The ancients said the purpose of poetry, of writing, was to entertain and to instruct; Aristotle put forward the still fascinating notion that a dramatic action, however terrible and piteous, carries off at the end, in catharsis, the morbid, personal, subjective impurities of our emotions. The enlargement of sympathy, through identification with the lives of fictional others, is frequently presented as an aim of narrative; D. H. Lawrence, with characteristic fervor, wrote, "And here lies the vast importance of the novel, properly handled. It can inform and lead into new places the flows of our sympathetic consciousness, and can lead our sympathy away in recoil from things that are dead." Kafka wrote that a book is an ax to break the frozen sea within us.
- John Updike - from Why Write?
the death of john updike today, happening today, is odd for me. i am not an admirer of mr. updike. never have been. (although i relish that image in his story "A&P" when the girl pulls the dollars bills out of the top of her bikini right in front of the pubescent check-out boy, and he says, "I uncrease the bill, tenderly as you may imagine, it just having come from between the two smoothest scoops of vanilla I had ever known." that is so rightfully pubescent.) however, i up and decided to read some snippets of updike's "Why Write?" today. just this morning. the first time i have read or thought of updike since early last fall. and now, just a few moments ago, my office mate tells me he died. and i had only been with him within the hours.
life is odd in the way it comes and goes, passing without permission in either direction, large and loud and owning the entire road, as if it were the only thing that mattered.