Wednesday, June 28, 2006

updike's lament

At the writers’ conference last week someone suggested that I read Updike’s “S” as the form stance in my work reminded him of that book.

I followed the orders, and have appropriated via my public library, that very novel. Over dinner tonight I began the book and had to tear myself away so I could work on my own novel. Updike is such a seducer. Man.

Coincidentally, Updike had an essay in the NYT Book Review this Sunday.
The End of Authorship (you might need to sign up in order to view it).

The upshot of Updike’s lament in the essay is that the google library revolution threatens to turn the sacred objects of our reading populace into in a cloud of electronic snippets. He contends that the writer:reader relationship is at stake; that luxurious and lugubrious narratives will be reduced to abstracted scraps, digestible morsels; Sunday dinner atrophying into endless tapas plates served via vending machine, to be grazed upon in five minute increments.

In his essay, Updike reports that much of what is on the Web is “egregiously inaccurate, unedited, unattributed and juvenile. The electronic marvels that abound around us serve, surprisingly, to inflame what is most informally and noncritically human about us…”

It is Updike’s contention that the book revolution--which has championed individuality
through its rough-edged particularity and tactile specificity from the Renaissance onward--will come to a screeching halt because the interface of the computer screen smooths everything down dimensionally. Both literally, and metaphorically.

Ladies and gentlemen, I do feel his pain. And yet, I must acknowledge reluctantly that communication evolves. The whole notion of intimacy, dare I venture, also evolves. Updike worries that there will no longer be blurred edges between writer and audience, because edges will cease to exist. But e-edges, I’m optimistic, will evolve due to backlash. There is just so much homogenization that the human species will take, before it takes back its facility for critical thinking. I choose to believe this and I HAVE to believe this, and I see it before my eyes with my seven-yr-old who, though just as susceptible as the next kid to being dicked around by Disney and its cross-promotional commodification schemes, counters that with narrative of his own invention.

There will be Updikes and O’Connors and Carvers in 50 years, and they will have a fan base of misfits, just like today’s versions do. Real authors and real readers have always been the outliers of society. Normative culture has always tried to reduce art to pulp. That won’t end. Nor will the dives into bed with actual books—those smelly, arcane, germ-carrying objects that we freaks will always have in towers beside our reading lamps.


  1. Anonymous3:17 PM

    I agree with Updike's laments but I have to say, I have never been an Updike fan. I mean that terrorist book he has out now seems almost as pathetic as Madonna putting herself on a blazing cross. Come on people, be less obvious! We need that in high art as well as low.

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