Tuesday, February 03, 2009

John Updike 2

I know there's been a lot written about Updike - but has there been enough? If, for example, Barack Obama or Tony Blair had died, the coverage would have been Updike squared if not cubed. Yet the death of an age's great artist is surely infinitely more important than that of one of its politicians. Do you know, for example, who was Prime Minister when Dickens published Bleak House? Of course, you don't (it was the Earl of Aberdeen... who he?). I suppose, at the time, Forgotten Aberdeen, as we must now call him, would have seemed much more important than the publication of a novel. Not now, Bleak House stands like a rock and poor old Forgotten doesn't stand at all. That's the point - except for a few rare exceptions, all politicians are of their time and nothing more. History diminishes them by turning them into pawns of its hindsight narratives. But, for centuries, Updike will be read and discussed. Our strutting, fretting leaders will, along with us, have vanished.


  1. Well I suppose there are two main reasons that a PM death would get Updike-death coverage cubed.

    Primo, there is only one PM/President at a time but lots of simultaneously-productive artists.

    Secondo, artists tend to accumulate their greatness over time and mostly after biting the dust. Obviously it's easy to predict that some writers will be immortal (Archer) but Updike may become obscure and only vaugely remembered for, oh I don't know, white middle class misogyny. It's hard to say.

  2. Buddy Holly died 50 years ago and not one of you snow fetish lot have mentioned it yet.

    Rave on.

  3. Can you remember what you were doing on the day he died ?

  4. Making a cup of tea for my daughter.

  5. Too right, Malty. Nige can usually be relied upon to comment on hot topical news like somebody dying fifty years ago. Poor show.

    I was minus-28 when Buddy kicked the bucket so my memories of it are dim at best, but he still made an impression. The old man had a Best-of LP and as a nipper I made him play it endlessly while I jumped all over the furniture like a hyperactive border-collie. I'd have Rave On on my desert island discs. That intro "We-ah-he-ah-hell little things..." was the first music to get my my mojo working and still does the trick.

  6. ??? It must have been stone cold by the time she was born!

    anyway, Earl of Aberdeen - why is it always some Scotch git?!

  7. I believe Gladstone was P.M. at least part of the time Dickens was writing (jeez, Louise, he WAS writing steadily for thirty years). And Gladstone is hard to forget, particularly those intimate chats he used to have with prostitutes.

    And when was DisRaeli P.M.? Also in that era, no? And he another novelist.

    Your 19th-c Brit P.M.'s are not so dull, methinks.

  8. No hang on, I was minus 18, wasn't I? Maths never was my strong point. I still can't remember it though.

  9. Considering there was no such animal as Vision Express in those days it was amazing how quickly everyone was wearing Buddy Holly specs, including the burdz.
    My friend had just bought a J2 MG, stripped down to the last bolt and in a large packing crate, we were standing in his garage looking into the crate in dismay when the news of Hollies death came over the radio, being Geordie's we were gutted.
    That ain't bad for someone with a memory like a sieve.

  10. I like this, on Updike. http://www.newyorker.com/talk/2009/02/09/090209ta_talk_angell

  11. Today in Poetry & Poets in Rags, I linked to 33 good items on Updike. Here they all are:

    Guardian links:
    The Guardian: Updike on death: A poem
    The Guardian: When Amis met Updike . . .
    The Guardian: Beyond the bounds of realism
    The Guardian: John Updike interview: 'One writes by faith'
    The Guardian: John Updike: extract from Rabbit, Run
    The Guardian: John Updike

    Links to Updike's works and quotes this past week:
    The New York Times: Requiem
    Poetry Dispatch and other Notes from the Underground: Updike's Poems
    Spicezee: Late Updike on his image of India
    The New Yorker: Late Works
    The New York Times: A Sampler of John Updike's Prose
    The Times: John Updike: the character who was my ticket to the America all around me
    The Times Literary Supplement: War on West 155th Street
    The New Yorker: Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu
    Morning Sentinel: John Updike: A reader's appreciation
    CBC Radio: The ‘kaleidoscopically gifted' writer John Updike talks with Eleanor Wachtel in an interview from 1996

    On Updike's writing:
    Philadelphia Inquirer: John Updike: There was style, and more
    The New Republic: Requiem: John Updike's productivity and proficiency
    The Baltimore Sun: Master of details made readers feel what he felt
    New York: Three Pages a Day

    Great Regulars on Updike:
    Jeffrey Brown: PBS: Newshour: Acclaimed American Author John Updike Dies at Age 76
    Jeffrey Brown: PBS: Newshour: Art Beat: A Setting Fitting for a Master
    John Mark Eberhart: The Kansas City Star: John Updike appreciation: His best and his not-quite-best
    John Mark Eberhart: The Kansas City Star: John Updike, a humble man of letters, dies
    John Freeman: John Updike: A post-war American chronicler is, sadly, silenced
    Charles McGrath: The New York Times: John Updike's Mighty Pen
    Charles McGrath: The New York Times Video Library: John Updike: A Life in Letters
    Max Ross: The Rake: Cracking Spines: Thoughts on Updike
    David L. Ulin: Los Angeles Times: For better or worse, John Updike produced a nearly endless stream of work

    Updike bios, professional and personal life:
    The New Yorker: John Updike
    The Times: Obituary of John Updike: novelist who wrote the Witches of Eastwick
    BBC News: Tributes paid to 'great' Updike
    Beverly Citizen: Writer at rest: Beverly Farms loses Updike, its lion of literature

    Those are just the select items from the week. So the list does not include the bulk coverage on him, only what I liked best. Nor does it include what came out last Tuesday just after the announcement.


  12. And when was DisRaeli P.M.?

    Was it before or after he invented the bicycle gear?