Monday, March 19, 2012

John updike interview: the role of writers (etc), "giving back people themselves"

The other day I listened to this old interview with John Updike on NiPR. I had heard of him, but wasn't overly familiar. However, this interview sparked an interest for me, so I think I will pick up a book he's written for my upcoming vacation time. Here is the wiki link on him.

At any rate, at one point there was the following interchange during the interview. I thought it was interesting - his take on the role of writers and artists - and especially so in light of how he thought that was at odds of sort with ministers. What struck me is that he was actually sort of saying what I think ministers (pastors, preachers, clergy) ought to be more like. That whole idea of "giving back people themselves"... or, as he says, "you are giving people life, you are clarifying their life for them." I don't know about the "giving people life"... but rather helping people to see life as it really is... THEIR life, even.

I dunno... it just struck me, and I think I need to pick up an Updike book. Here is the part of the interview I was referring to...

GROSS: You said that an artist of any sort in our society and most others is a privileged person, allowed to stand apart from some of the daily grind and supposed to be closer to the gods and to have access to the divine sources of tribal well-being. What's this, quite a responsibility. And I'm not sure if you think that's an appropriate way of seeing an artist, or if you think that's an absurd way to see artists?

UPDIKE: There's been quite a lot said by the classic modernists Wallace Stevens and James Joyce and others and Proust also about the sacred importance of the writer and about their sense that God being either dead or asleep that the writer has inherited what once was the priest's function.

And this certainly enabled the modernists, that is, this high concept of their importance to write marvelous stuff, that is to do anything well, you have to believe in it, and such a creed enabled them to believe enough to devote their lives to writing well. I don't know as I quite subscribe to this elevated notion of the writer's role.

But I think even - yes, I think people do look to us to tell the truth in a way that nobody else quite will, not politicians or ministers or sociologists. A writer's job, is to, by way of fiction, somehow describe the way we live. And to me, this seems an important task, very worth doing, and I think also, to the reading public, it seems, even though they might not articulate it, it seems to them something worth doing also.

In a way, what you are doing, is you are giving - Pascal said this somewhere - you're giving back people themselves. You are, by describing as best you can, the fantasies of your own life, you are showing other people what their lives are like. And in a way, you are giving people life, you are clarifying their life for them. And so this is not an insignificant task, is it?