June 2016

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92541-192x300On the blog Literary Hub, Adam Ehrlich Sachs compiled a thoughtful list of “Six Tales About Fathers and Sons That Do Not Feature Fathers And Sons; Adam Ehrlich Sachs on Vast, Fathomless, and Multifarious Conceptual Fathers.”

His picks?

A Message from the Emperor (Franz Kafka)

The Verificationist (Donald Antrim)

Weimar Culture: The Outsider as Insider (Peter Gay)

“Babel in California” from The Possessed (Elif Batuman)

“On the Uses and Disadvantages of History for Life” from Untimely Meditations (Friedrich Nietzsche)

U and I (Nicholson Baker)

Of the latter he identifies Updike as the father and Baker as the son. “Something similar to Nietzsche’s exaltation of ignorance and forgetting over knowledge and memory seems to animate Nicholson Baker’s decision not to reread any Updike—or to read any of the Updike he had not yet read—before embarking on this reckoning with his literary progenitor: rather than embalm the actual Updike with artificial erudition, he wants to portray the warped but living Bakerian Updike that occupies his, Baker’s, head, inspiring and intimidating him, spurring and silencing him, proscribing certain images (drizzle on a window screen) and words (“consort”) from Baker’s fiction because Updike got them down first.”

Here’s the entire article.

Screen Shot 2016-06-30 at 7.27.23 AMThe New Yorker fiction podcast “Roger Angell Reads John Updike” features Updike’s long-time editor reading his story “Playing with Dynamite” and talking with current New Yorker fiction editor Deborah Treisman about editing Updike.

Here’s the link.

James Howden, Sports, Culture & Other Obsessions posted an entry this past week on “John Updike: On Race and Being American” that quotes large sections from an essay in Self-Consciousness and reacts to Updike’s remarks about race in America.

Updike.GrandpaOne line that particularly stands out in a letter to his half-Ghanian grandchildren: “When Anoff was born . . . my instinctive thought was that he would do better if his parents settled in Ghana; that is, I trusted an African country to treat a half-white person better than my own country would treat a half-black. Now I wonder. Ours is a changing, merging, exogamous world, and while racial prejudice operates in the United States against blacks in many ways overt and oblique . . . at least our laws now formally insist upon equal rights. . . .”

“An ideal colorblind society flickers at the forward edge of a sluggishly evolving one . . . America is slowly becoming yours, I want to think,” Updike wrote many years before the current state of racism in America, fueled by politics.

Adrienne LaFrance contemplates “The Human Fear of Total Knowledge; Why infinite libraries are treated skeptically in the annals of science fiction and fantasy” and quotes John Updike in the process.

“Libraries tend to occupy a sacred space in modern culture,” she writes in her June 3, 2016 Atlantic article. “People adore them. (Perhaps even more than that, people love the idea of them….)”

Screen Shot 2016-06-12 at 6.48.43 AM“In The Book of Sand, Jorge Luis Borges tells the story of an unexpected visit from a Bible salesman, who has in his collection a most unusual object. ‘It can’t be, but it is,’ the salesman says. ‘The number of pages is no more or less than infinite. None is the first page, none is the last.’ The strange book is so engrossing as to be sinister,” LaFrance writes, adding that in Borges’ The Library of Babel “‘each bookshelf holds thirty-two books identical in format; each book contains four hundred ten pages; each page, forty lines; each line, approximately eighty black letters.’ The appearance of order is an illusion….”

“I feel in Borges a curious implication: the unrealities of physical science and the senseless repetitions of history have made the world outside the library an uninhabitable vacuum,’ John Updike wrote in an essay about Borges in 1965. ‘Just as physical man, in his cities, has manufactured an environment whose scope and challenge and hostility eclipse that of the natural world, so literate man has heaped up a counterfeit universe capable of supporting life.’

“Borges was not just interested in literary artifice, as Updike points out, but fundamentally concerned with the nature of reality, a preoccupation that often led him to interrogate the scope and organization of human knowledge.”