From Seymour an introduction – J.D. Salinger
Dear old Tyger that Sleeps:
I wonder if there are many readers who have ever turned the pages of a manuscript while the author snores in the same room. I wanted to see this one for myself. Your voice was almost too much this time. I think your prose is getting to be all the theater your characters can withstand. I have so much I want to tell you, and nowhere to begin.
This afternoon I wrote what I thought was a whole letter to the head of the English Department, of all people, that sounded quite a lot like you. It gave me such pleasure I thought I ought to tell you. It was a beautiful letter. It felt like the Saturday afternoon last spring when I went to Die Zauberflöte with Carl and Amy and that very strange girl they brought for me and I wore your green intoxicator. I didn’t tell you I wore it. [He was referring here to one of four expensive neckties I’d bought the season before. I’d forbidden all my brothers – but especially Seymour, who had easiest access to then: – to go anywhere near the drawer I kept then: in. I stored them, only partly as a gag, in cellophane.] I felt no guilt when I wore it, only a mortal fear that you’d suddenly walk on the stage and see me sitting there in the dark with your tie on. The letter was a little bit different. It occurred to me that if things were switched around and you were writing a letter that sounded like rte, you’d be bothered. I was mostly able to put it out of my mind. One of the few things left in the world, aside from the world itself, that sadden me every day is an awareness that you get upset if Boo Boo or Walt tells you you’re saying something that sounds like me. You sort of take it as an accusation of piracy, a little slam at your individuality. Is it so bad that we sometimes sound like each other? The membrane is so thin between us. Is it so important for us to keep in mind which is worse? That time, two summers ago when I was out so long, I was able to trace that you and Z. and I have been brothers for no fewer than four incarnations, maybe more. Is there no beauty in that? For us, doesn’t each of our individualities begin right at the point where we own up to our extremely close connections and accept the inevitability of borrowing one another’s jokes, talents, idiocies? You notice I don’t include neckties. I think Buddy’s neckties are Buddy’s neckties, but they are a pleasure to borrow without permission.
It must be terrible for you to think I have neckties and things on my mind besides your story. I don’t. I’m just looking everywhere for my thoughts. I thought this trivia might help me to collect myself. It’s daylight out, and I’ve been sitting here since you went to bed. What bliss it is to be your first reader. It would be straight bliss if I didn’t think you valued my opinion more than your own. It really doesn’t seem right to me that you should rely so heavily on my opinion of your stories. That is, you. You can argue me down another time, but I’m convinced I’ve done something very wrong that this situation should he. I’m not exactly wallowing in guilt at the moment, but guilt is guilt. It doesn’t go away. It can’t be nullified. It can’t even be fully understood, I’m certain – its roots run too deep into private and long-standing karma. About the only thing that saves my neck when I get to feeling this way is that guilt is an imperfect form of knowledge. Just because it isn’t perfect doesn’t mean that it can’t be used. The hard thing to do is to put it to practical use before it gets around to paralyzing you. So I’m going to write down what I think about this story as fast as I can. If I hurry, I have a powerful feeling my guilt will serve the best and truest purposes here. I do think that. I think if I rush with this, I may be able to tell you what I’ve probably wanted to tell you for years.
You must know yourself that this story is full of big jumps. Leaps. When you first went to bed, I thought for a while that I ought to wake tip everybody in the house and throw a party for our marvellous jumping brother. What am I, that I didn’t wake everybody up? I wish I knew. A worrier, at the very best. I worry about big jumps that I can measure off with my eyes. I think I dream of your daring to jump right out of my sight. Excuse this. I’m writing very fast now. I think this new story is the one you’ve been waiting for. And me, too, in a way. You know it’s mostly pride that’s keeping me up. I think that’s my main worry. For your own sake, don’t make me proud of you. I think that’s exactly what I’m trying to say. If only you’d never keep me up again out of pride. Give me a story that just makes me unreasonably vigilant. Keep me up till five only because all your stars are out, and for no other reason. Excuse the underlining, but that’s the first thing I’ve ever said about one of your stories that makes my head go up and down. Please don’t let me say anything else. I think tonight that anything you say to a writer after you beg him to let his stars come out is just literary advice. I’m positive tonight that all ‘good’ literary advice is just Louis Bouilhet and Max Du Camp wishing Madame Bovary on Flaubert. All right, so between the two of them, with their exquisite taste, they got him to write a masterpiece. They killed his chances of ever writing his heart out. He died like a celebrity, which was the one thing he wasn’t. His letters are unbearable to read. They’re so much better than they should be. They read waste, waste, waste. They break my heart. I dread saying anything to you tonight, dear old Buddy, except the trite. Please follow your heart, win or lose. You got so mad at me when we were registering. [The week before, he and I and several million other young Americans went over to the nearest public school and registered for the draft. I caught him smiling at something I had written on my registration blank. He declined, all the way home, to tell me what struck him so funny. As anyone in my family could verify, he could be an inflexible decliner when the occasion looked auspicious to him.] Do you know what I was smiling at? You wrote down that you were a writer by profession. It sounded to me like the loveliest euphemism I had ever heard. When was writing ever your profession? It’s never been anything but your religion. Never. I’m a little over-excited now. Since it is your religion, do you know what you will be asked when you die? But let me tell you first what you won’t be asked. You won’t be asked if you were working on a wonderful moving piece of writing when you died. You won’t be asked if it was long or short, sad or funny, published or unpublished. You won’t be asked if you were in good or bad form while you were working on it. You won’t even be asked if it was the one piece of writing you would have been working on if you had known your time would be up when it was finished-I think only poor Sören K. will get asked that. I’m so sure you’ll get asked only two questions. Were most of your stars out? Were you busy writing your heart out? If only you knew how easy it would be for you to say yes to both questions. If only you’d remember before ever you sit down to write that you’ve been a reader long before you were ever a writer. You simply fix that fact in your mind, then sit very still and ask yourself, as a reader, what piece of writing in all the world Buddy Glass would most want to read if he had his heart’s choice. The next step is terrible, but so simple I can hardly believe it as I write it. You just sit down shamelessly and write the thing yourself. I won’t even underline that. It’s too important to be underlined. Oh, dare to do it, Buddy! Trust your heart. You’re a deserving craftsman. It would never betray you. Good night. I’m feeling very much overexcited now, and a little dramatic, but I think I’d give almost anything on earth to see you writing a something, an anything, a story, a poem, a tree, that was really and truly after your own heart. The Bank Dick is at the Thalia. Let’s take the whole bunch tomorrow night. Love, S.
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