Updike Redux

Book legend Joni Evans eloquently answers John Updike’s bar-the-door screed about the digital world:

Updike does not have to join the revolution. Digitization is optional. The Internet operates in the world of Also, Either/Or, Not One Way. Updike’s intentions of privacy and intimacy are safe; his copyright thoroughly protects his choice to remain nonenhanced, nondigitized, nonhyperlinked and nonsearchable.

But what is good for John Updike is not necessarily good for the millions of authors the current system has locked out. Creativity does not flourish when books can’t find publishers or when audiences cannot be sustained. Those authors whose works remain unpublished, out of print, out of stock or out of date will be the ones to march in the digital revolution. Updike is a large, elite fish in a small pond. The digital pond is primarily for other species — smaller, less recognized, exotic fish that need the oxygen this new world provides.

  • Great response.

    Updike is further proof of the Planck Hypothesis about societal change. My kids, who have been reared on the Internet since age 5, won’t have the same affinity for dead trees that his generation has. They’ll just look askew at a book and ask, befuddled, “But how do you perform a full-text-search on it??”

  • She misses the point of Updike’s screed. This is about reading habits and a culture of reading, not cutting apart books and matching people with books that would tell them what they want to hear anyway. What happens when an author is not defined by his work, and is expected to summarize or tailor its content to present needs always?

    Updike’s most substantial point is that if you change the discipline and love that are essential to making solid readers, you make a people that can read in the literal sense – they can look at text, and interpret the symbols – but aren’t, in the fullest sense, “literate.” They will be the kind of people that put forth others’ arguments as their own without attributing the source or thinking to attribute the source. They’ll speak in prose that is eloquent, but need more words to say what others have said before compactly and powerfully (the change in poetry from Yeats to slam poetry reflects this. This is not apples and oranges being compared. The issue is that of an audience’s attention span).

    The real question is not who’s right or wrong, though. Updike is absolutely right, but it doesn’t matter. The change is occurring. The question is how to work with the change so that we aren’t just playing with technology, but using in the best way possible to empower. (Many of you will say “best” is an assault on human freedom, not realizing how empty that rhetoric is – why is it that you recognize genius in others, then?)

    I also want to make it clear that you are not addressing his points about market forces versus the ability to write for the ages. I would you submit you cannot address this adequately, because to criticize him as a relic shows just how much you appreciate the past in the first place.

    Please be more mature about the what the future brings, all ye readers of Buzzmachine. Your glibness in the face of what is really serious – for me, the possibility of democracy depends on how we preserve the past as we march towards the future – scares me, as many of you are supposed to be older and wiser than I. Older and wiser people don’t just dismiss other’s arguments as “elite” or assume that reading a book is a habit that can’t die, like our commentator above assumes. You want to make fun of John Updike? Fine. But I consider that to be emblematic of the death of reading. You just went to the article looking for a cheap and easy point to make against him.

    I am happy to be beaten on this argument by a more careful reading and analysis of the positions of both writers, Updike and Evans. Very happy, because if you can argue for the future while fully engaging what was, then and only then are we making progress. Please, show me that you can do this, and not just “snark,” or whatever the term is.

  • Bleh, that comment needs an edit, my apologies.

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  • I’m not quite sure why people think that authors and or literary work is based on the era it came from.. To a certain extent it is but classics are classics and the ones that are not are still read if only by a few. Like any art form things change, ebb and flow if you will..LOL throughout the life of a persons creative talents. I agree that it’s a scietal problem from the perspective that technology is more important today than other things but it is not a childs fault if they don’t appreciate a great literary work, it’s the parental figure and the teacher who failed to enrich the child…