July 2016

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The recently published Spring 2016 issue (Vol. 4, No.2) of The John Updike Review features the co-winners of JUR’s Third Emerging Writers Prize, a cash prize that includes publication in the journal. The recipients are Scott Dill and Yoav Fromer.

JURspring2016Dill is “currently working on a book about John Updike’s prose stye, the five senses, and theological aesthetics.” He is a lecturer in the Department of English at Case Western Reserve University, where he teaches seminars on aesthetics, religion in American literature, and secularization theory. His essay is on “Little Plenitudes: John Updike’s Affective Ontology of the Image.”

Fromer is a fellow and visiting lecturer at Tel Aviv University, where he teaches American studies, literature, and political philosophy. His essay is titled “‘The Inside-Outsider’: John Updike as a New York Intellectual—from Shillington, Pennsylvania.”

Also in the new issue are essays from James Schiff (“Updike’s ‘Rabbit Remembered’: The Presence/Absence of Harry through Intertexts”), Donald J. Greiner (“Revising Henry Bech: The First Draft of John Updike’s ‘The Bulgarian Poetess'”); three writers on “Trust Me” (“Updike’s ‘Trust Me’: Of Anthologies, Indifference, and Dollar Bills,” by D. Quentin Miller; “Asking My Students to Jump in the Deep End: The Misleading Focal Event of John Updike’s ‘Trust Me,'” by Daniel Paul; “Updike’s ‘Trust Me’: A Writer’s Account, a Reader’s Doubt,” by Mical Darley); and two reviews (William H. Pritchard on John Updike’s Selected Poems, and Robert M. Luscher’s review of David Crowe’s Cosmic Defiance: Updike’s Kierkegaard and the Maples Stories).

All John Updike Society members receive a copy of the journal as part of their paid membership, but institutional subscriptions are also available. The John Updike Review is published twice a year by the University of Cincinnati and the John updike Society and is based at the University of Cincinnati Department of English. James Schiff is the editor, and Nicola Mason the managing editor. Send submissions of essays and queries to: James Schiff, james.schiff@uc.edu.

updike-midpoint_0001-001In a July 18 post on the blog Vertigo: Where literature and art intersect, with an emphasis on W.G. Sebald and literature with embedded photographs, a writer identified simply as “Terry” considers “‘Midpoint’: John Updike’s Pointillist Poem.” 

His argument:  “The pictures [included in Canto II] speak for themselves. A cycle of growth, mating, and birth. The coarse dots, calligraphic and abstract, become faces with troubled expressions. Distance improves vision. Lost time sifts through these immutable screens.”

“Updike doesn’t seem to have made any attempt to make the photographs approximate any poetic form. There is no apparent rhythmic pattern to the way the photographs are placed on their five pages and the only organizing principle is chronology. The photographs themselves, which are reproduced as halftones, are purposely printed in such a way as to show the dots formed by the halftone screens. (Although, curiously, the halftone dots are strikingly less noticeable on three of the photographs—each of which is a head shot of Updike himself.) At first I wondered if his decision to emphasize the halftone dots might be related to the Pop Art of the time, especially Roy Lichtenstein. While it is certainly possible that Lichtenstein’s work created an awareness on Updike’s part of the underlying dots in halftone reproductions, Updike’s writing is not at all aligned with the goals of Pop Art. Rather, we should take Updike’s word for it that he sees the halftone patterns as a visual symbol of lost time and as a metaphor for distance. A halftone image—like life itself—is easier to see from afar.

Terry concludes with a final argument followed by an excerpt from Midpoint:  “The poet strives to conclude, but his aesthetic of dots prevents him. His heroes are catalogued. World politics: a long view. Intelligent hedonistic advice. Chilmark Pond in August. He appears to accept, reluctantly, his own advice.”

Reality transcends itself within;
Atomically, all writers must begin.
The Truth arrives as if by telegraph:
One dot; two dots; a silence; then a laugh.

Screen Shot 2016-07-29 at 8.02.56 AMAn anthology on Poems That Make Grown Women Cry: 100 Women on the Words That Move Them, edited by Anthony and Ben Holden and published this past spring, includes an essay by former New Yorker editor Tina Brown on John Updike’s poem, “Perfection Wasted.”

The book is a follow-up to the father-and-son team’s Poems That Make Grown Men Cry. For the most recent volume they worked with Amnesty Internation and asked the same question of 100 “remarkable women”: “What poem has moved you to tears?”

Here’s the Amazon.com link. You can read “Perfection Wasted” on Garrison Keillor’s A Prairie Home Companion post from Jan. 31, 2009.

The blog Catholic Strength, subtitled “…growth in holiness…growth in well-being…growth in knowledge,” has published a piece by Tom Mulcahy, M.A., on “A Theology of Death and Resurrection Based on Pigeon Feathers.”

bird-368924_640“John Updike’s short story, ‘Pigeon Feathers,’ presents a striking example of a person who undergoes a death and resurrection experience in the very context of trying to understand the meaning of death,” Mulcahy writes. “In Updike’s story, David, at age 14, suddenly finds himself doubting his childhood faith at a time when the turbulence of a move to a new home has him feeling displaced and insecure. To strengthen his childhood belief in life after death, which he finds under attack after browsing through a book skeptical of Jesus’ resurrection, he turns to his parents for guidance and support. To his own surprise, David finds out that his parents’ faith in the claims of Christianity is not altogether that strong. In fact, David discovers, his father is practically an atheist!

“Still, David holds out hope that his minister, Reverend Dopson, will confirm that each person’s soul is immortal. But far from providing David with consolation, Dopson shatters David’s security in life after death by suggesting thathttps://catholicstrengthblog.files.wordpress.com/2016/04/bird-368924_640.jpg after death, ‘I suppose you could say that our souls are asleep.’

“Panicked and depressed about his parents’ and minister’s ‘submission to death,’ David takes a rifle out to the family barn to shoot some pigeons. With ‘splinters of light’ shining through the darkness of the barn, the barn becomes almost a micro-universe for David to work out his struggles with the issues of life and death. David then proceeds to the task of retrieving the dead pigeons he has shot in order to bury them.

“David had never seen a pigeon up close before. An examination of some of the dead pigeons up close produced a resurrection in his life. . . . David had to die to his childhood faith in order to be reborn into a deeper, more mature faith. He had to take control over his own faith life rather than living it vicariously through his parents or his minister. He had to shoot down his childhood faith in order to see how precious and costly that faith was to him. The wonderful form, symmetry and beauty of the pigeon feathers revealed to David the majestic presence of a loving God. David discovered in a moment of time a transcendent truth: that God loved him with an everlasting love.”

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 8.24.48 AMBrian Hancock, writing for the Franklin Favorite, called Rabbit, Run a lesson in literary mastery.”

Rabbit, Run is a fine display of Updike’s masterful grip on prose. Incredibly creative similes and metaphors are employed throughout the work, to the point where the novel becomes a literacy lesson in itself.

“It’s not just the prose where Updike succeeds, though, but through narrative disguise as well. Rabbit, who initially appears to be a lovable little character, perhaps isn’t what the reader first thought at all,” he writes.

Screen Shot 2016-07-25 at 7.57.56 AMLists have no season but beach lists only come around once a year. This year, New York Magazine is recommending John Updike’s The Witches of Eastwick as one of “The 100 Best Beach Reads.” 

What makes a “beach read”? NY Magazine thinks “the formula is pretty straightforward. Whether mass-market candy or high literature, a beach read needs narrative momentum, a transporting sense of place, and, ideally, a touch of the sordid.”

The best 100 books for sandy serendipity aren’t ranked, but rather listed in chronological order, starting with Daniel Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719) and ending with Catherine Banner’s The House at the Edge of Night (2016).

Of The Witches of Eastwick, NY Magazine writes, “Updike was clearly having a ball in his story of suburban witches shacking up with a warlock.” Don’t we know it.

Screen Shot 2016-07-21 at 7.26.45 PMGail McCarthy of the Gloucester Times posted an article earlier today on “Remembering a portrait artist; Celebration to recall legacy of Aphia Carman.” 

A celebration slated for 2 p.m. Sunday, July 24, 2016, will be held at “the barn” on 43 Rocky Neck Ave. in Gloucester, Mass. Aphia Hayward Carman was a portrait artist who operated a gallery and studio in Gloucester for 40 years but “her talent was in high demand,” McCarthy writes, “even after she closed her Rocky Neck Art Colony business.

The celebration of her life will be hosted by her children, Patty Carman Blonda and Tim Carman.

“Carman was once known as the ‘Grand Dame’ of Rocky Neck. She painted portraits of locals as well as others throughout the North Shore, including Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Updike, who also sought her out for a portrait,” McCarthy writes.

“John Nesta, a fellow Rocky Neck artist who lived a few doors down, said Carman (1921-2015) is remembered for her big personality and enormous talent.” According to Nesta, “her portraits were so delightful that even if you didn’t know the family they were still very desirable.”

Carman died last December at the age of 94 in Montana, where she had been living for the past decade with one of her children.

In an article published on the Front Porch Republic, JUS member Scott Dill asks the question, “Would Rabbit Angstrom Vote for Trump?”

The answer is complicated.

Screen Shot 2016-07-15 at 7.21.01 AMOn the one hand, “Rabbit was ‘ever the loyal citizen. God he can doubt, but not America,'” and his brand of nationalistic patriotism is the same sort that Trump is peddling. As Dill notes, “Rabbit’s patriotism was accompanied by nostalgia, racism, sexism, and a general anti-cosmopolitanism to the extent that, were Updike around to give us another installment, it would probably involve at least one Trump rally.

“Wouldn’t Rabbit, after years of bemoaning the changing racial demographic and economic fortunes of his hometown (a thinly veiled Reading, PA), look to Trump to give meaning to his years of growing resentment? His once magical childhood city would still be crumbling around him, drugs and divorce had worn down his family, the country’s loss of loyalty would likely still irk. Oh to be great again!”

But Rabbit was also a lover of beauty and he appreciated the little things. “Sidewalks and pies and sunshine—they were worth savoring in themselves. For Rabbit, life in its fullest flourishing was what happened in the quotidian moments of middle-class striving.

“Which is part of why Rabbit tended to agree with his father’s politics, and voted Democratic. Earl Angstrom once praised Medicare and the moon landing in the same peon to the Democrats’ beneficent protection: ‘They called LBJ every name in the book but believe me he did a lot of good for the little man. Wherever he went wrong, it was his big heart betrayed him. These pretty boys in the sky right now, Nixon’ll hog the credit but it was the Democrats put ’em there, it’s been the same story ever since I can remember, ever since Wilson—the Republicans don’t do a thing for the little man.'”

Dill avoids answering his own question, but fans of the Rabbit novels will remember that Rabbit may have been a simple blue-collar worker but he also had a powerful curiosity and a sense of history being made as events unfolded. He would have attended a Trump rally not necessarily out of conviction but because it was part of American history happening right before his eyes. Rabbit had a powerful curiosity and an open mind—enough to try to understand the perspective of a black militant in Rabbit Redux—and he would have seriously considered the arguments for electing both Clinton and Trump.

In the end, would he have voted for Trump? Probably not. As Dill writes, “Rabbit once memorably exulted that America was ‘the happiest fucking country the world has ever seen!’ His country is a cherished occasion for loving the unrepeatable particularities of his own life.” For all his flaws, Rabbit was an optimistic, positive individual, a glass half-full kind of guy, especially when it came to America. As Updike told an interviewer, Rabbit is “a hopeful man, who, at his best, was in love with life.” And Updike, who voted for Democrats his entire life but famously supported the Vietnam War, couldn’t abide the “kind of American self-hatred” that emerged from the anti-war people. In the end, though Dill doesn’t say so, odds are that Updike and Rabbit would have been put off by the inherent negativity of Trump’s message.

The Atlantic‘s Robinson Meyer contributed a piece on “How to Write a History of Writing Software,” subtitled “Isaac Asimov, John Updike, and John Hersey changed their writing habits to adapt to word processors, according to the first literary historian of the technology.” Meyer interviewed University of Maryland English professor Matthew Kirschenbaum, who has just published the first book-length history of word processing, Track Changes.

“It is more than a history of high art. Kirschenbaum follows how writers of popular and genre fiction adopted the technology long before vaunted novelists did. He determines how their writing habits and financial powers changed once they moved from typewriter to computing. And he details the unsettled ways that the computer first entered the home. (When he first bought a computer, for example, the science-fiction legend Isaac Asimov wasn’t sure whether it should go in the living room or the study.)

381b75cb92d30e801cc36925695d80ef“His new history joins a much larger body of scholarship about other modern writing technologies—specifically, typewriters. For instance, scholars confidently believe that the first book ever written with a typewriter was Life on the Mississippi, by Mark Twain. They have conducted typographical forensics to identify precisely how T.S. Elioit’s The Wasteland was composed—which typewriters were used, and when. And they have collected certain important machines for their archives.”

Kirschenbaum says that while he can’t say for certain which writer was first to compose using a word processor or computer, notable candidates are science-fiction author Jerry Pournelle and author John Hersey, who edited Hiroshima on a keyboard and used to computer to generate camera-ready copy.

“Another interesting story that’s in the book is about John Updike, who gets a Wang word processor at about the time Stephen King does, in the early 1980s. I was able to inspect the last typewriter ribbon that he used in the last typewriter he owned. A collector who had the original typewriter was kind enough to lend it to me. And you can read the text back off that typewriter ribbon—and you can’t make this stuff up, this is why it’s so wonderful to be able to write history—the last thing that Updike writes with the typewriter is a note to his secretary telling her that he won’t need her typing services because he now has a word processor.”

Pictured: Stock photo of typical Wang word processor from the 1980s.