February 10, 2009

"Not that the writer’s job was to write a lot, or to register the self with a splash, but to get his or her real experience down"

In the New Yorker Adam Gopnik's piece about John Updike reminds me how much painting and writing have in common. "John Updike was a fine colleague, a beaming platform presence, a valued contributor, a welcome visitor to the office, a genial supporter of younger writers—just a freelance writer living in Massachusetts, as he puckishly described himself. And, the hard part for his colleagues and friends to square, he was also one of the greatest of all modern writers, the first American writer since Henry James to get himself fully expressed, the man who broke the curse of incompleteness that had haunted American writing. As well as any writer ever has, he fulfilled Virginia Woolf’s dictum that the writer’s job is to get himself or herself expressed without impediments—to do so as Shakespeare and Jane Austen did, without hate or pause or protest or obvious special pleading or the thousand other ills that the embattled writer is heir to. Woolf meant not that the writer’s job was to write a lot, or to register the self with a splash, but to get his or her real experience down: all the private pains and pictures, the look on a loving parent’s face when humiliated in a school corridor, or the way girls smell in football season—to get it down and fix it there for good. Updike, to use a phrase he liked, got it all in, from snow in Greenwich Village on a fifties street to the weather in the American world." Read more.

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