What does John Updike mean?


In an often-overlooked 1992 novel with perhaps the most intentionally dull title in literary history — “Memories of the Ford Administration” — John Updike has fun with an issue that long deviled his career. He introduces a secondary character named Brent Mueller, a “rapid-speaking fellow with the clammy white skin of the library bound” who had “deconstructed Chaucer right down to the ground.” Mueller serves as antagonist to the novel’s narrator — both are history professors at a New Hampshire college — and becomes a campus cult figure by deeming every masterpiece “a relic of centuries of white male oppression, to be touched as gingerly as radioactive garbage.” Updike’s protagonist, in return, cuckolds the deconstructionist throughout the novel. This caricature was the author’s way of playfully pushing back at his critics and detractors. Updike’s death last week was met with the usual fulsome praise and sighs of sadness. But the writer, who was regarded as a gracious, decent man, was not unanimously loved or respected in the literary world. Over the years, he had become a symbol of the out-of-touch, tweed-wearing realist to younger, more experimental writers.

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