john updike Quotes

John Updike Quotes

Birth Date: 1932-03-18 (Friday, March 18th, 1932)

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Quotes

    • The city overwhelmed our expectations. The Kiplingesque grandeur of Waterloo Station, the Eliotic despondency of the brick row in Chelsea : the Dickensian nightmare of fog and sweating pavement and besmirched cornices.
    • If men do not keep on speaking terms with children, they cease to be men, and become merely machines for eating and for earning money.
    • A healthy male adult bore consumes each year one and a half times his own weight in other people's patience.
    • The refusal to rest content, the willingness to risk excess on behalf of one's obsessions, is what distinguishes artists from entertainers, and what makes some artists adventurers on behalf of us all.
    • I would especially like to recourt the Muse of poetry, who ran off with the mailman four years ago, and drops me only a scribbled postcard from time to time.
    • Suspect each moment, for it is a thief, tiptoeing away with more than it brings.
    • When I write, I aim in my mind not toward New York but toward a vague spot a little to the east of Kansas.
    • Each morning my characters greet me with misty faces willing, though chilled, to muster for another day's progress through the dazzling quicksand the marsh of blank paper.
    • I think 'taste' is a social concept and not an artistic one. I'm willing to show good taste, if I can, in somebody else's living room, but our reading life is too short for a writer to be in any way polite. Since his words enter into another's brain in silence and intimacy, he should be as honest and explicit as we are with ourselves.
    • I love my government not least for the extent to which it leaves me alone.
    • I would rather have as my patron a host of anonymous citizens digging into their own pockets for the price of a book or a magazine than a small body of enlightened and responsible men administering public funds. I would rather chance my personal vision of truth striking home here and there in the chaos of publication that exists than attempt to filter it through a few sets of official, honorably public-spirited scruples.
    • America is a vast conspiracy to make you happy.
    • * That a marriage ends is less than ideal; but all things end under heaven, and if temporality is held to be invalidating, then nothing real succeeds.
    • We take our bearings, daily, from others. To be sane is, to a great extent, to be sociable.
    • I moved to New England partly because it has a real literary past. The ghosts of Hawthorne and Melville still sit on those green hills. The worship of Mammon is also somewhat lessened there by the spirit of irony. I don't get hay fever in New England either.
    • Being naked approaches being revolutionary; going barefoot is mere populism.
    • Writers may be disreputable, incorrigible, early to decay or late to bloom but they dare to go it alone.
    • Writing criticism is to writing fiction and poetry as hugging the shore is to sailing in the open sea.
    • Bankruptcy is a sacred state, a condition beyond conditions, as theologians might say, and attempts to investigate it are necessarily obscene, like spiritualism. One knows only that he has passed into it and lives beyond us, in a condition not ours.
    • A narrative is like a room on whose walls a number of false doors have been painted; while within the narrative, we have many apparent choices of exit, but when the author leads us to one particular door, we know it is the right one because it opens.
    • The inner spaces that a good story lets us enter are the old apartments of religion.
    • Her sentences march under a harsh sun that bleaches color from them but bestows a peculiar, invigorating, Pascalian clarity.
    • He had a sensation of anxiety and shame, a sensitivity acute beyond usefulness, as if the nervous system, flayed of its old hide of social usage, must record every touch of pain.
    • But for a few phrases from his letters and an odd line or two of his verse, the poet walks gagged through his own biography.
    • He skates saucily over great tracts of confessed ignorance.
    • I secretly understood: the primitive appeal of the hearth. Television is-its irresistible charm-a fire.
    • There's a crystallization that goes on in a poem which the young man can bring off, but which the middle-aged man can't.
    • We hope the 'real' person behind the words will be revealed as ignominiously as a shapeless snail without its shapely shell.
    • Four years was enough of Harvard. I still had a lot to learn, but had been given the liberating notion that now I could teach myself.
    • It rots a writer's brain, it cretinises you. You say the same thing again and again, and when you do that happily you're well on the way to being a cretin. Or a politician.
    • In asking forgiveness of women for our mythologizing of their bodies, for being unreal about them, we can only appeal to their own sexuality, which is different but not basically different, perhaps, from our own. For women, too, there seems to be that tangle of supplication and possessiveness, that descent toward infantile undifferentiation, that omnipotent helplessness, that merger with the cosmic mother-warmth, that flushed pulse- quickened leap into overestimation, projection, general mix-up.
    • For male and female alike, the bodies of the other sex are messages signaling what we must do-they are glowing signifiers of our own necessities.
    • Customs and convictions change; respectable people are the last to know, or to admit, the change, and the ones most offended by fresh reflections of the facts in the mirror of art.
    • Now that I am sixty, I see why the idea of elder wisdom has passed from currency.
    • The male sense of space must differ from that of the female, who has such interesting, active, and significant inner space. The space that interests men is outer. The fly ball high against the sky, the long pass spiraling overhead, the jet fighter like a scarcely visible pinpoint nozzle laying down its vapor trail at 40,000 feet, the gazelle haunch flickering just beyond arrow-reach, the uncountable stars sprinkled on their great black wheel, the horizon, the mountaintop, the quasar-these bring portents with them and awaken a sense of relation with the invisible, with the empty. The ideal male body is taut with lines of potential force, a diagram extending outward; the ideal female body curves around centers of repose.
    • Vagueness and procrastination are ever a comfort to the frail in spirit.
    • Yes, there is a ton of information on the web, but much of it is egregiously inaccurate, unedited, unattributed and juvenile.
    • The Founding Fathers in their wisdom decided that children were an unnatural strain on parents. So they provided jails called schools, equipped with tortures called an education. School is where you go between when your parents can't take you and industry can't take you.
    • I miss only, and then only a little, in the late afternoon, the sudden white laughter that like heat lightning bursts in an atmosphere where souls are trying to serve the impossible. My father for all his mourning moved in the atmosphere of such laughter. He would have puzzled you. He puzzled me. His upper half was hidden from me, I knew best his legs.
    • Zeus had loved his old friend, and lifted him up, and set him among the stars as the constellation Sagittarius. Here, in the Zodiac, now above, now below the horizon, he assists in the regulation of our destinies, though in this latter time few living mortals cast their eyes respectfully toward Heaven, and fewer still sit as students to the stars.
    • I must go to Nature disarmed of perspective and stretch myself like a large transparent canvas upon her in the hope that, my submission being perfect, the imprint of a beautiful and useful truth would be taken.
    • Every marriage tends to consist of an aristocrat and a peasant. Of a teacher and a learner.
    • An affair wants to spill, to share its glory with the world. No act is so private it does not seek applause.
    • It is not difficult to deceive the first time, for the deceived possesses no antibodies; unvaccinated by suspicion, she overlooks latenesses, accepts absurd excuses, permits the flimsiest patchings to repair great rents in the quotidian.
    • The first breath of adultery is the freest; after it, constraints aping marriage develop.
    • Sex is like money; only too much is enough.
    • By the time a partnership dissolves, it has dissolved.
    • Time is our element, not a mistaken invader.
    • Any decent kind of world, you wouldn't need all these rules.
    • All men are boys time is trying to outsmart.
    • Like water, blood must run or grow scum.
    • Freedom, that he always thought was outward motion, turns out to be this inward dwindling.
    • There was a beauty here, refined from country pastures, a game of solitariness, of waiting, waiting for the pitcher to complete his gaze toward first base and throw his lightning, a game whose very taste, of spit and dust and grass and sweat and leather and sun, was America.
    • From infancy on, we are all spies; the shame is not this but that the secrets to be discovered are so paltry and few.
    • The artistic triumph of American Jewry lay, he thought, not in the novels of the 1950s but in the movies of the 1930s, those gargantuan, crass contraptions whereby Jewish brains projected Gentile stars upon a Gentile nation and out of their own immigrant joy gave a formless land dreams and even a kind of conscience.
    • It was one of history's great love stories, the mutually profitable romance which Hollywood and bohunk America conducted almost in the dark, a tapping of fervent messages through the wall of the San Gabriel Range.
    • Facts are generally overesteemed. For most practical purposes, a thing is what men think it is. When they judged the earth flat, it was flat. As long as men thought slavery tolerable, tolerable it was. We live down here among shadows, shadows among shadows.
    • Government is either organized benevolence or organized madness; its peculiar magnitude permits no shading.
    • There is no pleasing New Englanders, my dear, their soil is all rocks and their hearts are bloodless absolutes.
    • To be President of the United States, sir, is to act as advocate for a blind, venomous, and ungrateful client; still, one must make the best of the case, for the purposes of Providence.
    • Until the 20th century it was generally assumed that a writer had said what he had to say in his works.
    • Writers take words seriously-perhaps the last professional class that does- and they struggle to steer their own through the crosswinds of meddling editors and careless typesetters and obtuse and malevolent reviewers into the lap of the ideal reader.
    • One of the satisfactions of fiction, or drama, or poetry from the perpetrator's point of view is the selective order it imposes upon the confusion of a lived life; out of the daily welter of sensation and impression these few verbal artifacts, these narratives or poems, are salvaged and carefully presented.
    • The creative writer uses his life as well as being its victim; he can control, in his work, the self-presentation that in actuality is at the mercy of a thousand accidents.
    • Rain is grace; rain is the sky condescending to the earth; without rain, there would be no life.
    • The essential self is innocent, and when it tastes its own innocence knows that it lives for ever.
    • Dreams come true; without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them.
    • Among the repulsions of atheism for me has been its drastic uninterestingness as an intellectual position. Where was the ingenuity, the ambiguity, the humanity (in the Harvard sense) of saying that the universe just happened to happen and that when we're dead we're dead?
    • To say that war is madness is like saying that sex is madness: true enough, from the standpoint of a stateless eunuch, but merely a provocative epigram for those who must make their arrangements in the world as given.
    • Looking foolish does the spirit good. The need not to look foolish is one of youth's many burdens; as we get older we are exempted from more and more, and float upward in our heedlessness, singing Gratia Dei sum quod sum.
    • Truth should not be forced; it should simply manifest itself, like a woman who has in her privacy reflected and coolly decided to bestow herself upon a certain man.
    • The yearning for an afterlife is the opposite of selfish: it is love and praise for the world that we are privileged, in this complex interval of light, to witness and experience.
    • The guarantee that our self enjoys an intended relation to the outer world is most, if not all, we ask from religion. God is the self projected onto reality by our natural and necessary optimism. He is the not-me personified.
    • Celebrity is a mask that eats into the face. As soon as one is aware of being 'somebody,' to be watched and listened to with extra interest, input ceases, and the performer goes blind and deaf in his overanimation. One can either see or be seen.
    • Existence itself does not feel horrible; it feels like an ecstasy, rather, which we have only to be still to experience.
    • What more fiendish proof of cosmic irresponsibility than a Nature which, having invented sex as a way to mix genes, then permits to arise, amid all its perfumed and hypnotic inducements to mate, a tireless tribe of spirochetes and viruses that torture and kill us for following orders?
    • Our brains are no longer conditioned for reverence and awe. We cannot imagine a Second Coming that would not be cut down to size by the televised evening news, or a Last Judgment not subject to pages of holier-than-Thou second- guessing in The New York Review of Books.
    • When we try in good faith to believe in materialism, in the exclusive reality of the physical, we are asking our selves to step aside; we are disavowing the very realm where we exist and where all things precious are kept-the realm of emotion and conscience, of memory and intention and sensation.
    • Religion enables us to ignore nothingness and get on with the jobs of life.
    • It was true of my generation, that the movies were terribly vivid and instructive. There were all kinds of things you learned. Like the 19th century novels, you saw how other social classes lived- especially the upper classes. So in a funny way, they taught you manners almost. But also moral manners. The gallantry of a Gary Cooper or an Errol Flynn or Jimmy Stewart. It was ethical instruction of a sort that the church purported to be giving you, but in a much less digestible form. Instead of these remote, crabbed biblical verses, you had contemporary people acting out moral dilemmas. Just the grace, the grace of those stars- not just the dancing stars, but the way they all moved with a certain grace. All that sank deep into my head, and my soul.
    • In the old movies, yes, there always was the happy ending and order was restored. As it is in Shakespeare's plays. It's no disgrace to, in the end, restore order. And punish the wicked and, in some way, reward the righteous.
    • When I was a boy, the bestselling books were often the books that were on your piano teacher's shelf. I mean, Steinbeck, Hemingway, some Faulkner. Faulkner actually had, considering how hard he is to read and how drastic the experiments are, quite a middle-class readership. But certainly someone like Steinbeck was a bestseller as well as a Nobel Prize-winning author of high intent. You don't feel that now. I don't feel that we have the merger of serious and pop- it's gone, dissolving. Tastes have coarsened. People read less, they're less comfortable with the written word.
    • An author that's in now might be out in ten years. And vice-versa. Who knows when the final sifting is done, in the year 2050, say, who will be read of my generation? You'd like to think you will be one. But there has to be a constant weeding that goes on. The Victorians read all kinds of writers who we don't have time for now. Who reads Thackeray? An educated person reads Dickens, or reads some Dickens. But Thackeray?
    • A leader is one who, out of madness or goodness, volunteers to take upon himself the woe of the people. There are few men so foolish, hence the erratic quality of leadership in the world.
    • Americans have been conditioned to respect newness, whatever it costs them.
    • Art is like baby shoes. When you coat them with gold, they can no longer be worn.
    • Creativity is merely a plus name for regular activity. Any activity becomes creative when the doer cares about doing it right, or better.
    • Golf appeals to the idiot in us and the child. Just how childlike golf players become is proven by their frequent inability to count past five.
    • How do you write women so well? I think of a man and I take away reason and accountability.
    • I think taste is a social concept and not an artistic one. I'm willing to show good taste, if I can, in somebody else's living room, but our reading life is too short for a writer to be in any way polite. Since his words enter into another's brain in silence and intimacy, he should be as honest and explicit as we are with ourselves.
    • I would rather have as my patron a host of anonymous citizens digging into their own pockets for the price of a book or a magazine than a small body of enlightened and responsible men administering public funds. I would rather chance my personal vision of truth striking home here and there in the chaos of publication that exists than attempt to filter it through a few sets of official, honorably public-spirited scruples.
    • Inspiration arrives as a packet of material to be delivered.
    • Life is a nacho. It can be yummy-crunchy or squishy-yucky. It just depends on how long it takes for you to start eating it.
    • Life is a razor, you are always in hot water or a scrape.
    • Life is a roller coaster, you have your ups and downs unless you fall off.
    • Life is a video game. No matter how good you get, you are always zapped in the end.
    • Life is like an overlong drama through which we sit being nagged by the vague memories of having read the reviews.
    • Men emerge pale from the little printing plant at four sharp, ghosts for an instant, blinking, until the outdoor light overcomes the look of constant indoor light clinging to them.
    • Most of American life consists of driving somewhere and then returning home, wondering why the hell you went.
    • Natural beauty is essentially temporary and sad; hence the impression of obscene mockery which artificial flowers give us
    • Perfectionism is the enemy of creation, as extreme self-solicitude is the enemy of well-being.
    • Possession diminishes perception of value, immediately.
    • Swallow a toad in the morning and you will encounter nothing more disgusting the rest of the day.
    • The crooked little tomato branches, pulpy and pale as if made of cheap green paper, broke under the weight of so much fruit; there was something frantic in such fertility, a crying-out like that of children frantic to please.
    • The ending is where the reader discovers whether he has been reading the same story the writer thought he was writing.
    • The stripped and shapely Maple grieves The ghosts of her Departed leaves. The ground is hard, As hard as stone. The year is old, The birds are flown.
    • The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding.
    • We are most alive when we're in love.
    • We do survive every moment, after all, except the last one.
    • What art offers is space- a certain breathing room for the spirit.
    • Writing and rewriting are a constant search for what it is one is saying.
    • He left the self-conscious literary demimonde of New York for the quiet infidelities of New England.
    • John Updike's genius is best excited by the lyric possibilities of tragic events that, failing to justify themselves as tragedy, turn unaccountably into comedies.
    • john updike

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