June 2018

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For Father’s Day The Wall Street Journal published a roundup by Lee Siegel on “Portrait of the Artist as a Great Father; The cliché about famous creative types is that they’re self-obsessed and withdrawn. Less familiar—but more plentiful—are the stories of paternal affection that flows from artistic bounty.”

In it, Siegel rebuts the cliché of the “bad artist father:  icy, hurtful, self-obsessed. Withdrawn into impenetrable creative isolation—so the stereotype goes—these parental monsters punish any attempted breach of their solitude by inflicting lifelong trauma on those closest to them.”

Siegel writes, “Here is David Updike, son of the novelist John, remembering that when he and his siblings ‘appeared unannounced, in [their father’s] office—on the second floor of a building he shared with a dentist, accountants and the Dolphin Restaurant—he always seemed happy and amused to see us, stopped typing to talk and dole out some money for movies. But as soon as we were out the door, we could hear the typing resume, clattering with us down the stairs.”

Among the other examples of creative fatherly love provided in the story is Henrik Ibsen. “So devoted was he to his only child, Sigurd, that when the boy was told, to his despair, that law school in Norway would not accept credits from the German gymnasium he had attended, his angry father moved the family to Rome, in part so that his son could complete his law degree there. Sigurd later became Norway’s prime minister.”

Tenderness is cited in Bernard Malamud, whose letter to a friend reflects how enchanted he was by his seven-year-old child:  “Yesterday . . . I took Janna to the bank of a river she likes. She waded in the cold water, scooped up minnows with a strainer and learned how to skim flat rocks across the water . . . . As I sat on a log by the river, watching her yesterday, it was as if I were reading a long poem, every line full of beauty.”

There’s a bit of romanticizing going on in the article, as Siegel says, “There seems to be some mystical bond, especially between artist-fathers and their artist children, something particularly profound in sharing the gift of creativity with the parent who helped to create you.” A fuller study with more than single examples per author would no doubt reveal a more complex “portrait.” But what kind of Father’s Day reading would that make?

Read the full article.

 

Editor James Schiff and managing editor Nicola Mason have much to be proud of after publishing 10 strong issues of The John Updike Review, but Schiff has outdone himself with the Winter 2018 issue. The “Three Writers on” section focuses on Updike’s “Bech Noir,” and four new cartoons by the legendary Arnold Roth accompany that short story. As Schiff writes in an introduction,

“Our special guest is Arnold Roth, whose work has enriched American culture for more than a half century. His drawings have appeared on New Yorker covers and in the pages of the New York Times, Punch, Time, Playboy, and Sports Illustrated, and he was Updike’s choice to design the dust jackets of his three Bech books. I initially invited Arnie, as he is called by his wife Caroline, to draw an image of Bech for our front cover. When he accepted, I grew greedy and asked if he would consider creating additional images. About a month later, the four drawings that you see here arrived via email, along with a personal note from Arnie, indicating how ‘it had been a pleasure spending time with the old gang’. He went on to say that he looked forward to seeing what we would do with the drawings, adding, ‘I’m sure you’ll be more gentle than our hero.’

“Updike, who harbored early ambitions of becoming a cartoonist, once said, ‘All cartoonists are geniuses, but Arnold Roth especially so’. We agree. These new drawings reflect Arnold’s skill, energy, and improvisational genius. Even more remarkable, Arnold Roth was born in 1929, when Calvin Coolidge was President, and he began drawing album covers for Dave Brubeck in 1950. Nearly seven decades later, at the age of eighty-eight, he continues to draw magnificently. As Updike wrote, ‘A superabundant creative spirit surges through a Roth drawing like electricity; the lines sizzle’. We are delighted to feature his images along with Updike’s ‘Bech Noir’.”

Also included in the issue are essays from Julialicia Case, Gary Weissman, D. Quentin Miller, Peter J. Bailey, Donald J. Greiner, Alex Pitofsky, Sean Madden, Gideon Nachman, and Schiff, with a review by Sue Norton. Pictured above is a 2016 photo of Roth at ComicCon.

In “Recalling Sighting John Updike: The A&P of the Mind,” Martin Mugar writes about a pilgrimage he took to Ipswich hoping to get a glimpse of John Updike. Instead of meeting the author, he became involved in a fender-bender near the Ipswich firehouse and got a lesson on Updike and local history. “The accident had thrust me into the middle of a small community of Ipswich ‘locals’.”

Mugar asked if they had known “their famous Ipswich resident John Updike. Yes! they knew of him and saw him around town. The fireman asked me if I knew that the Rite Aid [now CVS] down the street had once been the A&P, that was the locale of one of his best known short stories.”

He tells how he went home and read the story. “It was a good read. The first time around I found the conformity/non-conformity take a little stale. The corporate versus sexual dichotomy may have been part of the early percolation of the sexual revolution and carried more psychic impact when the work was first published.

“A split that was less pronounced in the story but indelibly there was that the girls were upper class. Sammy, the nineteen-year-old townie, was aware of it in the way they moved and talked and in the choice of hors d’oeuvres that they were picking up for their parents’ cocktail party. . . . Clearly, Updike was impressed by their demeanor that radiated self confidence. In the end the narrator . . . quits his job in protest of the boss’s embarrassing the girls for walking into his store half-naked. Sammy may have hoped they would have noticed but like the rich in The Great Gatsby they move on unaware of the effect they have had on others.”

Updike, he appreciates, “created a world for himself held up by incisive description and cultural insights. In the last lines of the story it forbodes a lifetime that is described as going to be hard. Could it be because he will always be on the outside looking in, never fully owning or identifying with the setting in which his description takes place? For the corporation the world is a site for the display of its brands. The artist is a competitor in this realm but his only power comes from the fertility and staying power of imagination, not his bank account.

“However, we can say Updike has had the last word: his A&P of the mind still exists whereas the original is long gone.” Pictured is the Ipswich Rite Aid that was the setting for John Updike’s frequently anthologized short story, “A&P”.

Read the full essay.

Kelley O’Brien, writing for Women.com, posted a list story on the “27 Best TV Shows About Witches” that includes Updike’s three witches from Eastwick.

Not many people watched the series, which starred Joanna Frankel, Katherine Gardener, and Roxanne Torcoletti as the three witches and Paul Gross as Darryl Van Horne, because it was cancelled before it could even finish out the first season. Yet O’Brien ranked Eastwick (2009) ahead of the popular Disney show Once Upon a Time.

“Eastwick is based on the John Updike novel The Witches of Eastwick and follows three witchy friends living in Eastwick who all wish for more excitement in their lives. A mysterious man shows up and that’s where the fun really begins. Don’t forget to check out the movie version too! It’s a classic,” she writes.

But not as classic as the 1983 novel, which explores the dynamics of male-female relationships against the backdrop of the sixties—a novel critic Harold Bloom considers Updike’s best.

 

Amazon is now accepting pre-orders for A Theology of Sense: John Updike, Embodiment, and Late Twentieth-Century American Literature, by Scott Dill. The hardcover volume runs 198 pages, with a suggested retail price of $64.95 from The Ohio State University Press. The monograph will be published on November 13, 2018.

Amazon link

From the press: 

“Scott Dill’s A Theology of Sense: John Updike, Embodiment, and Late Twentieth-Century American Literature brings together theology, aesthetics, and the body, arguing that Updike, a central figure in post-1945 American literature, deeply embeds in his work questions of the body and the senses with questions of theology. Dill offers new understandings not only of the work of Updike—which is importantly being revisited since the author’s death in 2009—but also new understandings of the relationship between aesthetics, religion, and physical experience.

“Dill explores Updike’s unique literary legacy in order to argue for a genuinely postsecular theory of aesthetic experience. Each chapter takes up one of the five senses and its relation to broader theoretical concerns: affect, subjectivity, ontology, ethics, and theology. While placing Updike’s work in relation to other late twentieth- century American writers, Dill explains their notions of embodiment and uses them to render a new account of postsecular aesthetics. No other novelist has portrayed mere sense experience as carefully, as extensively, or as theologically—repeatedly turning to the doctrine of creation as his stylistic justification. Across this examination of his many stories, novels, poems, and essays, Dill proves that Updike forces us to reconsider the power of literature to revitalize sense experience as a theological question.”

From Updike scholar James Schiff:

“One of the finest, most original monographs I’ve read on Updike. Dill covers new ground in approaching Updike’s work through sensory aesthetics, carving out a path that others may wish to follow. Further, he persuasively counters many of the criticisms that have over the years been leveled against Updike.”

From Mark Eaton, co-editor, The Gift of Story: Narrating Hope in a Postmodern World:

“This book will considerably deepen our understanding of how Updike developed a unique ‘theology of sense’ out of his lifelong reading of Christian theology and religious history, not to mention his longstanding devotion to practice.”

Dill, who teaches at Case Western Reserve University, is an active member of The John Updike Society. He recently took part in the closing panel of The Fifth Biennial John Updike Society Conference at the National Library of Serbia: “Updike & Politics: Does Rabbit Angstrom’s Political Evolution Help to Explain Trump Supporters?”

At the membership meeting that closed the Fifth Biennial John Updike Society Conference in Belgrade, Serbia, hosted by the Faculty of Philology, University of Belgrade, there was consensus that the conference was among the best, if not the best. Everyone agreed that Belgrade was a wonderful city, and the conference hotel was perfectly located in the old city where participants could walk to Belgrade Fortress/Kalemegdan Park, the University, and the pedestrian streets with all the shops and squares and eateries. People enjoyed the sessions, group dinners, and group tours, and those who went on the all-day bus tour of sites outside Belgrade were delighted by the experience. Any time you have a group of academics dancing at a restaurant in Zemun, you’d have to say the conference was an unqualified success. So thank you again, Biljana Dojčinović!

Everyone had such a good time on this group adventure that they voted to adopt a model moving forward where the society alternates between conferences held in the U.S. and conferences held abroad. That means every four years the society will meet outside the U.S. So start saving for 2022. We don’t know where that conference will be yet, but we’ll embark on another adventure..

To see a gallery of 100+ photos from the Fifth Biennial JUS Conference, go to the society’s Facebook page.

Attention now turns to Reading and Shillington, the announced site for the Sixth Biennial John Updike Society Conference. Once again, Alvernia University will welcome society members, and once again Sue Guay, director of The John Updike Childhood Home, will direct the conference with the help of an academic program director. The conference will coincide with the grand opening of The John Updike Childhood Home as a museum-literary center, and members who have visited the house before will marvel at the transformation. The society envisions a celebration that involves not just the community but beyond it as well. It’s also a big year because 2020 marks the 70th anniversary of the publication of Rabbit, Run, and what better way to celebrate than to “run” around Reading/Brewer? Guay said that the city is undergoing a rejuvenation, with a brand new hotel in downtown Reading and newly refurbished areas popping up on a daily basis. Twenty-twenty also happens to be the year in which Toward the End of Time is set, with additional anniversaries for the publication of Bech, a Book (60th), Rabbit at Rest (30th), and Gertrude & Claudius (20th).

Pictured below is Jonathan Houlon reprising his “Talkin’ Rabbit” at Tarposh vineyards and restaurant, where attendees enjoyed a three-hour wine-tasting lunch, and Michael Updike talking with U.S. Ambassador Kyle Scott, who, with his wife, hosted The John Updike Society at a memorable reception at their residence.

Every John Updike Society conference has featured strong presentations, but the past two have been especially publication-worthy. Conference director Biljana Dojčinović wants to remind everyone to send their papers off to ONE of the peer-reviewed journals whose editors addressed the group at a plenary session and invited submissions.

Jim Schiff, editor of The John Updike Review, said that the journal is always looking for interesting and well-written papers. Go to the website—www.updikereview.com—for guidelines on how to submit. Rather than a set submission period, JUR accepts submissions year-round with a rolling review and acceptance policy. Currently the journal has a two-issue backlog, so it remains an option for those who still need time for research in order to fortify or expand their papers. The journal’s goal is to publish semiannually, though that hasn’t always happened..

Radojka Vukčević, editor of Bellgrade BELLS: Belgrade English Language & Literature Studies, said that she would like to publish a group of papers from the conference, since the journal is published by the English department at the University of Belgrade. The journal is published annually, and in previous years the deadline for submissions has been mid-June, so those intending to submit to this peer-reviewed journal should do so as soon as possible. Here are submission guidelines.

The John Updike Society would be delighted to have a group of essays published in both of these fine journals.

With the news that Andrew Davies, “who is to TV adaptations what Michelangelo was to ceilings,” was going to make a sanitized version of John Updike’s Rabbit tetralogy for television that made Rabbit “less off-putting” to a female audience, Rosemary Goring, Literary Editor for The Herald (Scotland) responded with anger.

“What next—Moby Dick without the harpoons? Flashman turned Quaker? To be fair, Davies is on Updike’s side, though I’d have preferred him to abandon the project when pressured to tone the books down.”

Goring writes, “If Updike were still with us, he would no doubt repeat what he always said of his spectacularly flawed creation: ‘My intention was never to make him—or any character—lovable.’ That people cannot read books or understand literary invention is bad enough. Even worse is that today’s female viewers—old as well as young—are clearly presumed incapable of understanding why a person is portrayed the way they are. How is it that the writers on Mad Men can create monsters of misogyny without being charged with sexism, yet Updike is assumed to be a woman hater for depicting an intensely believable, nuanced American Everyman? Why can Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace be hailed as a work of genius without her being confused or conflated with her fictionalized murderer, while Updike—and indeed Philip Roth and Saul Bellow—are castigated as chauvinist for showing us the unvarnished male?”

Rabbit, as Goring observes, is “not an unfeeling man. In some ways, he is oversensitive. So I’d like to know in what way bowdlerizing Rabbit, and recalibrating the books, helps today’s women? Have we really become so squeamish or snowflake that we cannot bear to see men behaving badly—as they undoubtedly did and still do? And do we honestly think it acceptable to accuse an artist we have never met of being a mirror image of his sometimes deplorable but mesmerizing character?

“Softening the books in any way is insulting and patronizing. The BBC’s editorial team might as well come straight out and say that they think women cannot tell fact from fiction. What a devastating indictment, especially since #MeToo’s credibility relies upon women hoping and needing to be believed. If we are not thought capable of making a fundamental distinction that children learn by the time they are two, why would our accusations against alleged abusers be taken seriously?

“Updike was no self-censorer. He revelled in being explicit and expressing unpalatable truths. To think that his magnificent, rambunctious, thought-provoking, occasionally shocking work is to be sandpapered to make it acceptable for our vanilla times is really rather pathetic. How much better if we were given a version completely true to the original. Davies should stand up to the revisionists who want to rewrite literary history, and give us Rabbit Resists. After all, if we can’t cope with fiction, what hope do we have in real life?”

Read the full article.