Tuesday, November 16, 2004

My Take -- A Continuation of Derik's Notes

A few thoughts and ideas to churn up some talk. Thanks to Derik's post for getting me started on some of these:

* Camilla has only played the tiniest role thus far, but I feel certain that she has large symbolic importance. Especially since she is the subject of Wyatt's unfinished painting, one of the few things he takes with him to France. I'm curious as to what Camilla, her odd death at sea, and her burial in Spain (and the controversey surrounding it) can mean to this book.

* Another in conjunction with Camilla. Her painting seems likely to remain unfinished for some time (perhaps the entire book?). In this light, this quote from Derik's post is interesting: "There's something about a. . . an unfinished piece of work, a . . . a thing like this where . . . do you see? Where perfection is still possible?"

* On page 13, Gaddis talk about "lives conceived in guilt and perpetuated in refusal." This sounds like a terribly portentuous quote, but I'll admit I don't have much idea what it means, or the context in which we should think about it. It this a stab at the Church? The father-son relationship? An artist's burden?


Blogger DerikB said...

I think you're right in re the large symbolic importance of Camilla. It's not something I've considered previously in the novel. It is something I'll be keeping my eye on this time and I recall a few ways that she (or rather the things around her) will be important.

I see the unfinished work quote in relation to fear and closing off possibilities, but things can't remain unfinished forever, choices have to be made and invariably perfection will be lost. A fallen world syndrome, I guess.

Nice quote (guilt/refusal). I think we already see some of that guilt and refusal in the various characters. No doubt there will be more.

November 16, 2004 at 12:26 PM  
Blogger Scott Esposito said...


I think you're on the right track with your "fear and closing off possibilities" remark. Wyatt is very slow with his painting. He even seems fearful or proceeding. Perhaps part of his inertia is a fear that in working he will close off possibilities to himself.

November 16, 2004 at 1:04 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

As it happens, I had underlined the same guilt/refusal quote. My first take was that it was definitely a stab at the Church, as well as the expectations imposed by family and the burdens of the past. The guilt theme does indeed seem strong, Aunt May's constant imprecations against creativity driving Wyatt's efforts into hiding (a funny line from this section, p34: "There may have been, by now, many things that Wyatt wanted to do to Jesus: emulate was not one of them."), and perhaps he then refuses to trust his own creativity. Numerous other passages touch on the idea that to be alive is to be guilty, it is better to do nothing, to not learn or do or live. From the "several of them suspected him of reading" line from the "recognitions" passage quoted by Derik, to a line about Gwyon while at seminary that he "was certainly too interested in what he saw about him" (8) to the reference to "Aunt May's rescue from mortality" (41).

Also, Gwyon as a godlike figure--not in a worshipful sense, but as a kind of shadowy, blank presence (as perhaps God seems to Wyatt), and a would-be authority figure who's abandoned the role (p.35: "And his father, withdrawing into his study with a deftness for absenting himself at crucial moments akin to that talent of the Lord, had become about as unattainable.").

One thing I've always found interesting and amusing about The Recognitions is the way in which it appears to anticipate its own reception. With our knowledge about the novel's actual notices, as shown in Fire the Bastards!, and William Gass' line about reviewers' inability to review something they were fictions in, certain sentences carry an odd flavor. Early on, there is the passage about Sinisterra on page 5, "...like any sensitive artist caught in the toils of unsympathetic critics".

November 16, 2004 at 4:15 PM  
Blogger DerikB said...

Richard, in regard to your "anticipating reception" comment, somewhere in the book there is a dialogue where someone is talking about a book they are writing and another person responds about writing for an audience of one (something like that, hopefully I notice it on my way back through the book). Which seems to indicate that Gaddis didn't expect huge sales or accolades. On the other hand, he is quoted in an interview stating that he wouldn't have been surprised if he was given the... well, some big award... for the book.

November 17, 2004 at 9:24 AM  

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