Odd Jobs: Essays and Criticism
Beckett was the headmaster of the Writing as Agony school. On a good day, he would stare at the wall for eighteen hours or so, feeling entirely terrible; and, if he was lucky, a few words like NEVER or END or NOTHING or NO WAY might brand themselves on his bleeding eyes. Whereas Updike, of course, is a psychotic Santa of volubility, emerging from one or another of his studies (he is said to have four of them) with his morning sackful of reviews, speeches, reminiscences, think-pieces, forewords, prefaces, introductions, stories, playlets and poems. Preparing his cup of Sanka over the singing kettle, he wears his usual expression: that of a man beset by embarrassment of delicious drolleries. The telephone starts ringing. A science magazine wants something pithy on the philosophy of subatomic thermodynamics; a fashion magazine wants 10,000 words on his favourite colour. No problem — but can they hang on? Updike has to go upstairs again and blurt out a novel.
six weeks early.
Just barely, I think. But I, like many people, I live with ambiguity. And that boy David Kern in that story arrived, after wrestling with the reality of death, which is after all the aspect of geological time that we don’t really like that it means we too will become extinct and a hand full of dust, he arrived at the argument from design by looking at the feathers of recently slain pigeons and couldn’t believe that a universe as beautiful, that made so many beautiful things as this one, could allow him to wink out like a candle in a dark room. So, I am a church going Christian at the same time I certainly am fascinated by science, I get Scientific American for example, and I try and keep up in a way with what science tells us. Increasingly strange things they keep telling us, too, about the subatomic particles and lately about the huge universe that surrounds us. I don’t know, I think I’d be gloomy without some faith that there is a purpose and there is a kind of witness to my life.