We live in a literary world full of musings about the Universe. When I say the Universe, I mean the big picture and the things that make up the big picture. One of the greatest pictures human history has ever painted is the picture of religion. And believe you me when I say this – many an author have tried to capture the essence of religion, but none have done it the way Salinger did in his anthology of stories about the Glass family. At this point, I would also be glad to dismiss the notion that he wrote about religion perfectly – I just think he wrote about it in a way that touches ridiculously literary people.

If you thought Fight Club was a great crash course to philosophy, Franny & Zooey is all that, minus the violence. Fight Club relishes the conflict between life and death, and how organic unity (pardon the New Criticism) is achieved through the irony this dogma: giving up and letting go will set you free.

But as I have learned in Philosophy class, this is nothing but a manifestation of the second stage of an ego’s growth: the no-ego. We believe to have attained a false enlightenment via the flight of our burdens. Little do these people stuck in the second stage know that the reason why liberation seems to be in their hands is because they have freed themselves of the burdens of thought. The weight of reflection has been lifted from their minds and all they need to do is breathe. The third stage, the True-Self (that which is unattainable), is another pilgrimage after the second stage. This is the part where I wish: As the buildings explode and The Pixies’ Where Is My Mind plays in the background and Marla Singer holds hands with a half-faced Tyler Durden, I wish it didn’t end. I wish they were well on their way to a path of Truth.

What J.D. Salinger does in Franny & Zooey is that he reviews the web of tension brewing in our philosophical minds. His method, though, does not subscribe to any previously prescribed format by any Enlightened being. He takes an elaborate family, well-endowed intellectually but past their prime.[i] The said web of tension is derived from the condescending brother, Zooey, and his sister Franny. At one point, the theme of their conversation was: “Why do you even pray the Jesus Prayer?” Isn’t this a question we’ve all encountered in our lives, somehow? Probably when we were 21, or 25.

I think what sets apart Franny & Zooey is its realism; its mundane touch. Unlike Fight Club, which could be deemed patriarchal and approaches mental and psychological struggles with violence, Franny & Zooey’s impression of these intellectual conversations is clouded with humane motifs such as smoking cigars, Bloomberg the cat, a normal landscaping of the Glass apartment, and two (a big number, if you’d ask me) deaths in the family, but none of them were portrayed as violent. Rather, the inner peace that Zen claims to be naturally in all of us was present in the Glass residence.

The reason why I wanted to take this up and talk about it in such ungodly hours of the night is that I believe these kinds of books are hard to find. Normally philosophical and religious musings are treated with such violence. A common mistake by authors is to put out so much artificial energy just to prove their point, because who are we kidding? It is hard to talk about these abstractions, these grey areas of the Universe, these big pictures. But Salinger’s take on religion and philosophy has a friendly bedside manner that’s capable of sticking to your instincts and make you think at some coffee-sipping hour that the answers we’re looking for are just around us, and sometimes, they’re waiting at home.


[i] This reminds you of Wes Anderson’s use of the Latin phrase Sic Transit Gloria in his film Rushmore. The same way, the commonly-realized parallelism of the Glass family and the Royal Tenenbaums can be attributed to this. Glory has faded for these characters, and their lives-after are tools for some sort of Enlightenment.

Believe it or not, it’s been ten years since…

January 1, 2010 § 4 Comments

1. Monica – Angel Of Mine

2. Sixpence None The Richer – Kiss Me (with matching She’s All That MV!)

3. Len – Steal My Sunshine

4. KC And Jojo – Tell Me It’s Real

5. Lou Bega – Mambo #5

6. Red Hot Chili Peppers – Scar Tissue

7. Backstreet Boys – All I Have To Give

8. LFO – Summer Girls

9. Goo Goo Dolls – Iris

and of course…

10. Will Smith – Will 2k

Happy new year, everyone!

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