John Updike Quotes

214 Quotes Sorted by Search Results (Descending)

About John Updike

John Updike (March 18 1932 – January 27 2009) was an American novelist, poet, critic and short-story writer.

Born: March 18th, 1932

Died: January 27th, 2009

Categories: Novelists, American poets, Critics, American short story writers, 2000s deaths

Quotes: 214 sourced quotes total (includes 4 about)

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[Dr Breit] "It's irrational, but so's the human species."
"Tell me, Nelson, I'm just curious. How does it feel to have smoked up your parents' house in crack?"
"The papers exaggerate. They exaggerate everything, just to sell papers. The government exaggerates, to keep our minds off what morons they are."
[Thelma] "...You make your own punishments in life, I honest to God believe that. You get exactly what you deserve. God sees to it."
"Driving is boring," Rabbit pontificates, "but it's what we do. Most of American life is driving somewhere and then driving back wondering why the hell you went."
"Well," his father says, "I'll say this for Slick Willie, he's brought the phrase out in the open. When I was young you had to explain to girls what it was. They could hardly believe they were supposed to do it."
"...If you could ever get the poor to vote in this country, you'd have socialism. But people want to think rich. That's the genius of the capitalist system: either you're rich, or you want to be, or you think you ought to be."
[Harry, talking about the doctor who came to the ward and then went away.] "That guy has a thing about potato chips and hot dogs. If God didn't want us to eat salt and fat, why did He make them taste so good?"
"Things change," says Mr Shimada. "Is world's sad secret."
[Mim, to Nelson, about Annabelle] "She's letting herself go. You can't afford in life to do that if you're gonna contend."
"The past is the past," Harry goes on, "you got to live in the present. … It's the only way to think. When you're my age, you'll see it. At my age if you carried all the misery you've seen on your back you'd never get up in the morning."
[Thelma] "...We're too old to keep being foolish."
Dreams come true; without that possibility, nature would not incite us to have them.
"Did Nelson ever tell you the story," Pru asks Annabelle, "how he lost the agency up his nose?"
[Harry, to Thelma, about Janet] "She never really figured out how the world is put together but she's still working at it."
[Nelson, re. Annabelle] ..."she wants what everybody wants. She wants love."
[Nelson] "...People are crazy. At times when I'm with clients I can't see the difference between them and me, except for the structure we're all in. I get paid, a little, and they get taken care of, a little."
[Nelson] "...One nice thing about Florida, it makes Pennsylvania look unspoiled."
"I mean," he says, "how the hell do you think it feels? Sitting there and having the plane explode?" "Well, I bet it wakes you up," Ed says.
Once when Harry asked Ed why they didn't go back to Toledo, Ed looked at him with that smartass squint and asked, "You ever been to Toledo?"
"Whenever somebody tells me to do something my instinct's always to do the opposite. It's got me into a lot of trouble, but I've had a lot of fun."
[Mim to Nelson] "Your father wasn't stupid, he just acted stupid."
[Ronnie to Nelson] "For a guy who snorted an entire car agency up his nose, you're one to talk about con games."
[Mr Shimada] "Toyota does not enjoy bad games prayed with its ploduct."
"...This is a hideous thing. None of us will ever be the same." "We never are," he dares to say.
Life is noise.
[Annabelle] " care is an expanding field, as the world fills up with people that would have been dead a hundred years ago. Everybody winds up needing care, pretty much."
You don't know what you don't know. 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.
America is a vast conspiracy to make you happy.
John Updike
• “How to Love America and Leave it at the Same Time,” Problems and Other Stories (1979)
• Source: Wikiquote: "John Updike" (Quotes)
The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding.
Writers may be disreputable, incorrigible, early to decay or late to bloom but they dare to go it alone.
The first breath of adultery is the freest; after it, constraints aping marriage develop.
Rain is grace; rain is the sky condescending to the earth; without rain, there would be no life.
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.
John Updike
• On J. D. Salinger, from a review of his Franny and Zooey, in Studies in J. D. Salinger : Reviews, Essays, and Critiques of The Catcher in the Rye and other Fiction (1963) edited by Marvin Laser and Norman Fruman, p. 231; also quoted in The Christian Science Monitor (August 26, 1965) and Updike's Assorted Prose (1965).
• Source: Wikiquote: "John Updike" (Quotes)
A healthy male adult bore consumes each year one and a half times his own weight in other people's patience.
Being naked approaches being revolutionary; going barefoot is mere populism.
Suspect each moment, for it is a thief, tiptoeing away with more than it brings.
Every marriage tends to consist of an aristocrat and a peasant. Of a teacher and a learner.
Writing criticism is to writing fiction and poetry as hugging the shore is to sailing in the open sea.
[Pru] "...He's still trying to work out what you two did to him, as if you were the only parents in the world who didn't keep wiping their kid's ass until he was thirty. I tell him: Get real, Nelson. Lousy parents are par for the course. My God. Nothing's ideal."
Religion enables us to ignore nothingness and get on with the jobs of life.
I love my government not least for the extent to which it leaves me alone.
John Updike
• Testimony given before the Subcommittee on Select Education of the House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor, Boston, Massachusetts (30 January 1978)
• Source: Wikiquote: "John Updike" (Quotes)
When I write, I aim in my mind not toward New York but toward a vague spot a little to the east of Kansas.
From infancy on, we are all spies; the shame is not this but that the secrets to be discovered are so paltry and few.
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.
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.
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.
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.
..."That disease he has does an awful job on you. Your lungs fill up." "Well, he should have kept his penis out of other men's bottoms then," Janice says, lowering her voice though, so the nurses and orderlies in the hall don't hear.
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.
By the time a partnership dissolves, it has dissolved.
The great thing about the dead, they make space.
Vagueness and procrastination are ever a comfort to the frail in spirit.
Government is either organized benevolence or organized madness; its peculiar magnitude permits no shading.
Now that I am sixty, I see why the idea of elder wisdom has passed from currency.
We take our bearings, daily, from others. To be sane is, to a great extent, to be sociable.
Her sentences march under a harsh sun that bleaches color from them but bestows a peculiar, invigorating, Pascalian clarity.
An affair wants to spill, to share its glory with the world. No act is so private it does not seek applause.
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.
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.
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.
"Who wants to fish, if you're halfway civilised? Dangling some dead meat in front of some poor brainless thing and then pulling him up by a hook in the roof of his mouth? Cruellest thing people do is fish."
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
Sex is like money; only too much is enough.
The only way to get somewhere, you know, is to figure out where you're going before you go there.
We hope the "real" person behind the words will be revealed as ignominiously as a shapeless snail without its shapely shell.
Existence itself does not feel horrible; it feels like an ecstasy, rather, which we have only to be still to experience.
As if pity is, as he has been taught, not a helpless outcry but a powerful tide that could redeem the world...
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.
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.
You don’t stop caring, champ. You still care about that little girl whose underpants you saw in kindergarten. Once you care, you always care. That’s how stupid we are.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
John Updike
• Interview in New York Times Book Review (10 April 1977). later published in Conversations with John Updike (1994) edited by James Plath, p. 113
• Source: Wikiquote: "John Updike" (Quotes)
He feels the truth: the thing that has left his life has left irrevocably; no search would recover it. No flight would reach it. It was here, beneath the town, in these smells and these voices, forever behind him. The fullness ends when we give Nature her ransom, when we make children for her. Then she is through with us, and we become, first inside, and then outside, junk. Flower stalks.
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.
Weeds don't know they're weeds.
Time is our element, not a mistaken invader.
Like water, blood must run or grow scum.
When you feel irresistable, you're hard to resist.
Not his problem. Fewer and fewer things are.
He skates saucily over great tracts of confessed ignorance.
John Updike
• On T S Matthews, and his biography of T. S. Eliot, Great Tom (1974), in The New Yorker (25 March 1985)
• Source: Wikiquote: "John Updike" (Quotes)
All men are boys time is trying to outsmart.
Women are actresses, tuning their part to each little audience.
Late in the game as it is, you keep trying.
Hard to believe God is always listening, never gets bored.
There is very little thanks in history. Dog eat dog.
But the fast lane too gets to be a rut.
His voice is hurrying, to keep up with his brain.
These dysfunctionals make him aware of how functional he is.
Any decent kind of world, you wouldn't need all these rules.
Halfway isn't all the way, but it's better than no way.
[Re Florida] Just not being senile is considered great down here.
Life is a hill that gets steeper the more you climb.
Your children's losing battle with time seems even sadder than your own.
When she was a girl nobody had money but people had dreams.
Mim has hung up. She has a life to get on with.
[Nelson, to Harry] "...I keep feeling hassled." "That's life, Nelson. Hassle." "I suppose."
You can't say anything honest to women, they have minds like the FBI.
God's country. He could have made it smaller and still made the same point.
The smell of good advice always makes Rabbit want to run the other way.
Like Ronnie said, we're alone. All we have is family, for what it's worth.
...they were nobodies in the county, they would leave nothing behind but their headstones.
Freedom, that he always thought was outward motion, turns out to be this inward dwindling.
[re the human heart] That little electric twitch: without it we're so much rotting meat.
This is the last night when he is nowhere. Tomorrow, life will find him again.
The inner spaces that a good story lets us enter are the old apartments of religion.
She closes her eyes and wordlessly thinks of all the misery sex has caused the world...
He left the self-conscious literary demimonde of New York for the quiet infidelities of New England.
...there ought to be a law that we change identities and families every ten years or so.
Figure out where you're going before you go there: he was told that a long time ago.
I secretly understood: the primitive appeal of the hearth. Television is — its irresistible charm — a fire.
John Updike
• On a child doing homework near the family’s television set, in Roger’s Version (1986)
• Source: Wikiquote: "John Updike" (Quotes)
When you're retired, you get into your routines and other people, even so-called loved ones, become a strain.
He didn't have a worry in the world back then. He was in paradise and didn't know it.
[re a woman on TV on 'Wheel of Fortune'] She makes you proud to be a two-legged mammal.
Cars used to have such dashing shapes, like airplanes, back when gas was cheap, twenty-five cents a gallon.
The essential self is innocent, and when it tastes its own innocence knows that it lives for ever.
...the Japanese interest him professionally. How do they and the Germans do it, when America's going down the tubes?
Something about being helpless in bed, people hit you up for sympathy. They've got you where they want you.
There is no pleasing New Englanders, my dear, their soil is all rocks and their hearts are bloodless absolutes.
He learned this much selling cars: offer the customer something he doesn't want, to make what he half-wants look better.
He supposes they pretty much have the picture. Most people do, in life. People know more than they let on.
...a sense of defeat the years have brought back to him, after what seemed for a while to be triumphs.
Yes, there is a ton of information on the web, but much of it is egregiously inaccurate, unedited, unattributed and juvenile.
[Harry having drawn at golf] The shape of his collapse clings to him. Who says the universe isn't soaked in disgrace?
He could have gone over that night and faced the music but how much music is a man supposed to face?
Until the 20th century it was generally assumed that a writer had said what he had to say in his works.
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.
Rabbit feels as if the human race is a vast colourful jostling bristling parade in which he is limping and falling behind.
Thirty-six years old and he knows less than when he started. With the difference that now he knows how little he'll always know.
A woman you've endured such a gnawing of desire for, you can't help bearing a little grudge against, when the ache is gone.
Who would have thought that the Internet, that's supposed to knit the world into a shining tyranny-proof ball, would be so grubbily adolescent?
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.
About John Updike
• Joyce Carol Oates, in John Updike : A Collection of Critical Essays (1979) by David Thorburn and Howard Eiland, p. 53
• Source: Wikiquote: "John Updike" (Quotes about Updike)
At last, small witches, goblins, hags, And pirates armed with paper bags Their costumes hinged on safety pins, Go haunt a night of pumpkin grins.
If society is the prison, families are the cells, with no time off for good behavior. Good behavior in fact tends to lengthen the sentence.
[Nelson, re watching TV] He watches until he feels his intelligence being too rudely insulted or his patience being too arrogantly tested by the commercials...
His insides are beginning to feel sickly. The pain of the world is a crater all these syrups and pills a thousandfold would fail to fill.
[coming away from the doctor's after a check-up] Get interested is the advice, but in truth you are interested in less and less. It's Nature's way.
Charlie asks her for a Perrier with lime. She says that San Pellegrino is what they have. He says it's all the same to him. Fancy water is fancy water.
[A grandchild barely able to remember Harry's own mother] But can Ma be no more than that in this child's memory? Do we dwindle so fast to next to nothing?
...he feels a stifling uselessness in things, a kind of atomic decay whereby the precious glowing present turns, with each tick of the clock, into the leaden slag of history.
[At news that Nelson got himself a counsellor] Harry feels a jealous, resentful pang. His boy is being taken over. His fatherhood hasn't been good enough. They're calling in the professionals.
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.
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.
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.
John Updike
• On Franz Kafka, quoted in report on Great Books discussion groups, New York Times (28 February 1985)
• Source: Wikiquote: "John Updike" (Quotes)
His wife is, it occurs to Harry, a channel that can't be switched. The same slightly too-high forehead, the same dumb stubborn slot of a mouth, day after day, same time, same station.
[about the past, and Mary Ann, before Harry went to do his two years in the army] Maybe she sensed something about him. A loser. Though at eighteen he looked like a winner.
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.
...he tries to view his life as a brick of sorts, set in place with a slap in 1933 and hardening ever since, just one life in rows and walls and blocks of lives.
No matter how hard you climb, there are always the rich above you, who got there without effort. Lucky stiffs, holding you down, making you discontent so you buy more of the crap advertised on television.
This airport has been designed with big windows viewing the runways, so if there's a crash everybody can feast upon it with their own eyes. The fireball, the fuselage doing a slow skidding twirl, shedding its wings.
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.
[Pru, to Harry] She tells him, "You were one of the things I liked about Nelson. Maybe I thought Nelson would grow into somebody like you." "Maybe he did. You don't get to see what a bastard I can be."
[Harry, to Nelson] "Don't forget, there's a Depression coming." "Who says?" "I say; everybody says!" "Why would we have a Depression?" "Because we don't have any discipline! We're drowning in debt! We don't even own our own country any more!"
Each set of woes can be left behind in a folder in a drawer at the end of the day. Whereas in the outside world there is no end of obligation, no protection from the needs and grief of others.
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.
"...Nelson'll be thirty-three in a couple of months." He thinks it would be a waste of breath, and maybe offensive, to explain to Mr Shimada that at that same age Jesus Christ was old enough to be crucified and redeem mankind.
[Janice] Looking back from this distance, she can't think any more that Harry was all to blame for their early troubles, he had just been trying life on too: life and sex and making babies and finding out who you are.
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.
John Updike
• Ch. 6; Gratia Dei sum quod sum translates to ”Thanks be to God that I am what I am”
• Source: Wikiquote: "John Updike" (Quotes, Self-Consciousness : Memoirs (1989))
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.
Charlie interrupts impatiently, "Pain is where it's at for punks. Mutilation, self-hatred, slam dancing. For these kids today, ugly is beautiful. That's their way of saying what a lousy world we're giving them. No more rain forests. Toxic waste. You know the drill."
[Re Annabelle] ...she is an old maid already. But the bright-eyed flounce with which she sits down and slides her way to the center of the table in the booth suggests that she is still hopeful, still a player in whatever the game is.
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.
He had gone to church and brought back this little flame and had nowhere to put it on the dark damp walls of the apartment, so it had flickered and gone out. And he realised that he wouldn't always be able to produce this flame.
All this probing and grappling we must do, out in society: how much easier, Annabelle thinks, it is to stay in rooms you know as well as your own body, having a warm meal and an evening of television, where it's all so comfortably one-way.
He’s not that young, he’s turned twenty-three, and what makes him feel foolish among these people, he’s married. Nobody else here looks married. There is sure nobody else pregnant, that it shows. It makes him feel put on display, as a guy who didn’t know better.
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.
[Judy, 8, is watching TV] He tells Judy, "Better pack it in, sweetie. Another big day tomorrow: we're going to go to the beach and sailing." But his voice comes out listless, and perhaps that is the saddest loss time brings, the lessening of excitement about anything.
[at the hospital, Janice speaking to Dr Olman in Harry's presence in the ward] "What's wrong with his heart, exactly?" Janice asks. "The usual thing, ma'am. It's tired and stiff and full of crud. It's a typical American heart, for his age and economic status et cetera."
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.
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.
When Rabbit first began to drive the road was full of old fogeys going too slow and now it seems nothing but kids in a hell of a hurry, pushing. Let 'em by, is his motto. Maybe they'll kill themselves on a telephone pole in the next mile. He hopes so.
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.
[Nelson] "...I get none of the things a man's supposed to get from a wife." "What are those?" Janice is truly interested; she has never heard a man spell it out. He makes a cross evasive face. "You know – don't play naïve. Reassurance. Affection. Make the guy think he's great even if he isn't."
Family occasions have always given Janice some pain, assembling like a grim jury these people to whom we owe something, first our parents and elders and then our children and their children. One of the things she and Harry secretly had in common, beneath all their troubles, was dislike of all that, these expected ceremonies.
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.
Updike, I think, has never had an unpublished thought. And … he's got an ability to put it in very lapidary prose. But … there's eighty percent absolute dreck, and twenty percent priceless stuff. And you just have to wade through so much purple gorgeous empty writing to get to anything that's got any kind of heartbeat in it.
[Nelson, about Harry] "I saw him, eventually," Nelson says, "as a loser, who never found his niche and floated along on Mom's money, which was money her father made. [...] But being a loser wasn't the way my father saw himself. He saw himself as a winner, and until I was twelve or so I saw him the same way."
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.
[Nelson, to Annabelle] "The misery of the world," he says, reaching into himself to overcome her resistance. "That's what I kept thinking during my group this morning – the pity of everything, all of us, these confused souls trying so pathetically hard to break out of the fog – to see through our compulsions, our needs as they chew us up..."
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.
Nelson wonders why, no matter how cheerful and blameless the day's activities have been, when you wake in the middle of the night there is guilt in the air, a gnawing feeling of everything being slightly off, wrong – you in the wrong, and the world too, as if darkness is a kind of light that shows us the depth we are about to fall into.
What held him back all day was the feeling that somewhere there was something better for him than listening to babies cry and cheating people in used-car lots and it's this feeling he tries to kill, right there on the bus; he grips the chrome bar and leans far over two women with white pleated blouses and laps of packages and closes his eyes and tries to kill it.
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.
John Updike
• Testimony given before the Subcommittee on Select Education of the House of Representatives Committee on Education and Labor, Boston (January 30, 1978)
• Source: Wikiquote: "John Updike" (Quotes)
"You are cynical." "Just middle-aged. Ideas used to grab me too. It's not that you get better ideas, the old ones just get tired. After a while, you see that even dollars and cents are just an idea. Finally the only thing that matters is putting some turds in the toilet bowl once a day. They stay real, somehow. Somebody came up to me and said, 'I'm God,' I'd say, 'Show me your badge.'"
I can't stand him. Nobody will think to ask because I'm supposedly jealous; but I out-sell him. I'm more popular than he is, and I don't take him very seriously … He goes grumbling away on those born with silver spoons in their mouths— oh, he comes on like the worker's son, like a modern-day D.H. Lawrence, but he's just another boring little middle-class boy hustling his way to the top if he can do it.
Now nuns have blended into everybody else or else faded away. Vocations drying up, nobody wants to be selfless any more, everybody wants their fun. No more nuns, no more rabbis. No more good people, waiting to have their fun in the afterlife. The thing about the afterlife, it kept this life within bounds somehow, like the Russians. Now there's just Japan, and technology, and the profit motive, and getting all you can while you can.
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?
[Mim, to Nelson, after discussing Annabelle's stepfather being dead] "More and more is dead, are you old enough to notice? Vegas is dead, the way it was. [...] Now it's herds. Herds and herds of Joe Nobodies. Bozos. The hoi pollio, running up credit-card debt. Gambling is legal in half the states so they've built these huge moron-catchers along the Strip, all the way to the airport. A Pyramid, the Eiffel Tower, Venice – it's all here, Nelson, all for the morons. It's depressing as hell."
"Look, Nelson. Maybe I haven't done everything right in my life. I know I haven't. But I haven't committed the greatest sin. I haven't laid down and died." "Who says that's the greatest sin?" "Everybody says it. The church, the government. It's against Nature, to give up, you've got to keep moving. That's the thing about you. You're not moving. You don't want to be here, selling old man Springer's jalopies. You want to be out there, learning something." He gestures toward the west. "How to hang glide, or run a computer, or whatever."
The houses, many of them no longer lived in by the people whose faces he all knew, are like the houses in a town you see from the train, their brick faces blank in posing the riddle, Why does anyone live here? Why was he set down here, why is this town, a dull suburb of a third-rate city, for him the center and index of a universe that contains immense prairies, mountains, deserts, forests, cities, seas? This childish mystery—the mystery of ‘any place,’ prelude to the ultimate, ‘Why am I me?’—ignites panic in his heart.
Women: you never know which side they want to dance on.
There's more to being a human being than having your own way.
[Mim, to Nelson, about Annabelle, aged 39] "This little nursie's not your problem. At thirty-nine, everybody's their own problem..."
[Harry to Janice, about the financial situation] "...You're in real trouble." "I know... But you have to have faith. You've taught me that." "I have?" He is pleasantly surprised, to think that in thirty-three years he has taught her anything. "Faith in what?" "In us. In life," she says.
"...Cocaine. The stuff is everywhere." "You wonder what people see in it," Rabbit says. "What they see in it," Bernie says, [...] "is instant happiness." [...] "There are two routes to happiness," he continues, back at the wheel of the cart. "Work for it, day after day, like you and I did, or take a chemical shortcut. With the world the way it is, these kids take the shortcut. The long way looks too long." "Yeah, well, it is long. And then when you've gone the distance, where's the happiness?" "Behind you," the other man admits.
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.
[Nelson, about Pru] She had complained for years about living with his mother and Ronnie and about his dead-end job babysitting these pathetic dysfunctionals, boosting his own ego at their expense, caring more about them than he did about his own wife and children, but what it boiled down to in his baffled mind was something she once shouted, her green eyes bright as broken glass in her reddened face: My life with you is too small. Too small. As if being a greaseball lawyer's input organiser and easy lay was bigger. But the size of a life is how you feel about it.
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.
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.
There had been a lot of death in the newspapers lately. [...] and then before Christmas that Pan Am Flight 103 ripping open like a rotten melon five miles above Scotland and dropping all these bodies and flaming wreckage all over the golf course and the streets of this little town like Glockamorra, what was its real name, Lockerbie. Imagine sitting there in your seat being lulled by the hum of the big Rolls-Royce engines and the stewardesses bringing the clinking drinks caddy and the feeling of having caught the plane and nothing to do now but relax and then with a roar and a giant ripping noise and scattered screams this whole cozy world dropping away and nothing under you but black space and your chest squeezed by the terrible unbreathable cold, that cold you can scarcely believe is there but that you sometimes actually feel still packed into the suitcases, stored in the unpressurised hold, when you unpack your clothes, the dirty underwear and beach towels with the merciless chill of death from outer space still in them. [...] Those bodies with hearts pumping tumbling down in the dark. How much did they know as they fell, through air dense like tepid water, tepid gray like this terminal where people blow through like dust in an air duct, to the airline we're all just numbers on the computer, one more or less, who cares? A blip on the screen, then no blip on the screen. Those bodies tumbling down like wet melon seeds.
[Harry listening to car radio] ...he resents being made to realise, this late, that the songs of his life were as moronic as the rock the brainless kids now feed on, or the Sixties and Seventies stuff that Nelson gobbled up – all of it designed for empty heads and overheated hormones, an ocean white with foam, and listening to it now is like trying to eat a double banana split the way he used to. It's all disposable, cooked up to turn a quick profit. They lead us down the garden path, the music manufacturers, then turn around and lead the next generation down with a slightly different flavour of glop. Rabbit feels betrayed. He was reared in a world where war was not strange but change was: the world stood still so you could grow up in it. He knows when the bottom fell out. When they closed down Kroll's, Kroll's that had stood in the centre of Brewer all those years, bigger than a church, older than a courthouse, right at the head of Weiser Square there,... [...] So when the system just upped one summer and decided to close Kroll's down, just because shoppers had stopped coming in because the downtown had become frightening to white people, Rabbit realised the world was not solid and benign, it was a shabby set of temporary arrangements rigged up for the time being, all for the sake of money. You just passed through, and they milked you for what you were worth, mostly when you were young and gullible. If Kroll's could go, the courthouse could go, the banks could go. When the money stopped, they could close down God himself.
[Mr Shimada, a Toyota bigwig, visiting the lot] "Young people now most interesting," he decides to say. ""Not scared of starving as through most human history. Not scared of atom bomb as until recently. But scared of something – not happy. In Japan, too. Brue jeans, rock music not make happiness enough. In former times, in Japan, very simple things make men happy. Moonright on fish pond at certain moment. Cricket singing in bamboo grove. Very small things bring very great feering. Japan a rittle ireand country, must make do with very near nothing. Not rike endless China, not rike U.S. No oiru wells, no great spaces. We have only our people, their disciprine. Riving now five years in Carifornia, it disappoints me, the rack of disciprine in people of America. [...] In war, people need disciprine. Not just in war. Peace a kind of war also. We fight now not Americans and British but Nissan, Honda, Ford. Toyota agency must be a prace of disciprine, a prace of order. ..."In United States, is fascinating for me, struggle between order and freedom. Everybody mention freedom, all papers terevision anchor people everybody. Much rove and talk of freedom. Skateboarders want freedom to use beach boardwalks and knock down poor old people. Brack men with radios want freedom to self-express with super-jumbo noise. Men want freedom to have guns and shoot others on freeways in random sport. In Carifornia, dog shit much surprise me. Everywhere, dog shit, dogs must have important freedom to shit everywhere. Dog freedom more important than crean grass and cement pavement. In U.S., Toyota company hope to make ireands of order in ocean of freedom. Hope to strike proper barance between needs of outer world and needs of inner being, between what in Japan we call giri and ninjō."

End John Updike Quotes