“The puzzling quality—a basic indifference?—that makes a few men inexhaustibly seductive is a gift as arbitrary in its bestowal as an artistic talent. And, as with a possessed artist, Don Juan is as much to be pitied as envied.”
—John Updike, Assorted Prose, in an essay on Dennis de Rougemont’s Love in the Western World.
This is also The Game, circa 1965. How might the world have been different if Updike decided that the “quality” “that makes a few men inexhaustibly seductive” is not “a gift” but is a skill, a set of habits and behaviors, that can be learned like any other—like becoming an “artist?”
To extend the metaphor, virtually any artist can improve at his craft, but only a very few seem to become what people later term geniuses. Yet the level of improvement available to someone who wants it is vast, which is easy enough to see by, say, looking at a writer’s juvenilia in comparison to his mature work. Updike wants to see “a possessed artist,” with “possessed” connoting some demonic power that comes from outside; I want to see the artist as driven from within, and able to improve his skill to the extent he wants to. The same is true of seduction.