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Pastoral Elements in Updike’s Work
Carmen DIACONESCU

“Valahia” University of Târgovişte

Abstract: This study tries to present some of the pastoral elements in John Updike's writings, especially in his finest work, The Centaur, which would have established him as a major writer. J. Updike's epigraph to The Centaur is a quotation from the theologian Karl Barth: "Heaven is the creation unconceivable to man, earth is the creation conceivable to him. He himself is the creature on the boundary between heaven and earth." Two creations exist heavenly and earthly, spiritual and material, ideal and real, unconscious and conscious, imaginative and empirical, divine and temporal, epic and pastoral. In his novel, man is not able to conceive one of the creations and employs earth, that creation that he can conceive to explain the other.

Key words: pastoral-concerned with spiritual guidance of a body of Christians, paean-chant of praise or triumph, torso-trunk of human statue apart from head and limbs, lament-passionate expression of grief.
John Updike has established himself among greatest American novelists. On the first reading Updike seems to stand apart from his contemporary fellow writers because his work shows no need for continually renewed experimentation and he seems immune from the paradoxes of the fiction-maker. For example J. Updike has demonstrated that the middle-class existence is more complex than it has been described in the American literature.

His characters live in the suburbia and they have committed their lives to it. There where many contemporary American novelists tend to see the social environment as a panorama of threatening situations, Updike takes it as the given world for his characters, the only locale in which they will learn what they learn an lose what they lose.

A lot of criticism was devoted to Updike’s fiction. Some critics such John W. Aldridge begin their criticism with a negative overview of Updike. David Lodge, analyzing Updike’s most notorious book, Couples, finds elements in it that remind him of Hawthorne, and defends the book saying that reviewers have been unfair.

The Centaur, one of the Updike’s major writings, is called by James M. Wellard as an elegiac celebration of the image of the father.

J. Updike, who is perhaps the most important stylist among the writers of fiction in his generation, is representative for a group of contemporary novelists who are aesthetically victimized by their conventional religious yearning. Updike’s most famous novel The Centaur rests in the mainstream of the pastoral-epic pattern, the author thus contributing to this pattern in the way that James Joyce and John Hilton contributed to it. Milton is adding Christianity and Joyce is adding post Darwinian and post Freudian philosophy.

In a curious inversion of the Hebraic-Christian tradition great king and gods of heaven are shepherd boys (king David in Old Testament) and humble peasants born in mangers (James of the New Testament). The Hellenistic tradition presents kings and gods disguised as shepherds.

In The Centaur heaven and earth hold between them the existence of “the man”. “Man” is not able conceive one of the creations and employs the creation he can conceive however, earth, to explain the other. He creates metaphors setting his position of being “the boundary between heaven and earth”. Thus he wakes god into a version of his earthly father who is capable of extreme mercy but also extreme wrath. He realized that the role of the shepherd is the lowliest earthly social position and causes his god to be born in a stable and to become the god shepherd as well as the son of the God. Ironically he dresses his popes and bishops in shining robes and thrusts a shepherd’s crook into their hands. The centaur, half man and half horse, can be seen as the symbol for the paradoxical union of the epic and pastoral elements in Updike’s novel. Chiron makes the grand sacrificial gesture which tries to conciliate the crime of Prometheus, and sets him free; pastorally Chiron teaches the children of the gods in Arcadian groves. The art of The Centaur depends on structure, theme and metaphor. The basic metaphor which compares Olinger citizens to Olympian citizens would be a tour de force and an exercise in analogy and allegory comparable to Pilgrim’s Progress. Without Updike’s arrangement of chapters and his employment of juxtaposed modes and traditions, the surrealism of The Centaur would be a Salvador Dali painting. The structure depends on the fact that four short chapters of the book establish the total work as a “pastoral elegy”, as imaginatively as Lycidas in a pastoral elegy.

Some chapters in The Centaur are variations of basic conventions of the traditional pastoral elegy. The novel as a whole tells the story of the three days Peter-Prometheus and his father George Caldwell-Centaur spend in town, snowed in and unable to return to the mother Ceres and the home farm. There are four pastoral chapters as legitimate elements of the traditional pastoral elegy. Thus, the pastoral hero Chiron involved in his daily tasks of teaching the children of the gods in Arcadian groves. The author includes a catalogue of the flowers and herbs, and celebrates the tranquility of the hero as he was in life. Later on, the newspaper obituary giving an account of Caldwell’s life suggests the conventional expression of communal grief. This is the elegiac announcement of death comparable to the shock value of the fact.

Peter grieves for the loss pf the pastoral hero, and he sings his lament to his Negro mistress. In the end, the Centaur accepts death and his son reconciles to it.

The language of these chapters provides the lyricism that keeps the novel from being ironic, satiric and comic. The Centaur appeals to the impersonality of pastoral conventions as a vehicle for transforming life into art-the personal into the universal. The language, from the idyllic song and catalogue to the journalistic jargon, from the mixture of love lyric and lament to the statement of apotheosis, provides a point of reference for the almost schizophrenic imagery shifts and linguistic jerks in the rest of the novel.

Formal language is needed to accompany the “formal feeling” which Emily Dickinson says comes “after great pain”. This is the purpose of the language of rites and ceremonies. In many passages Updike merges the pastoral with the heroic, the catalogue of flowers and herbs with the epic paean. In the pastoral pages we find the combination of love lyric, pastoral reminiscence lament and interrogation of the universe “like in the pages where Peter speaks to his Negro mistress, and combines his love songs for her with his memory of his father and Olinger.

In the final chapter of the Centaur the author provides the required consolation, and the one sentence epilogue provides the conventional apotheosis. The acceptance of death is associated to the rural home, to Ceres and the earth. It is winter and the landscape contrasts to the warm pastoral scenes of other chapters. On the realistic level we learn that George Caldwell does not have cancer as he had feared; on the metaphoric level, we see Chiron’s necessary death and its subsequent rebirth as a constellation.

The pointed consolation is that “all joy belongs to the poor “and that only goodness lives”. In the final part of the novel the author presents no longer the beauty of the earth, with scenes from idealized pastoral nature as it is winter, the time of death. Here the imagery is based on the coupling of Uranus (Sky) and Gaia (Earth), heaven and earth. The coldness of winter, the “brutish landscape” is not so important now, because the Centaur is approaching death and his apotheosis into the heavens. And in accepting his fate, he becomes the hero, the senior, the sacrificial figure who mediates between heaven and earth. Having provided the confessional consolation, Updike resorts to a Greek sentence to describe the death of Chiron.

The Centaur achieves its aesthetic unity and thematic wholeness through the adaptation of elements of the traditional pastoral elegy. It is a brilliant adaptation and in its own way, the novel ranks with John Milton’s adaptations of pastoral and epic modes. The “final word and farewell” to the memory of his youth and innocence requires the epic metaphors found in The Centaur. Employing a technique fundamental to a comic mode, he tempers and turns the story of George Caldwell and Peter into the epic idyllic story of Prometheus and Chiron. Aware that the elevation of rural rustic into heroic sophisticates is a tricky business, he follows Thoreau’s technique of smiling first of making the analogies and metaphors so striking and absurd that the reader’s own imagination is engaged from the beginning, where the wounded Chiron walks down the hall. George Caldwell in his plodding daily commitment to duty and work, and in his capacity for love and sacrifice, becomes Chiron, who gives life and freedom to Prometheus.

In The Centaur J. Updike sings an epic paean and a pastoral lament, and the songs mysteriously emerge as one melody with two sets of words.


Bibliography:


  1. Larry E. Taylor, Pastoral and Anti-Pastoral Patterns in John Updike’s Fiction, Feffer&Somons Inc., London and Amsterdam, 1984

  2. Harold Bloom, Modern Critical Views, John Updike, Chelsea House Publishers, New York, New Heaven, Philadelphia, 1987

  3. Robert Detweiler, John Updike, Twayne Publishers Inc., New York,1986


The Rapport between Culture and Communication
Raluca TOMA

“Valahia” University of Târgovişte

Resumé:L’étude se propose l’approche de la communication en tant que facteur constituant de la culture, un facteur définitoire et structurel en dehors duquel on ne saurait comprendre ni la culture intérieure et subjective des individus (idées, images, valeurs, normes, attitudes) ni la culture objective de la société.

Mots clé: culture, société, langage, communication.
People, as rational human beings, exchange intelligible messages and interact in the social space, which is a subjective one built by communication. Otherwise, communication is an anthropological dimension, a defining one, being a fundamental factor of the humanization process, a coexisting factor of human history.

The communication process is not only an intrinsic and defining dimension of culture, but it is essential for human existence and for all the activities processed in the societies’ life. Nowadays we cannot analyze culture without referring to communication. The role of communication in defining and understanding human being and culture was perceived by modern thinkers, but only in the twentieth century, communication became an object of reflection and of systematic research for social subjects, only after the culture philosophy and the language philosophy and, also structural linguistic, values philosophy, semiotics and hermeneutics revealed the anthropological meaning of communication, the role of systems encoded human experience and transmission.

Communication is intrinsic favorite, either in the activities’ register that follows practical-instrumental sciences, or in the field of symbolic activities. Communication is a sine qua non condition of human existence and social life. It is the glue, the texture that unifies people in groups, communities, entities, societies, states, nations, cultures and blocks of civilization, until the higher integrative level, the humanistic one, with its development in space and time so diverse and still so unitary in its fundamental data.

We find in the structural duality of human condition in the space of communication, that human languages fulfill both an instrumental and a symbolic function.

From one point of view we define the human/cultural (biological historical, psychological, economical or political) condition, we cannot avoid a fundamental gift of human being: the capacity of communication through an extremely varied range of symbolist languages, some built in extension of natural ones, some invented, artificial. Human can be defined by his capacity of using concomitantly diverse forms of communication, of forms’ codification, ideas and meanings, of storage the symbolic languages and of transmitting these to other human beings.

Communication is considered a constitutive factor of culture, a defining and structural one, without it we cannot understand either human interior or subjective culture formed by representations, images, ideas, mental schemes, norms, evaluations and attitudes, or the objective culture of society. The human communication, with anthropological and sociological meaning, is a permanent exchange of information, messages and significations among humans and groups, by diverse linguistic and non linguistic languages which are understood by the members of a social community, while they use symbolic common codes. The information by which communication is the essence of social human life is valid, because, life in practical interactions, storage of information and transmission of social inheritance through the values of new generations, would not be possible without the assistance of the multiple forms of meaning and communication.

Culture and communication are concepts in every science researching human condition. Human communication and historic communication means interfere, profoundly, with culture history. Between culture and communication, so well tied in the anthropogenesis process and human historical evolution we cannot place the equal sign.

"Culture and communication form a strange couple. Neither can be explained without the other. The two phenomena are not perfectly sealed; they cannot contain and cannot be placed in the plan of parallel reflexivity through analogical correspondence. Still, culture and communication interfere and can be considered as complementary notions, to human life aspects that are mutually positioned. Both intervene in the rapports between human and society, both have a major function in social integration and in transmission of cognitive and practical experience. They are neither identical, nor separated."53

The relation between culture and communication is interpreted differently concerning the meanings of both notions. Communication implies manufacturing and interpreting the signs, being an action which builds the cultural universe, as the universe of signs through which human translates nature non text (or the book of nature) in the culture text, in human languages. In the relation of humans with the world, human beings use signs which create a second reality that we call culture.

In order to understand the significance of communication in relation with forms (of cultural creation) we should foresee to common prejudices. The first one is reducing human communication to its linguistic forms, without taking into account the great galaxy of non linguistic forms. The second is to believe that through communication we transmit a pre existent content, which is previous or indifferent towards the form in which is communicated. This human representation gives us the wrong idea in which the culture should be the content and the communication the form in which this content is promoted. In everyday language we wrongly associate communication with forms of communications or means of communication, means that we could transmit to any content, when we consider that this content is indifferent towards the constrains of these forms. But the contents that we transmit through language, through speech or writing are not existent in another non linguistic form before being codified in language and actualized in the act of communication. In spite of the appearances, the thinking and the language are one, without parting. We should always have in our minds the distinction of Saussure between language as a social fact, as a system of signs with historical and social elaboration and speech as an individual actualization and utilization of the system.

Human cultures, in their historical and structural diversity, express their identities, first by their symbolic codes and then by the explicit content of their messages. Although the messages can have meanings in other cultural contexts, those codes which processed the significance remained hidden and did not have visibility, but the anthropology researcher or the observer, had integrated them in the way of life of that culture.

The diversity of the communication means revealed the link between the forms of communication and the cultural processes, this interdependence has been studied, intensely, for the last decades. The new communication means are cultural tools with a special force in orienting the perceptions and attitudes, in forming the images about the world and in diffusion of methods of social behavior. The printed book and after that, the press, the telephone, the film, the radio, the telephone, the advertising, the audio and video cassettes, the CDs, the satellites, the computers, the Internet, the mobile phones and all the new technologies of information produced a huge step in the communication field.

The impact of the new means of communication changed the theoretical perspective on that, too. Today’s world is fundamentally molded by the new communication means. Towards their extraordinary potential to extend the technique forms of knowledge and human interaction, mass media is a factor with social, contradictory effect. The new means of communication created new relations between reality and human beings, they created a new environment of human existence.

The theoreticians signalized and analyzed the fact that the new means of communication represent a multiplication of the new means of emancipation and consciousness and of forming a controllable public opinion.

In the contemporary world, the process of communication is of vital importance because the institutions of communication process differently the versions of reality, different lectures of the world and of the events, images and representations which form a second reality, with a symbolic environment, in which we are placed and we cannot abstract in our everyday actions.

The recent theoretical approaches, developed by some schools of social thinking as well as the symbolic interaction, operates with a proxy logic and sociologic model of communication, analyzing the communication phenomenon as an integrated element in the substance of social and cultural life.54 Towards the function of informing and socializing the values, communication ensures the web of social life, forms motivations and aspirations, facilitates dialog and social discourse, having an intrinsic and educative function of social learning, of culture promotion, of forming the public opinion, as well as the function of relaxation and recreation.

The new theories on communication more often those that analyzed mass communication, developed in the second part of the twentieth century, underlined the idea that we could reduce communication to a mechanic act of transmitting information among humans considered singularly, either senders or receivers of communication. Communication should be watched as a social complex interaction of human beings and of actors involved in an existential and determinate situation, the interaction with diverse functional registers, from those practical and instrumental to those symbolic and creative. From this anthropological and sociologic point of view communication is appreciated as a fundamental act of human beings’ bound with social interaction.

Communication involves the entire behavior of human being, not only language, being an act that influences the behavior of the others, a live interaction among actors that participate in a social-cultural determinate context, building the meaning that they confer to the reality and to the their own actions, in defining the existential situation in which they are, in their life horizon and perspectives for their destiny.

In conclusion, communication is a defining dimension of human existence. It is represented in all human acts and manifestations, from those practical and usual to those of knowledge and creation which form the culture of a society. Communication mediates all social interactions and all forms of human creation, ensuring the cohesion of the society and the continuity of the historic process.
Bibliography
Alexander, Jeffrey C., Seideman, Steven, (coord.), Cultura si societate, dezbateri contemporane, Iasi, Institutul European, 2001.

Caune, Jean, Cultura si comunicare, Bucuresti, Editura Cartea Romaneasca, 2007.

Coste-Cerdan, Nathalie, Le Diberder, Alain, Televiziunea, Bucuresti, Editura Humanitas, 1991.

Miege, Bernard, Gandirea comunicationala, Bucuresti, Editura Cartea Romaneasca, 1998.

Miege, Bernard, Societatea cucerita de comunicare, Iasi, Editura Polirom, 2000.
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