It is the quiet acceptance, apparently alive and well in our culture, of the notion that genius justifies cruel or abusive treatment of those who serve the artist and his art. Richard Schickel, writing of Salinger’s activities, expresses the view that despite the disclosures about Salinger’s pursuit of young women he lived “a ‘normal’ life.”
“He liked pretty young girls. Stop the presses,” writes the film critic (and father of daughters) David Edelstein. The implication being, what’s the fuss?
One of these girls, 14 when Salinger first pursued her long ago, described him in terms usually reserved for deities, and spoke of feeling privileged to have served as inspiration and muse to a great writer — though she also reports that he severed their relationship the day after their one and only sexual encounter.
Some will argue that you can’t have it both ways: how can a woman say she is fully in charge of her body and her destiny, and then call herself a victim when, having given a man her heart of her own volition, he crushes it? How can a consensual relationship, as Salinger’s unquestionably were, constitute a form of abuse?
But we are talking about what happens when people in positions of power — mentors, priests, employers or simply those assigned an elevated status — use their power to lure much younger people into sexual and (in the case of Salinger) emotional relationships. Most typically, those who do this are men. And when they are done with the person they’ve drawn toward them, it can take that person years or decades to recover.
I am now 59. Let a man tell me now that I am of no worth or value, and never will be and the man will be diminished in my eyes. But when a man who had become for me the possessor of all wisdom told me these things, when I was 18, the one diminished was myself.
I am as troubled by the use of the word “woman” to describe the 18-year-old object, briefly, of a 53-year-old’s affections as I am by the use of the word “lover” to describe my 18-year-old self, in the context of that relationship.
Sunday, September 15, 2013
Costs of seduction
On a more serious note, I think it is important to link to Joyce Maynard's piece about Salinger and why we shouldn't give great artists a free pass on behavior: