1 Feb 2010

Why hello, navel.

February 1, 2010 506, assignments Comments Off

I read Catcher in the Rye when I was 13. It’s a good time to read it, especially when you’re a prickly, precocious kid with a bone to pick with the world.

I read Catcher in the Rye again when I was 23. I was too old for Holden; I wanted to slap that whiner across the face with his stupid hat.

Holden Caulfield, cultural icon. Metaphor for disaffected American youth. J.D. Salinger, the writer who withdrew to write, many imply selfishly, for himself.

Except that if you knew Holden like I knew Holden, you know it wasn’t that he didn’t care. It was that he cared too much, more than the rest of those phoneys.

Holden awkwardly wanders through adolescence, caught between a childhood he idealizes and an adult world that feels inauthentic.

Holden feels the pain of our compromises.

The problem with giving birth to Holden, I’d guess, is a loss of interiority. You can’t control who he is or what he represents, but you can’t protect him, either. He now belongs to everybody.

You belong to everybody.

But he still belongs to you, and you want to protect him. I only held his hand and walked a little way with him, and I still want to protect him. I can understand why, seeing Holden belong to the world, Salinger tucked himself away, to belong only to himself.

The adolescence search for an authentic self Holden struggles with is no longer marked by interiority. We live out loud now, and many of us used all the tools available to us to explore, try on, discard, display, create and re-create what it means to be ourselves.

Holden is a piece of me, because he is a piece of that inept 13-year-old I still carry around. The inept 13-year-old I often pretend never was.

It wasn’t long after I met Holden I became a traveler of what was, at the time, called the Information Superhighway. I changed my AIM profile — signaling who I decided I was that day in different colored text, bricole-ing my latest proto-identity from song lyrics, stated favorites and starkly-drawn negative space — on a regular basis.

The Internet was a sandbox of identity formation long before the advent of social media. Enacted identity online became our new normal.

Unlike Holden, who we were and who we are now are all public, all facets of ourselves that we can no longer un-share. As Salinger found out, it’s hard going back. Rebirth is, socially and technologically, obsolete.

Now the question is how to come to terms with the public trails we’ve left behind, our still-present Holden-ness. No one wants to be Holden in public at 27, but Google knows who struggled with bouts of melancholy on their Livejournal in 1999. (In 1999, you see, hunting for colleges was a goddamn crumby mess.) 1 Corinthians 13:11 no longer applies.

In this way, the Internet is the ultimate post-Structuralist landscape: we’re left with the self in constant crisis, incorporating its not-quite-past self yet struggling to evolve in an authentic manner while conscious of external strictures. It’s digital self as enacted, evolving public identity.

Holden struggled with the compromises he felt were demanded of him but were not inherently of him. Salinger went into seclusion to maintain control over who he intended himself to be. I have two Facebooks.

I’m not a fan of Holden Caulfield on either.

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