AI is not Ready for Holden Caulfield

I love to reread books. Even more, I love talking with people about how they re-experience works of art over time, whether it be rereading, re-viewing, re-listening, etc. A touchstone of conversation in this genre is JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye, a book that a good friend of mine reads once a year.

The response to re-readings of Catcher is, in my experience, a clearly defined genre and almost always presented as a play in two acts:

Act I: I love Holden Caulfleld!

Act 2: I hate Holden Caulfield and find him so annoying! Maybe it’s because I’m older.

I’ve never fully entered Act 2, but I hope for those who have, there is a breakthrough into Act 3, which maybe comes at age 50+ and your pores are entirely open to the world. It is in this act where I now find myself on the stage, never numb and feeling everything.

What I always understood about Holden was that he felt, or even experienced, every insult, sleight, injustice, and pain in the world whether it was directed at him or not. He sees the grafftied fuck you! on a wall and feels it is directed at him while simultaneously harming everyone, the author closing him off at a distance from any safe place in the world. Yes, the long history of Catcher being taught in schools is just as long as Holden as a Christ figure, bearing all the sins of the world.

I am not so much for the “bearing” and religious interpretation, but I am very much on board for the “feeling” of this in the world, and feeling it involuntarily. Every pore of your skin open to it all and taking it inside. And Holden was a child. I am, by most metrics, a grown man. Even an old man. Holden was never annoying, unless what annoys us is intense feeling that tests the limits of our capacity to do so.

To continue with the theme of what our algorithms think of, calculate, and visualize of this world, I entered the basic prompt “teenager in red hat tries to catch children falling off a cliff.” Here are the renderings of Holden Caulfield being the catcher. The algorithms do not yet have enough open pores.

Holden in Midjourney
Holden in Dall-E

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