Tuesday, May 25, 2010

It is later than you think.

Current book: Franny and Zooey
Pages read: 91 - 202 (end)

I've got to hand it to Salinger; he pulled it out in the end. I wasn't expecting it at all, but I ended up actually liking this. A lot.

So, the rest of the book pretty much consists of Zooey having a conversation with Franny about her mental breakdown. She has decided, it seems, to follow the precepts of a little religious book called The Way of the Pilgrim that she found amongst Seymour's possessions. It basically boils down to the fact that you should try to pray all the time - to make your whole life a prayer - because that way you'll be close to God, or whatever it is that you think of as God, and therefore give your life value.

In discussing matters at hand, Franny and Zooey first talk about how critical and sarcastic they both are about almost all the aspects of their lives: Franny mostly about her college professors and how classes are so focused on the acquisition of knowledge rather than wisdom, and especially the appearance of intelligence. and Zooey on the facades of show business and the difficulties of having to pretend to like his colleagues. They both discuss the experience of having felt themselves be savage and hateful and bitter, but unable to stop saying critical things or acting like arrogant assholes. (I have to say, this part struck a chord with me. I've had this experience more times than I can count. And they're right - you can feel yourself doing it, but somehow it just keeps happening. Since I've already admitted to being an arrogant asshole sometimes, this next part can't really make it any worse, so I'll go ahead. I think it's a product of being both educated and intelligent in a world of people that aren't usually as educated or intelligent as you.)

Anyway, after that part, Zooey criticizes Franny's impulse to live her life in constant prayer, citing the fact that she doesn't know anything about Jesus or religion, or even what it is that she wants. She's upset, and he leaves her alone for a while. Stricken with remorse, however, he calls her on the separate phone line in the house and poses as Buddy to give her advice. She sees through him almost instantly, but, in the end, he gives her advice anyway. What he says is this: understand that it's by finding what you love to do and what you are happiest and best at doing and actually doing it that you give your life value. To the actor who is Zooey, performing well for his audiences is praying to God. In a way, the audience is God, and their appreciation is Zooey's benediction. Living your life well, he tells Franny, is giving it value, is, in fact, the same as praying every moment. Franny realizes the truth in his statement, and falls asleep happy. The end.

So, seriously, complete surprise. Crazy optimism! Excellent life philosophy! I kind of love you right now, Salinger. And the fact that the major conclusions of both of the important parts of the final discussion in the book resonated hugely with me is no small thing, especially with the religious context of the second part. The religion, it was clear, was not the point; it was about everyone's lives and finding value in them, regardless of religious convictions or lack thereof. This book has profound ideas that are expressed in such a way as to make you think about them for years to come. Definitely worthy of the list.

P. S. Zooey is apparently short for Zachary. Which just doesn't even make sense.

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