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Buddha (3) vs. John Updike

Yesterday‘s winner is Friedrich Nietzsche. I don’t really have much to say here: there was lots of enthusiasm about the philosopher and none at all for the cozy comedian. Maybe Jonathan Miller would’ve been a better choice.

Now for today’s battle. Buddha is seeded #3 among founders of religions. Updike is the unseeded author of the classic Rabbit, Run, and dozens of memorable short stories, but is detested by Helen DeWitt and various commenters on this blog.

Who’d be a better speaker? Updike is more of a Harvard guy but I guess he’d give a talk at Columbia if we asked, right?

P.S. As always, here’s the background, and here are the rules.


  1. Ethan Bolker says:

    Updike. We could ask him to talk to the title “Stan fans spark Bayes craze.” Buddha might just meditate silently for the whole hour.

  2. Jonathan (another one) says:

    Buddha’s seminar would surely be enigmatic and mysteriously inscrutable. It’s unclear whether that’s a bug or a feature.
    Updike’s seminar would surely be pompous and beautifully structured. It’s unclear whether that’s a bug or a feature.

  3. zbicyclist says:

    Buddha. What sort of charisma must it have taken to found a belief system based on not desiring? And based on the idea that the ideal state is not to be reborn? And not to have a vengeful deity to act as enforcer?

    And not to fall off the edge by including sexual desire in there so much (as the Shakers famously did, part of the reason the Shakers aren’t around any more)?

  4. Patrick Caldon says:

    Hmm – you’re right about Updike from Harvard, but there’s a very strong west coast “vibe” about Buddha. I know we should try hard not to be snobs – but still would you really want someone like that giving a seminar?

  5. If Helen DeWitt’s against John Updike, then so am I. Who really cares about suburban infidelity and angst? On the other hand, Buddha brought “pleasure, joy, and happiness” to the mathematician Arjuna when he spoke about numbers. Updike’s intellect was large, but it never encompassed a tallakshana.

  6. Slugger says:

    Too close to call for me. Rabbit Angstrom is a perfect example of the life that the Buddha warns against. He is a creature of animal passions who never gains any enlightenment.

  7. Steve Sailer says:

    Updike’s career looks like a Bill James graph of baseball player performance by age. Updike never attempted to mitigate the decline associated with age by reducing the quantity of his words published per year, instead cheerfully accepting that he was in the decline phase of his career over the last quarter century or so of his life.

    Updike and Woody Allen are the two artists with the most graphable output over time. Both seemed to take an athlete’s year-based approach to output.

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