A Scientist’s View of Updike

During two weeks  of mourning since the unexpected death of John Updike, I’ve posted a number of tributes (here, for example) from the many literary lights who have bade him farewell.  Not surprisingly, many of his fans were novelists, poets  and lit critics, but he has drawn praise from all across the intellectual spectrum.

 Here’s a particularly dead-on appraisal from the psychologist and cognitive scientist Steven Pinker, author of  How The Mind Works, The Blank Slate and other books: The first graph is Pinker; in the second, he wisely lets Updike speak for himself:

  Updike was a student of the human condition not just in his fictional portrayals but in his commentary on the role of fiction in understanding ourselves. In a turn-of-the-millennium magazine article, he endorsed evolutionary psychology and presented a fiction writer’s viewpoint on human nature that is as insightful as any I have seen:

‘A writer of fiction, a professional liar, is paradoxically obsessed with what is true, and the unit of truth, at least for a fiction writer, is the human animal, belonging to the species Homo sapiens, unchanged for at least 100,000 years. … To be human is to be in the tense condition of a death-foreseeing, consciously libidinous animal. No other earthly creature suffers such a capacity for thought, such a complexity of envisioned but frustrated possibilities, such a troubling ability to question the tribal and biological imperatives. So conflicted and ingenious a creature makes an endlessly interesting focus for the meditations of fiction.’

 

 

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