ALL-TIME AMERICAN WRITERS TOURNAMENT
THE UNSTATED PREMISE of those who are touting the new movie about J.D. Salinger, “Rebel in the Rye,” is that his absence from the lit scene for decades created mystery about him. They’re hoping to capitalize on that mystery.
There’s something to be said for this viewpoint. There are multiple examples of performers and artists who achieved a level of lasting fame because they removed themselves from the scene at an early age. Greta Garbo, Marilyn Monroe, and James Dean jump immediately to mind. In the lit game, Sylvia Plath. Mystery has been an essential component of charisma for a long time. (See fan dancer Sally Rand. The brief, unsatisfied glimpse.) Or look at the most famous person in history. The mystery of Jesus’s death and resurrection is the most compelling part of the Gospel narratives.
Yet J.D. Salinger was able to vanish because his literary celebrity had already been built. He wrote at a time when writers mattered.
How much more difficult the task is now, when even the biggest name writers walk around as virtual unknowns, not part of the conversation of general culture– a culture 1,000 times noisier than it once was.
Can one create mystery and charisma about a writer by keeping that person offstage– yet somehow still get the word out?
NEXT: “Star Power.” A Counter-Argument.