Wednesday, June 08, 2005

Franny and Zooey -> DFW

The part of the book that I found most affecting was in the middle of Zooey:
I mean treasure is treasure, for heaven's sake. What's the difference whether the treasure is money, or property, or even culture, or even just plain knowledge? It all seemed like exactly the same thing to me, if you take off the wrapping--and it still does! Sometimes I think that knowledge--when it's knowledge for knowledge's sake, anyway--is the worst of all. The least excusable, certainly."
This passage just made me pause and wrinkle my forehead a bit. Because yes, we all know that money isn't everything, that fame and power shouldn't be one's ultimate goals. But knowledge? Knowledge is honorable, which is why people spend the first twenty or so years of their lives accruing it. But now here comes Franny/Salinger, all anguish and pain, because knowledge isn't a worthwhile or satisfying goal, because it might be just as meaningless and selfish as the aforementioned culprits.

I guess that idea was shattering, when I first read it. Well where was I now, if something that I'd always secretly felt a little superior for striving for turned out to be not such a superior goal after all?

But at second glance, Salinger's answer is decidedly unsatisfying:
"I don't think it would have all got me quite so down if just once in a while--just once in a while--there was at least some polite little perfunctory implication that knowledge should lead to wisdom, and that if it doesn't, it's just a disgusting waste of time!"
How is wisdom for wisdom's sake superior to knowledge for knowledge's sake? This is crap. If knowledge is a phony (to use a Salinger-ism) goal because all it is is a tangible way to make someone feel proud for owning "treasure," then wisdom is the same thing. Wisdom without direction or some higher goal is also useless.

Maybe he's saying that wisdom will point out the higher goal to you. Which I guess makes sense. But then, that still avoids a more important question: how do you obtain wisdom? If it doesn't just arise automatically out of knowledge, how does it arise? Proust would perhaps say a well-lived adolescence, but there are problems with that as well.

I am exasperated by the answer that's glaring me in the face: just grope around for wisdom and pray that somehow you'll find it. It sounds so religion-y - "finding God" - and I guess I just have an instinctive distrust of crazy faith-based mumbo-jumbo (a product of the time period?). But according to Wallace's (remarkably cool, even for DFW) Kenyon commencement speech (order of words switched for emphasis):
Worship power, you will end up feeling weak and afraid, and you will need ever more power over others to numb you to your own fear. Worship your intellect, being seen as smart, you will end up feeling stupid, a fraud, always on the verge of being found out. But the insidious thing about these forms of worship is not that they're evil or sinful, it's that they're unconscious. They are default settings... Everybody worships. The only choice we get is what to worship. And the compelling reason for maybe choosing some sort of god or spiritual-type thing to worship be it JC or Allah, bet it YHWH or the Wiccan Mother Goddess, or the Four Noble Truths, or some inviolable set of ethical principles -- is that pretty much anything else you worship will eat you alive.