Friday, January 30, 2009

Weighing in on Updike Part VIII-- A Post by Chip Cheek

Fringe contributor Chip Cheek was surprised by how he felt in the wake of Updike's death:

I know John Updike through his short stories and the many dozens of essays and reviews I read of his in The New Yorker and elsewhere. For me, as a writer, he’s a hero not so much for his actual writing — although wow, he could write — but for how he wrote: honestly, thoroughly, plentifully. 

He was and will remain an easy target for any number of artistic, political, and personal factions. His style is too florid. His subjects are too small. (He was a minor writer with a major style, as Harold Bloom said.) He never understood women. He wasn’t progressive enough. He took up too much space in The New Yorker which might otherwise have gone to budding young writers like myself. He was so white. But Updike was genuine; he was dedicated, I think, to setting down in his work, as thoroughly and honestly as he could, the world as he saw it and felt it, and his sentences bowed under the weight of all he observed and felt compelled to record. 

He was a smart guy who matured amid the cultural upheavals of the second half of the past century, and he was conflicted by it all, as any human being would be — as he himself admitted. Lesser writers might have polished their prose in accordance with fashion, but not Updike, and it took courage to write as he did because, as he surely knew, he would reveal his own limitations and prejudices. But he wasn’t afraid to enter the conversation; he wasn’t afraid to get it all down. David Foster Wallace said disparagingly that Updike never had an unpublished thought, but there’s something to admire in that, too. 

I miss you, John Updike. Frankly, I’m surprised how much I miss you — but man, I really do.

1 comment:

Brooks said...

This comment is a bit late, but nice post. Where did David Foster Wallace "disparagingly say that Updike never had an unpublished thought?" His piece in the NY Observer is a bit more balanced than that, and states:

"Most of the literary readers I know personally are under 40, and a fair number are female, and none of them are big admirers of the postwar G.M.N.'s. But it's Mr. Updike in particular they seem to hate. And not merely his books, for some reason-mention the poor man himself and you have to jump back:

'Just a penis with a thesaurus.'
'Has the son of a bitch ever had one unpublished thought?'
'Makes misogyny seem literary the same way Limbaugh makes fascism seem funny.'

These are actual-trust me-quotations..."