Tuesday, January 27, 2009

John Updike

john updikeLast year I began reading Rabbit, Run but somehow got sidetracked and didn't finish it.

Early on, in the novel, I ran across one of those beautiful Updike lines that seems to reach softly into the physical world even as it describes it (in this instance more spartanly than usual) on the page: "He now and then touches with his hand the rough bark of a tree or the dry twigs of a hedge, to give himself the small answer of a texture."

I have not read very much Updike, but it seems to me that quite often his work was seeking after "the small answer of a texture," and considering the meaning of that search, I think of Wordsworth, from his letter to a friend, describing the origin and meaning of his "Ode: Intimations of Immortality":
Nothing was more difficult for me in childhood than to admit the notion of death as a state applicable to my own being... I used to brood over the stories of Enoch and Elijah, and almost to persuade myself that, whatever might become of others, I should be translated, in something of the same way, to heaven. With a feeling congenial to this, I was often unable to think of external things as having external existence, and I communed with all that I saw as something not apart from, but inherent in, my own immaterial nature. Many times while going to school have I grasped at a wall or tree to recall myself from this abyss of idealism to the reality.
I don't mean to get sappy or panegyric—if I felt more comfortable speaking to Updike's oeuvre, I'd make the connection to Wordsworth tighter and more substantial. As it stands, I just wished to bring two small passages together and consider their relation. It must be said, of course, that Updike's death leaves a void in American letters, one unlikely to be filled by any one—or two or three—people.

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