Tag: racism

Updike, “The Faint” (1977)

A bouncily crass story plodding with clichés (“an ass like two moons”), stereotyped racism (a Japanese girl giving the narrator the eye, “though it was hard to tell with those eyes, those opaque little pools of racial ambition, noncommittal as camera apertures”) and the usual objectifications (“it thrilled him like a spurt of ice water to realize he must dump her”), none of it redeemed by the humor of the grown-man narrator and Porsche-driving real estate developer living with his mom, his first marriage having failed years before.

The slithery-named Freddy Python’s girlfriend Corinna “(or whoever),” goes one reference about her, gets bored at plays and seems to be the usual shallow canvas Updike uses to paint his desires’ vagaries. They go to the theater, she doesn’t feel well, she faints. “She was out cold, and looked grand.” A whole paragraph about the way she looked out cold, the way he felt, as if prized to be the refracted object of the attention she draws. An attendant wakes her up with smelling salts. “The watching women [obviously, no men are watching] greeted this prodigy with murmurs, and Freddy, as somehow its father, took their applause as a compliment to himself.” Everyone orbits around Updike’s male protagonist. Himself. Her unconsciousness is his epiphany. The couple marries.

The New Yorker rejected the story. It appeared in the same Playboy issue that carried the interview with Anita Bryant. Apt, in its own way.

Playboy, May 1978

Hemingway, “On The Quai at Smyrna” (1930)

Vir Heroicus Sublimis

Like reading a Barnett Newman. It is mostly in what Hemingway doesn’t say, in the silences between glimpses of terror and cruelty: “The worst, he said, were the women with the dead babies. You couldn’t get the women to give up their dead babies.” They scream at midnight until the soldiers point searchlights at them. One woman dies and goes immediately stiff. They’re refugees of the Greek-Turkish war of 1922, seen by a seemingly dissociated narrator, either a British or American soldier in charge of managing the situation while Turks, a little too Paul Bowles-like summed- and smudged up in the person of one “Turk,” are portrayed as complicating the situation. But that narrator is either unnerving or maddening, or both. Or mad: “You remember the harbor. There were plenty of nice things floating around in it.” Who is he talking to? Why this reference to “plenty of nice things floating around” in the midst of horrors? What nice things ever float in a harbor? Ever? It’s throw-away details like that, that you know would never be throw-aways in Hemingway, that make you think he’s just throwing a line for effect rather than meaning/ Nothing wrong with that of course. Viz, Newman, his Vir Heroicus Sublimis (the “Heroic Sublime”), whom we just saw at MoMa. See my picture above. Maybe that’s a Turkish man wondering yet again why he’s being thrown under the big red bus and those “zips,” as Newman called those lines. I don’t know why the photo utility I just used dulled the reds as it did. Maybe Kazyo Shigara’s 1964 “Untitled” is more apt:

kazuo shiraga

Kazuo Shiraga’s Untitled,” 1964. (c FlaglerLive)

The two-page vignette was originally the introduction to In Our Time. He unfortunately renamed it, pretentiously, “On the Quai at Smyrna.”