Tuesday, January 27, 2009

John Updike has died

John Updike, whom Christopher Lehmann-Haupt of the NYT dubbed (here) a "kaleidoscopically gifted writer," has died of lung cancer at the young age of 76.

This one is hard for me to take, for Updike has seen me through all the various stages of my life from college through the current time. We read Updike in every religion-and-literature course I ever took. And I personally enjoyed reading him very much: Especially his "Rabbit" novels were theological treatises on the human condition. But even his less worthy ones (IMHO) were similarly illuminating and challenging. (I have to laugh, however, when I think that he earned a lifetime achievement award from Britain's Worst Sex Writing in Fiction awards committee. I never learned how he felt about that!)

Raised as a Lutheran, he was, I think, a pretty serious Christian all his life, ending his days as a Congregationalist, I understand. (Given where he lived most of his years, that's not too surprising, I suppose.) His roots were enough (so the story goes) that a Lutheran seminary in this country invited him to be the commencement speaker one year. Apparently, Updike suffered some from a stammer or stutter. In any event, he replied with a terse telegram: Thank you, but no. I am a writer not a speaker.

His writing spoke to me and to countless others through his illustrious career. And we should all mourn the passing of a serious and talented writer. (Feel free to comment on your favorite or least favorite Updike classic.)

May his memory be eternal. And may the Lord grant him eternal rest and let perpetual light shine upon him.


Anonymous said...

His passing is indeed a loss. Here's one of his poems:

Perfection Wasted

And another regrettable thing about death
is the ceasing of your own brand of magic,
which took a whole life to develop and market - the quips, the witticisms, the slant
adjusted to a few, those loved ones nearest
the lip of the stage, their soft faces blanched
in the footlight glow, their laughter close to tears,
their tears confused with their diamond earrings,
their warm pooled breath in and out with your heartbeat,
their response and your performance twinned.
The jokes over the phone. The memories
packed in the rapid-access file. The whole act.
Who will do it again? That's it: no one;
imitators and descendants aren't the same.


Dwight P. said...

Brother, thank you for that. For me personally, it's as though a poet studied theology of personhood with Robert Jenson. Note, then, in a vein that Updike would have affirmed, that this regrettable thing (and no little thing at that) has been and will be reversed in the Resurrection: Each who dies will again be the unique "I" and "thou" that he or she was in life.

So we dare mourn for him who has passed from our midst -- in this case, Brother John -- precisely because we know, in the words of another poet, "death shall have no dominion." We shall again know the wit, the dry eye, the sociological insights, the magical formulations of the poet-novelist-graphic-artist John.

Thanks, again, RAR; this is good stuff you've added.

coffee said...

John Updike's passing is sad news indeed... he possessed a truly beautiful mind; he didn't just write well, he wrote wisely