re: franny and zooey [authorial intent, etc.]

From: L. Manning Vines <>
Date: Tue Jan 14 2003 - 19:53:15 EST

I had planned on continuing in this conversation with Jim, but now that I am
fully one month and a half late in responding, compounded with other email
conversations away from this list and with my actual life and with a general
fatigue that has come over me lately, I am giving it up. There are three or
four specific areas of contention that I see as unresolved, and which a
month ago I meant to speak to -- but for lack of interest here, for concerns
in the world of flesh (and paper), for weariness of the spirit and the
feebleness of man, I will not. Let the record show (by which I mean the
Great Archive, which this will shortly enter) that this is the case, that
ends are being dropped and confusions and problems left unresolved, as a
matter of deliberate and calculated decision, and not by act of God, nature,
or technical errors in the archive.

I am going on only to respond to such few matters that I take to be
confusions pertaining to me and my character, to defend against such false
and unholy accusations.

Some time ago Jim wrote to me the following:
<< You define "great ideas" so narrowly that they wind up only being the
ones you happen to, quite idiosyncratically, identify across different
cultures and their literatures. Because you assume these ideas are timeless,
you assume the author saw them in the text pretty close to the way you do
today. >>

To this, I responded:
<< It is slightly inflammatory and entirely false that I identify certain
"ideas" (for lack of a better word) across different cultures, as you say,
idiosyncratically. >>

And to that, Jim rebuffed:
<< Forgive me, Robbie, for assuming you were human enough to be capable of
idiosyncrasies in thought :).

You get offended (considering my words slightly "inflammatory") only because
of your own pretension. I don't share the pretensions about you that you
hold for yourself and never will. I see you as a human being capable of the
same errors in thought I am capable of committing. This part of my post is
the only part, so far, that I consider something like a direct attack on
your character, but you've earned it. >>

To this I reply:

Though, as a matter of principle, I welcome all direct attacks on my
character, I must disagree with your last point, which is that I've earned
this one. Pretension has had nothing to do with this (at least no
pretension of mine).

The heart of this, I think, is the word "idiosyncratic." I was just now
about to go to to copy and paste a definition of the word
here, for all to see. I just decided against that, though. I trust that it
would be gratuitous.

We can all agree, I hope, on some of the fundamental suggestions of that
word. When you say that something is idiosyncratic to someone, the first
thing that comes to MY mind is that it is unique to that person, peculiar to
him. Perhaps you meant it differently, but that's how I read it when you
said of certain ideas that I "happen to, quite idiosyncratically, identify
[them] across different cultures and their literatures."

This read to me then, and it reads to me now, as an attempt to marginalize
what I had been saying. I just "happen" to identify certain things, "quite
idiosyncratically" mind you, across the literatures of different times and
cultures. I called this false and inflammatory, no pretension involved.
Not only do I not just "happen" to make such identifications "quite
idiosyncratically," but I don't even make them "idiosyncratically." Not by
the aforementioned meaning of the word, anyway. Quite the contrary,
actually. I've made no effort to disguise the fact that I've not said an
original thing. The identification of such timeless themes has been made by
innumerably many others, all over the world today and going back for a very,
very long time.

The fine gentlemen of Encyclopaedia Britannica have, in fact, identified and
described a list of such "Great Ideas," precisely 102 in number, I believe.
(I think that this list actually has origins winding through the U. of
Chicago and Columbia)

This isn't to say that I follow the comically precise list, of course. I
only mean to establish that such an identification of timeless themes is not
something that I "happen" to see, "quite idiosyncratically." And, then,
that saying so might reasonably be seen as an attempt to marginalize what I
was saying; to which I might respond by calling it entirely false and
slightly inflammatory, without earning a direct attack on my character.

Other points and arguments that immediately followed, while some of them I
took to be misunderstandings between us or suggestive of a confusing of what
I had said, I will let drop for the reasons outlined above. I will only
say -- as a matter of historical interest rather than of authorial intent --
that the example of "humility" as a new Christian virtue that throws a
wrench (allegedly) into the machinery of "timeless ideas" doesn't cut the
mustard, for reasons that I had already suggested the first time that
example was raised (primarily because it wasn't new, but was piety with a
new system around it).


P.S. And, of course, I would be a fool to say otherwise: the Catalog of
Ships IS important, in Homer's mind, I don't doubt, as much as in mine -- I
just didn't think that it was immediately relevant.
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Received on Tue Jan 14 19:54:05 2003

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