I reacted positively when the idea of writing about Catcher on an anime blog was raised in certain quarters. It’s always easier to write about something if you have something else to compare it to, as you can dress up a simple list of points of similarities and difference and pretend that you’ve been thinking. Moreover, I like to compare seemingly unrelated things and – better still – lots of people have read The Catcher in the Rye. (The idea was/is essentially that people – anyone who wants to – could chip in, if they felt so inclined. Not that this is organised, or anything.)
I hunted around for some suitable anime series to connect the novel to. Unfortunately my Muse (I wonder which muse is responsible for blogging?) refused to come down from the peak of Parnassus and do any actual inspiring (because, if she’s anything like me, she’s irredeemably lazy). There’s Stand Alone Complex, except that I haven’t seen Stand Alone Complex: I have no money to buy it with, because I’ve spent my anime budget on various other anime series. So I decided to cheat and spit out a few notes involving the novel and another novel.
Before you close this tab (since even Inernet Explorer has tabbed browsing of a sort nowadays) in disgust, I should say that it’s a novel very much relevant to my (our?) interests: Welcome to the NHK.
With its title oddly lacking the exclamation mark of the anime and manga adaptions, this is Takimoto’s affecting tale of a considerably-more-than-borderline hikikomori in its original, rather rawer form. Raw not just because it isn’t an adaption, but raw in construction, too: I can’t speak about the manga, but the anime had a deliberate sense of ‘this is the Pyramid Selling Arc, this is the Offline Meeting Arc, this is the MMORPG Arc’ about it, while the novel works more by discrete incidents than by discrete arcs. Its content is also rawer than its anime adaption, featuring more drug-taking and bomb-making – but this isn’t a review.
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In my notes I’ve jotted down ‘similar reception’, which isn’t really true: Catcher is of course far more famous (I’ve heard that it’s impossible to avoid encountering it at some schools) and acclaimed. What’s probably missing from my notes here is ‘. . . from those who’ve read both novels’, an entirely unjust assumption (it’s not as though I’ve conducted a survey) which I will now proceed to expand on.
Thing is, they’re both eminently readable and readers usually decide there’s some point to both novels. NHK itself actively encourages this, as – while it’s not pure agenda – it’s what I’d call an ‘Issue Novel’, the Issue in question being The Hikikomori Issue. (Obnoxious capitalisation!) Unhelpfully, I don’t know anything about The Hikikomori Issue beyond what I’ve learned from reading the book itself, and the odd idiosyncratically-spelt blog post. My knowledge about hikikomori, when applied to Welcome to the NHK, is pretty circular.
Anyway, as an Issue Novel, NHK is pretty blunt: Satou starts working and sorting himself out when he runs out of food, while Misaki is physically well-provided for but has problems which are probably more far-reaching than Satou’s. In his more lucid moments, Satou doesn’t have much sympathy for himself and I don’t feel much for him either, whereas Misaki provokes both rational sympathy and irrational – what’s that coinage Lelangir‘s always using – mamoru-ism? If this is meant to be read as the study of an Issue, from which we are meant to draw lessons, then the lessons are: starve your hikikomori and they’ll be provoked into self-improvement, but treat your wilting, traumatised violets with kid gloves.
Catcher is not an Issue Novel, or wasn’t until it became one of society-at-large’s Ways to Understand Teenagers. Salinger’s reclusiveness and his refusal to suggest a meaning contribute to an air of mystery surrounding what meaning, if any, the novel has – unlike Takimoto, who pops up in some helpful paratext(s) at the end of his novel, writing about the relationship between his life and Satou’s experience. But we assume the novel has a point despite this mystery, or perhaps because of it, or perhaps simply because that’s how we’re wired to read, or perhaps because it’s one of those books that people in authority make you read and write about.
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I’ve also scrawled down ‘denaturing language’. It’s possible to do a similar thing in the safety and comfort of your own home: simply pick a word or write down a list of words, and then repeat your word(s) orally ad nauseam. What you’re saying should lose much of its meaning as you settle into the routine of repeating a set of empty syllables. Your word(s) may well take on a negative aura – after all, few people like pointless repetition.
Welcome to the NHK does something like this in one particular, focused passage (pp. 99-103, when Satou’s attempting to write the game scenario, if you have a copy to hand) which trots rapidly through eroge diction in such a concentrated manner that the words lose all erotic charge and become merely disgusting (we’re steered towards disgust by Satou’s italicised internal commentary on his efforts). Excellently, there’s a climax to all this:
“Swollen” . . . “swollen” . . . “swollen” . . . “swollen” . . . “swollen!”
Text has rarely been so erotophobic.
Catcher, too, repeats words to the point that they lose their force, more subtly but on a wider scale. By the end of the book, I was terribly tired of Holden Caulfield and Holden Caulfield’s lousy vocabulary. It’s not just the vocabulary: that persistent ‘really did’ (‘She looked terrific. She really did.’) and those italics. When you keep using them, they lose their value. Granted, Phoebe punctures Holden when she points out that he doesn’t actually like anything, and has no aspirations, but a relatively brief period in which we imagine what it is like to look at Holden from the outside is not enough to reconcile me to the novel.
[Is Phoebe moe?]
The irritation Holden causes me is the reason I’ll probably wind up re-reading Welcome to the NHK more times, despite the unexciting language of the translation. The prose used to create the Caulfield persona is well-put-together, but The Catcher in the Rye isn’t especially funny and, being narrated in retrospect by a young cynic, it feels irritating. (‘Grand. If there’s one word I hate, it’s grand’: perhaps he sounds to me too much like me?) It’s a good novel, but one that I’ll find it hard to enjoy again until I’ve managed to put more years between me and my teenage self of a few years ago.
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What have I learned? That arbitrary comparisons are not as easy or enlightening as I’d hoped. Perhaps the warld needn’t ken after all: it requires actual effort to produce something worth attention (like the greatest contribution to literary discourse ever).
EDIT: Lelangir examines Holden’s relationship with Phoebe via True Tears; cuchlann explains why he’s never read Catcher, and hunts around for a similarly-received anime (guess what it is, go on); hayase makes naunced points about previous Catcher posts and declares the novel to be the ‘[b]est contemporary ‘controversial’ book I’ve read’; coburn writes on (his title says it all, really) ‘Holden, Naruto, and being a wanker‘; the Asperger’s Anime Blogger contrasts Holden to the hero of The World Ends With You; and berkles draws a connection between Holden and Larry Davi- wait, what does Curb Your Enthusiasm have to do with anime?
Haiku: A Note
Since this is probably the only time I’m going have the chance to talk about Salinger here, and since ‘Seymour: An Introduction‘ brings in a Japanese element with its disquisition (heh) on haiku, allow me to put on my crusty, opinionated, Bloomian hat and say this: please don’t write a haiku in English and expect it to be good. If you want to say something profound, have the testicular fortitude to whip up a nice, rhythmic epigram, with plenty of cynicism and emotional disengagement. Reserve English haikus for comedy.