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.