One Hand Clapping

Kevin Stevens.

In Search of J. D. Salinger, by Ian Hamilton, Faber and Faber, 222 pp, £12.00, ISBN: 978-0571269273

In the Information Age, the surest path to celebrity is the long-term, single-minded effort to avoid it. For writers of serious fiction, who function best while keeping the world at bay yet depend on publicity to develop a readership, the paradox of contemporary fame is particularly perilous. For them, the work is all; yet nothing – except perhaps a fatwa – diverts attention from a book as thoroughly as a successful author’s insistence on utter privacy.

Of course most writers pass their careers completely unnoticed by the general population, and many of those who toil anonymously welcome any attention that might sell a few books. But the inexorable advance of media technology continues to hone fame’s double-edged sword, to shorten the shelf-life of the work itself and to ensure that huge swathes of the public become familiar with the images and names of renowned authors they will never read. Those writers who refuse to fan the fire of celebrity are the first to be devoured by its flames.

Nowhere is this more true than in the United States, where the cult of celebrity holds a special place for authors and relentlessly cycles their work and personae through what Don DeLillo calls “the all-incorporating treadmill of consumption and disposal”. Though American literary life has had no shortage of self-aggrandisers willing to play the publicity game – Hemingway, Mailer, Vidal – the media is agitated most by those who play hard to get. DeLillo and his post-modern predecessor Thomas Pynchon are recent examples. But the gold standard of American literary isolation is JD Salinger… Read more>>

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