3 feb. 2009

I don't like reacting to the death of writers. If I don't particularly care for the writer, or am not an expert, then I don't have much to say or much that I particularly want to say. If I do admire the writer, then I don't like mixing the emotion of the death in with my feelings about the work. I see those two things as different categories. So I didn't comment on the passing of Montejo last summer, for example.

With John Updike, I am in the position of having read many of his works before I turned 20--and very few if any afterwards. I basically read every Updike book as it came out in the 1970s, and also every paperback my parents had lying around. I liked The Centaur a lot, and some of the short stories. I also tended to read every story in every issue of the New Yorker. At a certain point--whether in my own reading of him or in his actual writing as he aged--his prose started to grate on my nerves and I lost my capacity to read his new work. So it's safe to say I've never read Rabbit Kicks the Bucket, or Memoirs of the Grant Administration, or Argentine Languors.

The fallacy of the Updike style is in not thinking that if a little bit of "fine writing" is a good thing," a whole lot more of it is even better. The "better" his writing got, the worse it actually was. He didn't know when to stop. As subtle as his style was, it was a "crude" instrument in the sense that it no longer had any relation of aptness to a subject, of being fit for a particular purpose. This created an odd kind of tone deafness, as in his ornate description of the towers coming down.

It's also true that Updike is part of the formation of my mental image of the writer. For me, a real writer appeared in the New York Review of Books and the New Yorker and wrote about sophisticated adult themes. Updike was my chief source of pornography until I discovered Henry Miller.

1 comentario:

Thomas Basbøll dijo...

Your critique reminded me of Mailer's view of Updike in "Some Children of the Goddess". I just looked it up:

"The trouble is that young John, like many a good young wirter before him, does not know exactly what to d owhen the action lapses, and so he cultivates his private vice, he writes. And there are long overfingered descriptions in exacerbated syntax, airless crypts of four or five pages, huge inner exertion reminiscent of weight lifters, a stale sweet sweat clings to his phrases." (Cannibals & Christians, p. 120)

Typing that I wonder if he is committing the vice he is describing.