On Salinger and psychopathology

salinger-bookVia social media, I recently noted that I had become accidentally immersed in the book Salinger, an exhaustive biography of J.D. Salinger published by David Shields and Shane Salerno. About two-thirds into the work, I realized that my opinion of the Catcher In the Rye author was already irrevocably changed, with respect to Salinger as an author and as a human being. To be precise, I found the emerging portrait of to be “completely unlikeable and virtually irredeemable” before I had even reached the final chapters of the story of his life.

Now that I am completely finished with the tome, I do indeed find Salinger to be reproachable in virtually every respect, from his unconscionable treatment of girls and women in his personal life to his contentious relationship with his admirers and devoted fans. These foibles – and many, many more – are thoroughly examined by Shields and Salerno in their lofty endeavor.

To be sure, the book Salinger is not without its faults. One especially astute review correctly characterized the work as a “sprawling, cut-and-paste collage,” for although it is an extensive and in-depth review of primary resources; the work often degenerates into yawning patchwork of reminiscences built around selected themes. Put simply, Salinger often lacks the kind of coherent narrative voice readers should expect from a serious work. As such, it’s less of a biography and more of a patchwork of recollections and excerpts. The general tack of Salinger is hardly that of a charitable portrait of the artist, ultimately taking the shape of a lengthy indictment as the book rolls on. Indeed, the lion’s share of Salinger’s involvements and interactions with those close to him, seem to end in estrangement, shame, and sorrow as per the reams of qualitative data amassed by the book’s authors.

Where Shields and Salerno try and move towards a more definitive narrative ultimately proves just as problematic as the above-noted defects in their scholarship. In Chapter 18, entitled “Assassins,” the authors review the cases of high-profile celebrity attackers John Hinckley Jr., Mark David Chapman, and Robert John Bardo, noting that each man cited Salinger’s magnum opus Catcher In the Rye as a key influence in their respective crimes. But the authors’ arguments extend well beyond a simple (and arguably more plausible) assertion that violent art can lead to violent acts. Rather, Shields and Salerno practically implicate Salinger in the crimes of Hinckley, Chapman, and Bardo, brazenly adopting a post hoc ergo propter hoc argument that is effectively built upon the notion that each man processed the ideas and themes of Salinger’s work by employing logic and rational thought.

The Catcher in the Rye reemerges in the 1980s, misinterpreted as an assassination manual.

DAVID SHIELDS: There’s a huge amount of psychic violence in the book; Holden’s voice is full of hellacious fury. If you read the book out of neediness or desperation, you will read Holden’s antipathy to the culture as a license to kill. In the “wrong” hands, read the “wrong” way, the book’s emotional rage can become an endorsement to express your hatred toward “phonies” through violence.

… The complicating factor in Salinger’s case—the deepening factor—is the extraordinary intimacy he creates between narrator and reader, and this intimacy is mixed with sublimated violence. He’s so good at creating a voice that seems to be practically caressing your inner ear.

It’s as if the assassins and would-be assassins who read The Catcher in the Rye are reading the book too literally. Everywhere Holden goes—Pencey, Manhattan, his parents’ apartment—he’s an utterly powerless individual. What the book shows you is how Holden comes to accept and even embrace the weakness—the brokenness—within himself, within Phoebe, within everybody. If you’re reading the book through an especially distorted lens, you feel so acutely Holden’s powerlessness that you say, “Yeah, I feel powerless, too,” and you don’t make the crucial leap that Holden finally does and Salinger always does at the end of every book and what the imaginative reader is asked to do…

– Salinger, p. 461.

It is of course important to note that all three of the above-noted attackers were diagnosed with schizophrenia, a fact that more or less eludes Shields and Salerno in their analysis. Most people who have had either personal or clinical interaction with a person suffering from schizophrenia likely understands that there is seldom a basis in reality (especially one of cause and effect) that properly justifies the actions of an affected person who is in the throes of his or her illness. Consider the following symptomatology, as described by the DSM Library:

Schizophrenia is the prototypical psychotic disorder. Not only is it the most common psychosis, but schizophrenia tends to involve abnormalities in all five of the emphasized symptom domains: hallucinations, delusions, disorganized thinking (speech), grossly disorganized or abnormal motor behavior (including catatonia), and negative symptoms.

For good measure, the authors include comments from subjects who maintain that Salinger himself probably did not intend for anyone to be victimized because of his writings. But on the whole, these passing assertions do not stand up against the unmistakable arc of the “Assassins” chapter of Salinger.

Time, Sep. 15, 1961

Time, Sep. 15, 1961

Readers of Salinger are thus presented with a slippery slope: If they are to accept the conclusion that the attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan and the murders of John Lennon and Rebecca Schaefer were a proximate result of The Catcher In the Rye, they must also accept such notions that the Beatles were responsible for Charles Manson’s belief that their White Album was a manifesto for race war in America or that David Berkowitz’s dog was complicit in the “Son of Sam” murders.

My purpose in raising the above point is not to defend J.D. Salinger or his work. Indeed, taking the entire record of Salinger’s life and work into account (with respect to what is presented by Shields and Salerno and beyond), it certainly appears difficult to dispute that the celebrated author earned every iota of his reputation as an extremely unpleasant person. Misogyny, egotism, and elitism were pervasive and recurring defects in his character by an overwhelming majority of firsthand accounts. But to blame him for inciting murder based upon the words and actions of individuals who were indisputably and seriously mentally ill is beyond the pale of anything that can be seriously considered as a responsibly crafted critique.

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Walt Kelly’s 1952… in 2016

Drawn from the narrative commentary in Ten Ever-Lovin’ Blue-Eyed Years With Pogo, Walt Kelly’s assessment of the rhetoric and movements of his time bears striking similarities to America’s present-day sociopolitical cacophony.

NINETEEN hundred and fifty, a year that John Gunther once referred to as “bizarre,” worried me because its daily record was providing unwarranted competition in the comedy field. Against the numbing background of the Korean War, we had largely finished with the uneasy flirtation between this country and Russia which had followed the peace of 1945. We were seeing spies, communists and other subversives under beds which we had never made.

pogo-198x300Mr. McCarthy, a gentleman from the progressive state of Wisconsin, suddenly abandoned his pretensions to anonymity and leaped upon the stage somewhat like John Wilkes Booth. He waved varied cards bearing a variety of figures concerning various people hiding in the State department who were carrying bombs, stealing secrets and sucking blood.

Citizens, solid and squashy, were tried for crimes, some of which were invented for the occasion, in the press, in committee, in the parlors before the TV sets and in the chattering brains that pass for informed minds in country club, saloon, factory and executive spa. A wise and accomplished editor said to me, “This is a period when I wouldn’t put my name on the application blank of a garden club.” This was good advice. My experiences in gardens have always led to trouble.

Primitive campfires began to cheer the souls of those who prefer the black of night. We were sure that Russia was arming to the teeth. China entered the Korean catastrophe. Mr. Truman ordered a 1950 model H-bomb, useful for only one purpose. (Using the automobile alone, and without really trying, we had knocked off 366 of our own constituents in the cheery holiday weekend at the beginning of the year.)

We decided to prepare for what we were not sure. American Legionnaires staged a mock invasion of Mosinee, Wisconsin, apparently with the supine acquiescence of 1,400 inhabitants, to show the evils of “totalitarianism.” No one said whose.

True, we felt we had to rearm and to be wary, but few signs of the well-balanced mind showed anywhere outside the lunatic asylums…


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Forgotten photos: The Mitchell Corn Palace

Among the more curious items that I have acquired over the years is a small collection of 35 mm slides. Some the slides are professional photos that are from sets produced for tourists. Others are from private collections, unlabeled and virtually untraceable at this point. Many of those from the aforementioned group are stamped with the month and year they were processed, but the specific locations of the scenes as well as the names of the photographers are now lost to the ages.

I’ll share samples from my collection from time to time, beginning with a couple of photos featuring the Mitchell Corn Palace. According to Wikipedia and other sources, the Mitchell Corn Palace is an event venue located in Mitchell, South Dakota that is covered in murals and designs made of corn and other grains. The building is redecorated every year using a style described by the facility’s official site as “earchitecture.”

The images below were produced using a Wolverine F2D-8 slide & negative scanner.

Mitchell Corn Palace; Mitchell, South Dakota. November 1985. Photographer unknown.

Mitchell Corn Palace; Mitchell, South Dakota. November 1985. Photographer unknown.

Mitchell Corn Palace; Mitchell, South Dakota. November 1985. Photographer unknown.

Mitchell Corn Palace; Mitchell, South Dakota. November 1985. Photographer unknown.

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Capitalism’s “hustle”

capital-lithographSome years ago, a fellow traveler broke down the relationship between the working class and the employing class for me with a rather succinct explanation.

“The hustle,” he said, “is that the bosses try to get as much work out of you as possible for the least amount money. What we – the working people – seek in turn is the most money for the least amount of work.”

While thumbing through Theories of Surplus Value recently (about 15 years after the above-noted conversation, for what it’s worth), I happened upon Karl Marx’s more detailed and precise exposition of capitalism’s yin and yang.

“It is the constant aim of capitalist production to produce a maximum surplus value or surplus product with the minimum capital outlay; and to the extent that this result is not achieved by overworking the workers, it is a tendency of capital to seek to produce a given product with the least possible expenditure – ECONOMY OF POWER AND EXPENSE. It is therefore the economic tendency of capital which teaches humanity to husband its strength and to achieve its productive aim with the least possible expenditure of means.” 1

The passage was also cited by Joseph Stalin in his seminal work, Economic Problems of the USSR, albeit via a slightly different translation.

My friend’s point in sharing this kernel of wisdom with me was to point out that if you’re lucky enough to get a little bit of enjoyment or personal fulfillment out of the daily grind, you’re coming out ahead slightly ahead in capitalism’s “hustle.”

1. Marx, Karl, and Frederick Engels. “Karl Marx: Economic Works, 1861-1863” Collected Works. Vol. 32. New York: International Publishers, 1989. p. 175

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Thomas Klocek’s books

Most folks who have seen my personal library room in real life know that it predominantly a repository of political economy in the Marxist tradition. Over the course of the past two decades or so, I have managed to collect a great deal of the Collected Works of Marx and Engels, V.I. Lenin, Stalin, Mao and many others. To be sure, I have accumulated a respectable quantity of volumes featuring classic literature as well as numerous texts on science, philosophy, and other subjects. But my collection has been noticeably – and, to some extent, purposefully – short on books about religion for some time.

Thomas E. Klocek (1946 - 2013)

Thomas E. Klocek
(1946 – 2013)

However, interests wax and wane over time and recently I have become receptive to reading about religion again, mostly with regard to Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity. My renewed interest led me to some eBay searches for books and icons and several weeks ago, I stumbled upon a collection of unusual Catholic and Orthodox books. I watched the auction come and go with no bids and thought for sure that it would not be re-listed for a while, but then the lot resurfaced, I ended up placing a bid and ultimately winning the batch with no competition.

I had noticed that the lot was listed by a third party seller and I know those businesses often handle estate liquidation. When I got the books in the mail, I noticed they all seemed to have belonged to the same person, a man named Thomas E. Klocek from Chicago. Out of curiosity, I ran a Google search and learned that Mr. Klocek had indeed passed away in 2013. I was also surprised to know that he had a brief moment of fame – or perhaps infamy – almost a decade prior to his passing.

The regrettably defining moment for Thomas Klocek occurred in 2004 and it has been litigated a few times over, at least once in the courts and again in the proverbial court of public opinion. Because of that, I won’t wade too far into the details too much here but I will share a few links at the bottom of this piece so people can review accounts of the incident and the subsequent fallout.

Basically, it is generally agreed that Thomas Klocek had a run-in with a pro-Palestinian students’ organization (Students for Justice in Palestine) while he was a teacher at DePaul University. Things got heated, Klocek was escorted away from the students, and he returned for another go-‘round. In the end, Klocek was chastised by the university, refused to apologize, and was ultimately relieved of all teaching duties as a result of the incident.

I should note at this point, that I categorically disagree with most — if not all – of what Thomas Kloceck reportedly did and said in his confrontation with the SJP students, particularly his insistence that American activist Rachel Corrie was not murdered by Israeli soldiers when they ran over her with a bulldozer in 2003. Indeed, I find Klocek’s positions on matter of Palestine (most notably his position that Christians were more entitled to Palestinian land than Jews or Muslims) to be incomprehensible.

Rachel Corrie (1979 - 2003)

Rachel Corrie
(1979 – 2003)

It is both odd and unfortunate that Klocek effectively destroyed his own career as an instructor effectively because of his inability to disagree with respect, as well as his unwillingness to critique his own approach to a controversial and multifaceted topic such as the Palestinan question. Even more regrettable was the fact that he allowed his own struggle with DePaul’s administration to be hijacked by right-wing bloggers (something that continues at the time of this writing). Kloceck himself said that he was an unlikely poster boy for many of those who came to his defense, stating that had the student organization that he had come across been comprised of “militant Zionists,” the situation might have ended in the same manner as his dust-up with SJP representatives.

Nevertheless, Thomas Kloceck made his own decisions, owned them, and (as far as I have determined) retained the same opinions until the end of his life. Looking through his books, it is undeniably clear that his own spirituality was of deep importance to him. The texts, which are in English, Slavic, Russian, Ukranian, and other languages, include his own handwritten notes (in English) and there are prayer cards stuck in a number of the books. Some of the prayer cards are from funerals, including one from that of Peter N. Kogeones, who passed away in 1990. Kogeones was a Chicago area restauranteur who was affectionately known as “the unofficial Mayor of Greektown.” In another book, I found a commemorative card from Pope Paul VI’s 1965 visit to new York.

One of the volumes even includes a lengthy personal inscription dated 1985 in which the person notes that the book was a gift to Klocek and he goes into some detail regarding his relationship with Klocek and Klocek’s late father.

The small collection of books effectively offers a window into the person Thomas E. Klocek was behind his controversial (and reprehensible) views on the situation in Occupied Palestine. As an unabashed bibliophile and student of history, I’ll be more than happy to give these books a good home for as long as they are in my possession.

books of Thomas E Klocek

Complete overview of Thomas Klocek collection

Detail view of Thomas Klocek collection

Detail view of Thomas Klocek collection

Thomas E Klocek book lot

Selected pages from Thomas Klocek collection 

Thomas E Klocek book lot

Selected findings from Thomas Klocek collection

Further reading:
The Lonesome Death of Rachel Corrie” music video by Billy Bragg
Rachel CorrieWikipedia
Rachel Corrie” Collected articles from The Red Phoenix

Palestine” Collected articles from The Red Phoenix

Thomas Klocek – Obituary from The Chicago Tribune
Thomas E. KlocekWikipedia

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Scholarly scribbles: Ten Greek Plays

antigone_1Not long ago, I bought a vintage copy of Ten Greek Plays In Contemporary Translations (Houghton Mifflin Company, 1957) from a secondhand store. The book features unique translations by L.R. Lind which differ significantly from the more traditional interpretations of these classics. In addition to extensive underlining and notes in the margins, there is also a curious doodle on the final page of “Antigone.”

Unfortunately, the artist did not provide any context or insight into what is being depicted and it’s the only doodle in the book.


Ten Greek Plays


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Karl Marx: “For A Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing”

marx-engels-readerAs I have previously noted, during one of the early lectures his acclaimed “Reading Marx’s Capital” lecture series, David Harvey refers his students to a noteworthy work by Marx entitled “For A Ruthless Criticism of Everything Existing.” Indeed, that is the title used for the document in the popular edition The Marx-Engels Reader, edited by Robert C. Tucker. In many other editions of the work, the document is simply titled “Marx to Ruge,” referencing the fact that it was originally written as correspondence from Karl Marx to Arnold Ruge.

According to the Marxists Internet Archive‘s transcription of the Progress Publishers edition of the document, the letter is the third is a series that Marx sent to Ruge throughout 1843. The letter was written while Marx was in Kreuzenach, Germany, just a few months after his marriage to Jenny von Westphalen. The exchange between Marx and Ruge amounted to eight letters in all and they later published their correspondence in the only issue of the Deutsch-Franzosische Jahrbucher in February 1844. The MIA foreword also explains that the “Ruthless Criticism” letter is Marx’s response to Ruge’s previous letter, “in which Ruge proclaimed himself an atheist and a vigorous supporter of the ‘new philosophers’.”

Presented below is the complete transcription of the Progress Publishers edition, as presented by Marxists Internet Archive. There are a number of differences between this translation and that offered by Dr. Ronald Rogowski for The Marx-Engels Reader, most notably Progress Publishers’ use of the phrase “ruthless criticism of the existing order” instead of “ruthless criticism of everything existing.” The translation published in The Collected Works of Karl Marx and Frederick Engels – which is also posted by marxists.org – uses the phrase “ruthless criticism of all that exists.”

Letter from Marx to Arnold Ruge
in Dresden

I am very pleased to find you so resolute and to see your thoughts turning away from the past and towards a new enterprise. In Paris, then, the ancient bastion of philosophy – absit omen! [may this be no ill omen!] – and the modern capital of the modern world. Whatever is necessary adapts itself. Although I do not underestimate the obstacles, therefore, I have no doubt that they can be overcome.

Our enterprise may or may not come about, but in any event I shall be in Paris by the end of the month as the very air here turns one into a serf and I can see no opening for free activity in Germany.

In Germany everything is suppressed by force, a veritable anarchy of the spirit, a reign of stupidity itself has come upon us and Zurich obeys orders from Berlin. It is becoming clearer every day that independent, thinking people must seek out a new centre. I am convinced that our plan would satisfy a real need and real needs must be satisfied in reality. I shall have no doubts once we begin in earnest.

In fact, the internal obstacles seem almost greater than external difficulties. For even though the question “where from?” presents no problems, the question “where to?” is a rich source of confusion. Not only has universal anarchy broken out among the reformers, but also every individual must admit to himself that he has no precise idea about what ought to happen. However, this very defect turns to the advantage of the new movement, for it means that we do not anticipate the world with our dogmas but instead attempt to discover the new world through the critique of the old. Hitherto philosophers have left the keys to all riddles in their desks, and the stupid, uninitiated world had only to wait around for the roasted pigeons of absolute science to fly into its open mouth. Philosophy has now become secularized and the most striking proof of this can be seen in the way that philosophical consciousness has joined battle not only outwardly, but inwardly too. If we have no business with the construction of the future or with organizing it for all time, there can still be no doubt about the task confronting us at present: the ruthless criticism of the existing order, ruthless in that it will shrink neither from its own discoveries, nor from conflict with the powers that be.

I am therefore not in favor of our hoisting a dogmatic banner. Quite the reverse. We must try to help the dogmatists to clarify their ideas. In particular, communism is a dogmatic abstraction and by communism I do not refer to some imagined, possible communism, but to communism as it actually exists in the teachings of Cabet, Dezamy, and Weitling, etc. This communism is itself only a particular manifestation of the humanistic principle and is infected by its opposite, private property. The abolition of private property is therefore by no means identical with communism and communism has seen other socialist theories, such as those of Fourier and Proudhon, rising up in opposition to it, not fortuitously but necessarily, because it is only a particular, one-sided realization of the principle of socialism.

Etienne Cabet (1788-1856)

Etienne Cabet (1788-1856)

And by the same token, the whole principle of socialism is concerned only with one side, namely the reality of the true existence of man. We have also to concern ourselves with the other side, i.e., with
man’s theoretical existence, and make his religion and science, etc., into the object of our criticism. Furthermore, we wish to influence our contemporaries above all. The problem is how best to achieve this. In this context there are two incontestable facts. Both religion and politics are matters of the very first importance in contemporary Germany. Our task must be to latch onto these as they are and not to oppose them with any ready-made system such as the Voyage en Icarie. [A recently released book by Etienne Cabet, describing a communist utopia.]

Reason has always existed, but not always in a rational form. Hence the critic can take his cue from every existing form of theoretical and practical consciousness and from this ideal and final goal implicit in the actual forms of existing reality he can deduce a true reality. Now as far as real life is concerned, it is precisely the political state which contains the postulates of reason in all its modern forms, even where it has not been the conscious repository of socialist requirements. But it does not stop there. It consistently assumed that reason has been realized and just as consistently it becomes embroiled at every point in a conflict between its ideal vocation and its actually existing premises.

This internecine conflict within the political state enables us to infer the social truth. Just as religion is the table of contents of the theoretical struggles of mankind, so the political state enumerates its practical struggles. Thus the particular form and nature of the political state contains all social struggles, needs and truths within itself. It is therefore anything but beneath its dignity to make even the most specialized political problem – such as the distinction between the representative system and the estates system – into an object of its criticism. For this problem only expresses at the political level the distinction between the rule of man and the rule of private property. hence the critic not only can but must concern himself with these political questions (which the crude socialists find entirely beneath their dignity). By demonstrating the superiority of the representative system over the Estates system, he will interest a great party in practice. By raising the representative system from its political form to a general one, and by demonstrating the true significance underlying, it he will force this party to transcend itself – for its victory is also its defeat.

Nothing prevents us, therefore, from lining our criticism with a criticism of politics, from taking sides in politics, i.e., from entering into real struggles and identifying ourselves with them. This does not mean that we shall confront the world with new doctrinaire principles and proclaim: Here is the truth, on your knees before it! It means that we shall develop for the world new principles from the existing principles of the world. We shall not say: Abandon your struggles, they are mere folly; let us provide you with true campaign-slogans. Instead, we shall simply show the world why it is struggling, and consciousness of this is a thing it must acquire whether it wishes or not.

The reform of consciousness consists entirely in making the world aware of its own consciousness, in arousing it from its dream of itself, in explaining its own actions to it. Like Feuerbach’s critique of religion, our whole aim can only be to translate religious and political problems into their self-conscious human form.

Our programme must be: the reform of consciousness not through dogmas but by analyzing mystical consciousness obscure to itself, whether it appear in religious or political form. It will then become plain that the world has long since dreamed of something of which it needs only to become conscious for it to possess it in reality. It will then become plain that our task is not to draw a sharp mental line between past and future, but to complete the thought of the past. Lastly, it will becomes plain that mankind will not begin any new work, but will consciously bring about the completion of its old work.

We are therefore in a position to sum up the credo of our journal in a single word: the self-clarification (critical philosophy) of the struggles and wishes of the age. This is a task for the world and for us. It can succeed only as the product of united efforts. What is needed above all is a confession, and nothing more than that. To obtain forgiveness for its sins, mankind needs only to declare them for what they are.

The Barque of Dante by Eugène Delacroix, 1822

The Barque of Dante (also called Dante and Virgil in Hell) by Eugène Delacroix, 1822

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