Baldwin on Salinger

Haven’t commented on JD Salinger’s passing, essentially because I was never able to read any of his books; no matter how young I was, they just fell from my hands whenever I tried one of them. The yawn of that “vision” of “innocence!” But just now was reading the forthcoming translation of the Algerian writer Nabile Farès’ novel The Passenger from the West, which reprints the author’s interview with James Baldwin as published in Jeune Afrique in September 1970, and here is what Baldwin said about Salinger at that time — an evaluation that, in my eyes, remains accurate today (though I did read Cooper with much enthusiasm when I was Holden Caulfield’s age, but happily in German ‘lite’ translations that, i.e. that had omitted all the religious and moralizing stuffing and left in only the bare-bones adventure tale):

Jeune Afrique:  Is there, in the United States, a difference between the new generation of white writers and the previous one?
James Baldwin:  As far as I’m concerned, I don’t see a major difference between the two. Between James Fenimore Cooper and J.D. Salinger, there appears to me a very logical link. If you are capable of The Last of The Mohicans you’re certainly capable of writing Franny and Zooey.  Both works are situated equally far from reality. The story of The Last of The Mohicans has never existed in any tribe. It only existed in the heads of people who were not yet Americans, but who were busy slaughtering in order “to civilize.” Mssrs. Cooper and Salinger don’t interest me in the slightest. The latter gets off by bearing a sort of witness to American innocence. But this witness is out of whack with the facts.

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