Friday, November 12, 2004

On Being Lost, and Sheri Martinelli

Like Matthew, I too am newly enclubbed. My first exposure to Gaddis was about six or seven years ago via A Frolic of His Own (my brother had read it in connection with a legal ethics class; I had his copy), which I thoroughly enjoyed. Other than the book I had in my hands, I had no idea who Gaddis was, and I undertook to find out. In the course of doing so (which was not so easy at the time, only a few years back, as it would be today), I came across what seemed to be hushed mentions here and there of The Recognitions--as if it were some sort of Holy Grail. It soon became clear to me that this was a book I needed to read, and it was just as clear that when I did so I would be in way over my head. In the event, a couple years later I did indeed read The Recognitions (by the way, Gass' introduction has my vote for Best Introduction Ever--I've read it alone five or six times, and consider it almost worth the price of admission by itself). And I was indeed in over my head. If I recall correctly, I hit a wall around page 400 or so, put it aside, returned a couple of months later--by which point I had completely lost track of the characters and much else besides. I plowed on to the end, enjoying the local texture as I went, but knowing full well I was not giving the book a reading it deserved. I fully intended to read it again anyway, but I always have to kind of steel myself for the commitment a massive novel requires, so I couldn't say when, otherwise, that would have happened. So I'm thrilled to be reading it again in this context. I'm a better reader now, I think, and looking forward to both the re-reading itself and the attendant discussion. I picked the novel up the other day and read some passages. Yes, this is going to be fun.

But, why did I know I'd be in over my head? I have this thing about books that are "thickly allusive"--I am drawn to them, but often feel ill-equipped to appreciate the allusiveness, so that sometimes, even if I've otherwise enjoyed a book, I wonder if I've gotten it, quite. In part this is irrational anxiety about the chunks of literature I fear may be required (or unknown) antecedents if I hope to appreciate this or that attractive novel... At the time I read The Recognitions, I was a young reader, not necessarily chronologically, but in terms of what I'd read. From what I gather, I started late for a serious reader. Anyway, despite this, I've mostly read the books anyway.

Which brings me to David Markson and the reason Sheri Martinelli is part of my post title. When Markson first came to my attention, I loved the idea of what he was doing, but I knew that part of the fun of a work like This Is Not A Novel was identifying what the narrator was referring to. So as I read it, I made notes in a spiral notebook of things that I didn't pick up right away (the number of pages filled being proprietary information; too many, let's say) and then I looked 'em up. It was humbling and discursive and actually kind of fun. And somehow, in the course of this internet learnin', I came across this page from the Gaddis Annotations. I don't know exactly what brought me there, since you'll be able to see that it is, in fact, Reader's Block that is mentioned, not This Is Not A Novel, but nevertheless, there I was.

All of this being an incredibly roundabout way to point out, somewhat trivially, that The Recognitions is a roman à clef. This probably doesn't really matter, or affect our enjoyment, but some may find it amusing (I find it amusing in the same way that I like knowing that the guy who played John Turturro's brother in Do the Right Thing was once the--original, I think--drummer in Sonic Youth). Anyway, as Steve Moore points out in the article, the character of Esme is based on this Sheri Martinelli (and Otto on Gaddis himself). Perhaps interesting to know. And there's some neat stuff in Moore's piece, besides the bits specifically about this novel (those bits may actually reveal too much, depending on your taste, if you haven't read it before). The people she was associated with--Anaïs Nin, Charlie Parker, Marlon Brando, Ezra Pound--well... Some good stuff in there.

Ok. I'm ready.


Blogger jon faith said...

Suffering from zeal momentarily -- my inertia has been primed to join this endeavor and am at a loss as how to facilitate such. I enjoyed the posting and remain poised to begin. ciao - jon

November 12, 2004 at 11:10 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Hi, thanks. If you want to join, try sending an email to Derik Badman at

November 13, 2004 at 8:32 AM  
Blogger DerikB said...

Jon, sorry I didn't get back earlier. I need an email addie to invite you and have been away from the computer.

Richard, if that is the same original Sonic Youth drummer I know of, he also plays opposite John Lurie in Jim Jarmusch's Stranger than Paradise.

In one of the Gaddis interviews I read recently he claims that really many of the characters are based on himself in different ways, different aspects. I'm hesitant to read too much autobiography into the work.

Also, in a similar vein, Chandler Brossard's Who Walk in Darkness has a Gaddis based character. See my review:

November 13, 2004 at 10:28 AM  
Blogger Richard said...

Yes, that's the same SY drummer.

I agree about reading autobiography into the book (or, most any fiction, really)--eventually all of the people who would REALLY have an idea who's supposedly who in a roman à clef will be long gone, and all we're left with is the work itself, which should be all that matters anyway. Trivia's another story, however... I thought the Martinelli piece was interesting in part because of its view into the New York cultural world of the day

November 13, 2004 at 12:45 PM  
Blogger boccaforte said...

I love the Martinelli piece, if only because I love the idea of Esme eventually getting sick of getting dumped by self-absorbed egotists and settling down with a younger guy. Thank you.

In one of the Gaddis interviews I read recently he claims that really many of the characters are based on himself in different ways, different aspects. I'm hesitant to read too much autobiography into the work.In his Paris Review interview, he is unambiguous in his distaste for the tracking of autobiograpahy and literary lineage both in works of fiction. Ah well. I think the Thomas Eigen character of J.R. is more widely -- and more justifiably -- credited as Gaddis' fictional doppelganger. I just this evening read some of his PR work from his period at IBM (featured in the posthumously published book of essays) and it made my toes curl in delight; recognizing Eigen, recognizing the various preoccupations of the novels; recognizing Jack Gibbs; recognizing (sorry, brace yourselves) The Recognitions.

November 16, 2004 at 1:33 AM  

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