Wednesday, January 28, 2009

John Updike, U & me

Another fallen hero...

I once published a brief comment about John Updike's aversion to materialist metaphysics. He had written, in his reluctant memoir Self-consciousness:

"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."

I wrote:

Updike may appear to yearn for the supernatural, but in fact his books are full of appreciation for the natural, simple satisfactions of everyday life. He would love nothing more, it seems, than to "be a self forever."

That's still how I read him. I wish he could be a self forever, here amongst the selves we're sure of, for my own selfish reasons as one of his most admiring readers; and because he was the theist whose charm and intelligence and humanity most tempered my inclination to dismiss theism as nothing but the residue of pre-scientific superstition.

It is very sad to think of his no longer being here. What a vast space of "emotion and conscience, memory and intention and sensation" for us all to try and fill. Who will temper me now?

Addendum: Garrison Keillor has penned a very nice tribute to Mr. Updike, eliciting from me a brief further comment...

Very nice tribute to a very great man whose greatness was out of all proportion to his humilty and generosity of spirit. I've posted my own humble tribute to him at and though I never met him, I think (based on something he told Terri Gross about his distress in contemplating the intrusions of biographers, even friendly ones) he would say that as an admiring reader I did, sort of, know the best of him.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Are We There Yet, Martin?

"MLK helped pave the road to the White House for Obama, but it will take more than Tuesday's inauguration to fulfill King's dream." -Joan Walsh,

Right. It will take a recognition that we are and always have been a polyglot society. If we're going to judge Americans by the contents of their characters, we've got to stop being so fixated on their blackness and whiteness - and their redness and blueness. All of our ancestry is "mixed." We still seem pretty mixed up about that.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Patrick McGoohan, 1928-2009

Nice tree-hugger tribute to "The Prisoner" - "I am not a number, I am a free man." His appeal is still strong, because simply being a free man or woman is still more the challenge of our times.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

A new signature

January seems like a good time to try out a new email signature. Nothing wrong with the old ones, they're just... old.

This worked especially well last month:

"Remember when old December's darkness is everywhere about you, that the world is really in every minutest point as full of life as in the most joyous morning you ever lived through; that the sun is whanging down, and the waves dancing, and the gulls skimming down at the mouth of the Amazon, for instance, as freshly as in the first morning of creation." -William James

And this was a good signature for all seasons:

"Human beings, who are almost unique in having the ability to learn from the experience of others, are also remarkable for their apparent disinclination to do so." -Douglas Adams

But I think I'll begin the new year with this, wordy though it is:

"It is no accident that our kind of life finds itself on a planet whose temperature, rainfall and everything else are exactly right. If the planet were suitable for another kind of life, it is that other kind of life that would have evolved here. But we as individuals are still hugely blessed. Privileged, and not just privileged to enjoy our planet. More, we are granted the opportunity to understand why our eyes are open, and why they see what they do, in the short time before they close forever... Isn't it a noble, an enlightened way of spending our brief time in the sun, to work at understanding the universe and how we have come to wake up in it?" -Richard Dawkins

Sunday, January 4, 2009

A good question

WHAT WILL CHANGE EVERYTHING? -"What game-changing scientific ideas and developments do you expect to live to see?"

This year's annual question invites speculation on the murky, over-the-technological-rainbow future. Lots of interesting responses...

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Happy New Year

Old Nietzsche was right about one thing - the best ideas arise during walks. This year I resolve to keep on walking, and feeding my passion for perambulation. One delightful source of nourishment: Geoff Nicholson's The Lost Art of Walking: The History, Science, Philosophy, and Literature of Pedestrianism (Riverhead Bks 2008).

More on this soon. Accelerating Intelligence News