John Updike's son wrote just one novel: it must have been like firing a water pistol under the Niagara Falls

So now, Stanley Kubrick being dead, A Clockwork Orange has been finally re-released, without much fuss and without gangs of youths beating people to death in the streets - or, at least, no more than usual. It may even be that, in withdrawing the film for 20 years, Kubrick inadvertently carried out a sociological experiment. Crimes reminiscent of the violence in A Clockwork Orange are fairly common (one horrible example, reported the other day, took place in Milton Keynes - a setting strikingly similar to Kubrick's futuristic vision). But a 20-year-old thug today wasn't even alive when the film was last shown in Britain. This suggests that some young men behave in a similar way to Alex and his droogs because Kubrick and Anthony Burgess based Alex and his droogs on the way that some young men behave. I don't suppose anybody's mind will be changed, though.

There's no doubt that art influences us, but what it influences us to do is more unpredictable. "Of course television is educational," Groucho Marx said. "Whenever anybody switches it on, I leave the room and read a book." I suppose I could think of examples where art has inspired or aroused me, but often it just makes me feel ill or tired.

For example, we ER fans have been captivated by the recent subplot involving a brilliant veteran called Dr Lawrence (wonderfully played by Alan Alda). But something was amiss, and it gradually emerged that he was suffering from Alzheimer's disease. The problem was that I seemed to have all his symptoms. There was a scene in which a psychologist tested him by asking him to identify some pictures. There was something that looked like a Martini glass without a base: "A Martini glass without a base," Alda said. "But what else?" I racked my brains. That thing you pour things into. It turned out to be a funnel. Then there was a picture of one of those things you use to pick up sugar or coal. Tongs. Couldn't remember it. Nor could my wife, nor my parents. The programme-makers probably wanted to raise awareness of Alzheimer's, and they succeeded. All over Britain, people are trying to count backwards from 100 in nines or sevens, or whatever the test is (I've forgotten, of course).

"Desiring this man's art and that man's scope," wrote Shakespeare in one of his sonnets. Graham Greene observed that there was something eerie about Shakespeare envying other people for their artistic talent. Sheer productivity can be equally dismaying. I'm having a John Updike binge at the moment, reading his Rabbit quartet of novels alongside his new collection of journalism, More Matter. He describes how the prolific Joyce Carol Oates once claimed: "Most of the time, I do nothing. I waste most of my time, in daydreaming, in drawing faces on pieces of paper." Updike also quotes the remarkably productive John Ashbery on his occasional bouts of writer's block. "If these two writers sometimes stall," Updike comments, "what doubts and procrastinations waylay the rest of us."

Let me put Updike's touching admission into context. His previous collection of pieces, the 900-page Odd Jobs, was published in 1991. The new 900-page collection is the product of a decade in which he also published six novels, a collection of short stories, his collected poems, a children's book and a separate collection of his writings on golf.

The new collection received a fairly harsh reception - largely, I suspect, because reviewers were appalled by this flood of productivity. Here we are, all of us who try to live as writers, sitting in rooms all over Britain, staring out of the window and making a third cup of tea, while Updike, wherever it is that he writes, is writing with constant craft and inventiveness not just his bloody book reviews in the New Yorker, but well-crafted examples of anything you can think of: acceptance speeches, a couple of hundred words on "books that changed my life", an essay on Christmas cards, on his favourite hour of the day, on Mickey Mouse. Is there anything he doesn't have an opinion about? Or anyone he hasn't written for? You may have seen some of the pieces that appeared in the New Yorker. But you may have missed those in Der Spiegel, the Tokyo-jin and the Brazilian newspaper Folha de S Paulo.

The person I feel sorry for is David Updike. Doesn't ring a bell? He is John's son, who published a novel (can't remember the name, of course) in about 1986 and, so far as I know, nothing since. It must have been like firing a water pistol while standing under Niagara Falls.

This article first appeared in the 03 April 2000 issue of the New Statesman, Englishness: who cares?

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Archbishop Welby and the hidden price of being Mister Nice Guy

Doubtless Welby’s supporters will find such a description rude to the point of impiousness – but for those of us who live in an uncloistered world, the most significant indicators of his true nature lie first in his appearance.

The most important thing about Justin Portal Welby, the 105th Archbishop of Canterbury and Primate of All England, is that he’s not Rowan Williams. How we all miss Rowan Williams! The whole point of the Established Church is that its ministry is for all Britons, not just confessing Anglicans; and Dr Williams achieved this difficult task brilliantly. That he did so was, in large measure, due to his appearance: the most fanatical adherent of sharia law hearkened to his fluting emollience, because, resembling as he does a fictional wizard straight out of central casting, they assumed he was either Gandalf the Grey, or Albus Dumbledore, or possibly both.

With Dr Williams’s successor we must bear witness to a marked decline in the archiepiscopal phenotype. Far from resembling some wand-waving sorcerer, and despite all the rich caparisoning, Justin Welby still looks like exactly what he is: a superannuated Old Etonian oil executive from west London with a sideline in religiosity. His is not a bonny countenance; rather, he resembles a constipated tortoise with sunburn. Frankly, he could do with a beard – the more patriarchal the better – simply to cover up that sourpuss.

Doubtless Welby’s supporters will find such a description rude to the point of impiousness – but for those of us who live in an uncloistered world, the most significant indicators of his true nature lie first in his appearance, and second in the manner of his ordination.

Welby is one of Sandy Millar’s men. (And I say “men” advisedly.) When Welby heard the call to be ordained in the late 1980s he was initially rejected by the then bishop of Kensington, who said: “There is no place for you in the Church of England.” Prophetic words, indeed. It was Sandy Millar, one of the founders of the evangelical – indeed, charismatic – Alpha course, at Holy Trinity Brompton, in London, who came out to bat for Welby. The evangelicals must have been delighted when they got one of their own into Lambeth Palace, yet ever since he took up his crosier he’s been insidiously sticking it to them. I’m going to explain why, but first a word or two about evangelicals.

It’s disconcerting the first time it happens to you: you’re standing up in church, ready to groan your way apathetically through another fusty Victorian hymn, when instead of the moaning of a clapped-out organ, an electric guitar strikes a resounding chord and the worshipper next to you bursts into enthusiastic song. Worse is to follow: for, as she warbles, she slowly raises one arm, extends it, and begins to wave it about like a tree bough while the other arm remains rigidly at her side. Looking around you, you see that the congregation is like unto a forest: so many raised and undulant limbs are there. Yes, you have fallen among evangelicals – and if you thought ordinary Anglicans were a bit too nice then you ain’t seen nothing yet.

Purely to show open-mindedness, my wife attended an Alpha course run by one of our son’s schoolfriend’s parents, who was an evangelical minister. After a few weeks she began to seem a little – how can I put it? – spiritually pained, and when I asked her what the matter was, she said she was having something of a crisis of no faith. “It’s just that they’re so very nice,” she said, “and the God they believe in is so very nice, too. They make me feel anxious I might be upsetting Jesus by not believing in Him as well.”

Nice as he may be, Welby remains an evangelical, and evangelicals have a tricky time when it comes to homosexuality, because although not exactly fundamentalists, they nonetheless cleave strongly to the Word of the Lord, rather than chipping up to the church fête from time to time to buy a few tombola tickets. So, simply by looking into his own heart, Welby knows the situation is intractable: those homophobic Africans and redneck Americans cannot be appeased, and though he personally is opposed to gay marriage, he has said he’s “always averse to the language of exclusion when what we are called to is to love in the same way as Jesus Christ loves us”.

Welby seems to feel Jesus loves us by letting us go, because he is now making noises about a “looser relationship” between the various Anglican churches: one in which – while they all remain attached to the Church of England – the connections between them become more attenuated. Some of his evangelical chums must be swaying with anxiety rather than enthusiasm but they should rest easy; on all other important matters the archbishop is behaving in an exemplary fashion.

Not a week goes by without him making some anodyne statement or futile gesture condemning food banks (then asking people to give to them), offering refugees tokenistic accommodation in the grounds of Lambeth Palace, and generally mithering on about the scourge of poverty while giving spiritual succour to those who’re doing very nicely out of the status quo. ’Twas ever thus: our Established Church may well be for all Britons, but, in Justin Welby, we have a prelate who speaks eloquently for the . . . few.

Next week: Madness of Crowds

Will Self is an author and journalist. His books include Umbrella, Shark, The Book of Dave and The Butt. He writes the Madness of Crowds and Real Meals columns for the New Statesman.

This article first appeared in the 08 October 2015 issue of the New Statesman, Putin vs Isis