Faculty Scholarly Dissemination Grants


"`Real Enough . . . for Now': Nudity as Aperture in John Updike's `Nakedness'"


English Department


College of Liberal Arts and Sciences

Date Range



Arts and Humanities


ALA 2015: Updike Panel Proposal Submitted January 20, 2015 `Real Enough . . . for Now: Nudity as Aperture in John Updikes `Nakedness Avis Hewitt Professor of English Grand Valley State University Since the marriage cycle collection of short fiction that Updike first published in 1979 as Too Far to Go was repackaged in 2009, his death year, by Knopf as a Pocket Classic titled The Maples Stories, the saga of Richard and Joan Maple, readily autobiographical stand-ins for John and Mary Updike, has become increasing significant in the burgeoning field of Updike studies. This November (2014) saw the publication of an entire monograph devoted to the quarreling couple: David Crowes Cosmic Defiance: Updikes Kierkegaard and The Maples Stories (Mercer University Press). Longer ago (Fall 2012), I myself published in The John Updike Review an analysis of the eighteen discrete but cyclical works that make up the volume. Titling it `Nothing Real Succeeds: Domestic Dissolution in John Updikes The Maples Stories, I argue that the Maples fail to honor gratuity and thereby turn their marriage into a scoreboard. This spring I would like to adopt the Maples quantitative approach and count the number of references to nude art in the tenth story, the one that stands penultimate to the couples separating (called, helpfully, Separating) and explicate the several connections between revelations of humanness and instances of nakedness in the story by that name. Not only does Nakedness study a youthful couple on a nude beach near the tame familial beach the Maples frequent, but it also focuses on the day Richard was on his own mowing grass and stripped down, only to find himself covered with red ants. It concludes with Joans inadvertent stripteasing preparation for bed while saying no to Richards leering attempt at seducing a wife with whom he lives in what has become deep spiritual estrangement. By surrounding with thick description each of the paintings, sculptures, and literary allusions that litter the storys pages, I argue that we can decipher a redemption of sorts in the refuse of their union. Updike himself published two volumes on art commentary: Just Looking: Essays on Art (1989) and Still Looking: Essays on American Art (2005), both of which privilege nude subjects. Giorgio Agambens 2011 Nudities distinguishes at length between nakedness and the nude and then searches ways in which they become apertures onto truth. Finally, Kenneth Clarks 1953 The Nude: A Study in Ideal Form interrogates the evolving expectations of Western Civilization, a civilization in which the nude female has become a central symbol of high culture, a symbol which likely also informs the disjunction between expectation and reality in the marriage at the heart of The Maples Stories. With Updikes, Agambens, and Clarks help, I will explicate the richness of that disjunction. Word Count: 466

Conference Name

American Literature Association Conference 2015

Conference Location

Boston, MA

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