I was born in 1949, before the publication of either Catcher in the Rye (1951) or Lord of the Flies (1954), both of which were seminal influences of my generation. A discussion on the Blue Board the other day made it clear that the torch of my generation is flickering. When I was in high school and college, we were all Holden Caulfields, too sensitive to bear how “phony” the world was. And we all viscerally understood the Lord of the Flies’ depiction of the cruelty of society, its lust to crush the individualist, to feed on our fears, and the irony of the boys being picked up by a naval cruiser.
But now, those two novels, or at least LOTF, should be “retired from the canon.” They are old school. My own son didn’t like Catcher. I can’t remember the word he used, something about Holden’s semi-hipster slang that he thought was–damn, see the mind’s going. I’ll have to ask him.
Now once again, ardent patriotism is the dominant American ethos. And the startling parochialism of our world view pops up constantly, like this morning when CBS’s Harry Smith interviewed Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, who pleaded for the world to notice that the Russians were “cleansing” South Ossetia and Abkhazia of ethnic Georgians and still shelling Gori nearly a day after the “cease-fire” brokered by that Nicholas Sarkozy. And we so despise the French. (BTW: We now know John Edwards is a closet Frenchman.)
(Yet another divigation: If the comments on that CBS link don’t scare you, nothing will.)
Anyway, back to my point (NB: the wandering mind of the old lady), Harry Smith practically cut him off in mid-sentence, “thank you, thank you, Mr. President, now from Armaggedon in Georgia, to the important news, the news you’ve all been waiting for, MICHAEL PHELPS … the greatest athlete of all time.”
Now I like the Olympics as much as anybody (no, that’s probably not quite true, but I do love televised sports), but really! This is a big deal. It’s the newest move in the old 19th century Great Game. And we can’t do squat about it. The Russians undoubtedly would like to reestablish their old imperial borders in the Caucasus and Central Asia. And not have pro-Western democracies (Armenia is another) lining their southern border, not to mention a possible new NATO member north of Turkey.
But as Saakashvili said this morning, Georgia is a faraway country that we know very little about, like Czechoslovakia in 1939. Like Holden, I felt that Harry Smith was gloriously, freakishly phony. Like Ralph, I am afraid there’s nowhere to hide from the world’s inveterate cruelty and aggression. Like everyone else, I am day to day more concerned about the fact that I can’t sell my house and can’t figure out how to get all my son’s stuff to college in New Orleans.
WTF, remove those two old novels from the high school reading lists. Replace them with The Giver, by Lois Lowry. I didn’t like it very much, the point was much blunter and less interesting than in either Catcher or LOTF, but it wasn’t written so long ago as to be completely irrelevant. Or maybe just The Gossip Girls. They’re quite revelatory.