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?