How to interpret “I think love is a touch and yet not a touch” by Salinger?

As to the translation of this sentence, I’m insistently AGAINST 99% of the versions you’ve read on the web, and here is why.

If you preferred to draw a sentence out of its context, translate it, and put some clever touches to it to make it sound epitaphic, every effort would seem so great. However, that’s not what it’s supposed to be.

Let’s recall the scenario using pithy statements. A man (the author of this sentence) encounters a young lady (Miss Lester) on a bus and feels affection for her at the first sight. Rather than talk fondly to her, he gets to know her by stealing her bag, and then gets prisoned. After his accidental death, a hypothetical love letter to Miss Lester is penned, including the vague sentence to be deciphered by eager Chinese readers/amateur translators.

The context is as follows:

Loving you is the important thing, Miss Lester. There are some people who think that love is sex and marriage and six-o’clock kisses and children, and perhaps it is, Miss Lester. But do you know what I think? I think that love is a touch and yet not a touch.

As is clearly seen, there’s a contrast within the above chunk. “Some people think that love is X, while I think (he thinks) that love is Y.” If X=sex, marriage, six-o’clock kisses, children (all that is material, realistic existence)then Y=?

To make sense, the sentence needs to incorporate Y as an opposite of X (material world). Thus, Y should be a simple, unworldly concept irrelevant to ordinary romantic and sexual relationships.

What if Y = a touch and yet not a touch?

When we say “love is a touch” and then negate the very statement, we are being either illogical or intentional. Given the authorship of Salinger, we’d embrace the latter — the art of rhetoric by design— without question.

If you’ve already borne in mind that the man steals her bag to approach Miss Lester, you will find it awkward and funny to deem that “the touch is intended and then aborted in the meantime/halfway” because his deed is somewhat and somehow unchecked and rash. Such a restrained manner as withdrawing his hand(s) just doesn’t become him.

Actually, at the beginning of the story, the man feels “the inexpressible agony of being unable to bend down and kiss Lester’s parted lips” on the bus. So he is very unlikely to be reserved or platonic. In the first letter he writes in prison to Lester, he confesses, “I did not really mean to steal your purse. I just took it because I love you. You see I only wanted to get to know you. Will you please write me a letter sometime when you get the time? It gets pretty lonely here and I love you very much and maybe even you would come to see me some time if you get the time.” Apart from the bold claims he makes, more importantly, we know that he’s hungry for Lester’s response and/or her showing up. This of course does not accord with “withdrawing his hand(s).”

In “love is a touch and yet not a touch,” the use of touch serves as a pun. A touch describes how simply the man falls in love with Lester—only a touch of the heart is needed, and not a touch indicates that he desires more than that—only a touch of love is definitely not what he promises to give/hopes to receive.

All in all it’s plain to see the whole picture. We have to relate this simple, unworldly concept of love to his distinctive manner, and come up with any of these interpretations:

  • Love is what simply grows from a moment of contact and yet should not be as primitive as that.
  • Love could be budding out of the blue, but it’s bound to blossom one day.
  • Love is an infatuation as well as evolution from that.
  • Love always starts unannounced from within, and it’s expected to grow immense (if you please).

Chinese Version: 旁人目中,情或囿於床笫,或狹指姻緣。抑或例行親暱,子孫頑健。而私以為,情如靜水投石,驟生漣漪,若不成驚濤駭浪,安能如願。

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