Hyakujo's Geese, Amban's Doughnuts, and Rilke's Carrousel:
Sources East and West for Salinger's Catcher
Zen koans are supra-logical spiritual projects meant to be worked on full‐ time. Even when the monk is not formally meditating, the koan continues to resonate from the hinterlands of consciousness, suffusing every thought, word and deed with its inpenetrable mystery. So, as Holden Caulfield dutifully attends to the wisdom dispensed to him by his history teacher Mr. Spencer upon his dismissal from Pencey Prep, in the back of his mind an odd question lingers and asserts itself: "I was thinking about the lagoon in Central Park ... wondering where the ducks went when the lagoon got all icy and frozen over." Holden, of course, knows nothing of Zen, but Salinger wants the reader to think of him as working on a koan. The matter of the Central Park ducks, silly though it be on the surface, is to bedevil Holden throughout his lost Christmas weekend in New York City and, like a good koan, will not leave him alone until he comes to terms with the central problem of his life, that is, with his so-called life koan, which the ducks symbolize.
Although the topic of Zen in Salinger's writings has often been addressed, coverage has been limited primarily to the fiction collected and published subsequent to The Catcher in the Rye—fiction in which the Zen theme is explicit. Among those few commentators who have searched for traces of Zen in Catcher in particular, one finds interesting speculation as well____________________