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PRINT November 1977

The Aesthetic of Indifference

TWO NOVELS SET THE PARAMETERS of national feeling in the McCarthy period (1950–1954) and provide an index to an important new aesthetic impulse in American art during those years. In One Lonely Night (1951), Mickey Spillane’s hero, Mike Hammer, tells a friend: “I killed more people tonight than I have fingers on my hands. I shot them in cold blood and enjoyed every minute of it. I pumped slugs into the nastiest bunch of bastards you ever saw and here I am calmer than I’ve ever been and happy too. They were Commies, Lee. They were red sons-of-bitches who should have died long ago.”

Holden Caulfield, the dispirited hero of J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye (1951), sees his life as a pointless game against hopeless odds. One night, unable to sleep, he thinks of committing suicide: “I felt like jumping out the window. Probably would’ve done it, too, if I’d been sure somebody’d cover me

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