Thursday, November 18, 2004

Talk Here (Part 1 Chapter 1)

I'm finding it hard to come up with any general discussion point at this time. This first chapter feels so much like a prologue, a lot of set-up for the future, the ideas that aren't yet developed.

So, let's just have a free-for-all. Perhaps we can address an questions, share opinions, and any other commentary anyone has.

I think as the we progress through the novel there will be more room for discussion.


Blogger Scott Esposito said...

Here's something to think about. Does anyone have a "WTF?" moment so far? Anthing in "TR" that made you think "What the hell was the point of that?" If so, post it up and we can help each other figure out what was going on.

I'll get the ball rolling. How about this "abrupt end" to Rev G's wedding:

"Miss Ardythe, who had attacked the organ regularly since a defrauding of her maidenhood at the turn of the century, had dropped stone dead at the keyboard with her sharp chin on high D."

* First off, what is "defrauding of her maidenhood"? That's an odd word to use in conjuntion with a loss of viginity.

* What's this with her attacking the keyboard ever since?

* Lastly, what's the deal with her dropping dead right in the middle of the wedding and striking the high D?

I've gotta say, I'm screaming WTF! here. Can someone help me out?

November 18, 2004 at 4:39 PM  
Blogger Rake said...

I dunno, but I will tell you the first thing I thought of was the Simpsons episode where Bart slips a copy of In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida into the hymnal. The organist collapses on her keys (dead?) after her long solo, if you'll recall.

(Sorry for infecting this thread with pop culture detritus. Onward, brave soldiers!)

November 18, 2004 at 5:30 PM  
Blogger Scott Esposito said...


That is a pretty good catch. I think you should do a New Historicism reading of TR along the lines of Greenblat, except instead of using details from Gaddis's private life, go with pop cultural refs.

November 18, 2004 at 6:51 PM  
Blogger gwenda said...

I'm here assisted by Mr. BondGirl who hasn't even read the chapter. He sayeth on the WTF questions (while I drink):

1) "defrauding of maidenhood" meaning anything besides loss of virginity in a non socially acceptable way is reading in too much; 2) Attacking the keyboard is a pretty clear descriptor of a certain type of nonprofessional, particularly church musican and their overaggressive playing of pianos, organs and keyboard instruments; 3)High D -- can't speak to meaning of death itself, but that's a loud, high-pitched sound, like an alarm, and it's a nice visual note because it would take a witch-like chin to be able hit just one note on an organ.

See why I married him?

I had kind of glossed over that graph, so thanks for drawing attention to it. And interesting use of "fraud" to be sure, since it's a fraud that does the surgery on Mrs.G.

I'll toss out something... did anyone else really dig the bloody earrings? I thought that was a fabulous bit of characterization.

November 18, 2004 at 7:11 PM  
Blogger CAAF said...

Oh, Mr. Rowe, you're great. Rake, you make me laugh. And Scott, what a brilliant idea for a discussion: WTF, indeed.

"defrauded" I read as either someone had talked her out of her virginity under false pretenses, or that she had pretended not to have lost it. But I lean toward the former explanation.

and yeah, I join with Mr. Rowe in seeing the organ-playing as a high-handed (literally) working of the keyboard. Much draping of the keys with hand in elaborate expressions of feeling, etc. etc.

November 18, 2004 at 7:21 PM  
Blogger Matthew Cheney said...

There's probably more to it, but I just took the "defrauding" as a fun play on "deflowering", one that makes the moment yet one more reference to fraud/forgery. Virginity as forgery, which returns to the idea of the immaculate conception that Gwyon talks about. The positioning of that paragraph is interesting, too -- the following paragraph is about Camilla's death. From marriage to death in one quick indentation...

There was one moment where I was uncertain who was speaking, and it seemed important to know, but I need to take a few minutes to find it, since I didn't mark the passage...

November 18, 2004 at 7:21 PM  
Blogger CAAF said...

From Marriage to Death in one graf ... like the immortal "Don't Fear the Reaper", the song that put Blue Oyster Cult on the same plane as Euripides ("Antigone") for Bride of Death imagery.

I may have already been drinking too much.

November 18, 2004 at 7:25 PM  
Blogger Matthew Cheney said...

Okay, here we go, totally WTF:

p. 37, first full paragraph, when Aunt May is talking to Wyatt. Is she senile and mistaking Wyatt for his father there? Why the grandfather confusion? Did I just miss something obvious?

November 18, 2004 at 7:33 PM  
Blogger gwenda said...

Y'know, it's really not fair for me to make Mr. Rowe play along since he hasn't even glanced at the book...

I do think it's an interesting term -- defrauding -- because it sets the stage for male characters in the book to be frauds, like the doctor and Wyatt (I'm surmising) and perhaps even Gwyon would be a fraud as a preacher in the view of someone like May. This is just like spinning out bullshit in college but more fun!

This is not WTF, maybe more WFBW (What Fucking Beautiful Writing), but I love this sentence (begins bottom of p. 11): "He stood there unsteady in the cold, mumbling syllables which almost resolved into her name, as though he could recall, and summon back, a time before death entered the world, before accident, before magic, and before magic despaired, to become religion."

I love "before magic despaired, to become religion."

November 18, 2004 at 7:37 PM  
Blogger Syntax of Things said...

I'm going to admit this here and now. I'm really enjoying the pear juice, but it doesn't mix well with coffee.

This may have been due to the fact that I was reading the book while watching *Category 6: Day of Destruction* but I completely confused father and son at one point. At first, I was having a hard time with the transitions. As the chapter moved along, and after a third re-read of the first dozen pages, I was able to keep it straight.

November 18, 2004 at 7:43 PM  
Blogger CAAF said...

OK, Ms. G., in the spirit of dormitory hallways through the ages: But your bringing up the male as false makes me think of this. Is Aunt May false?

I mean, she's a butt and unlikeable (you can tell that because the Barbary ape has a clear antipathy)... but is she a hypocrite?

November 18, 2004 at 7:48 PM  
Blogger Matthew Cheney said...

Gwenda, WFBW is a fabulous new term. (Hi to Mr. Bondgirl-Rowe, by the way. I think we should keep him along for the ride, since most of the original reviewers of The Recognitions didn't read it either, and he's far smarter -- and a better writer -- than any of them were!)

Anyway, my own WFBW: p.60: "The sun showed their motionless shadows on the rough wood platform. Then the sun was obscured by a cloud, and the shadow disappeared. When the sun came out again the shadows were gone." They're some of the simplest sentences in the chapter, but the decision to use simple diction and structure at that particular point, and to describe such an odd moment, just floored me. (And then in the final paragraph, where the sun, having set, leaves an "empty place" in the sky.)

November 18, 2004 at 7:52 PM  
Blogger CAAF said...

p.s. Matthew, I'm not sure if I understand your confusion. Isn't she Wyatt's great-aunt? So talking about her own brother.

November 18, 2004 at 7:53 PM  
Blogger CAAF said...

My WFBW (or When I Knew I'd Like The Book), pg. 16:
"San Zwingli appeared suddenly, at a curve in the railway, a town built of rocks against rock, streets pouring down between houses like beds of unused rivers, with the houses littered like boulders carelessly against each other like a mountain stream."

If he'd trotted out "alluvial plain" I would have fainted.

November 18, 2004 at 7:58 PM  
Blogger Matthew Cheney said...

I think my confusion came from forgetting that a person can have two grandfathers. I actually fell into the same confusion as Wyatt, thinking Aunt May was talking about the maternal grandfather (Town Carpenter) when she was talking about the paternal ("your father's father"). Dumb da dumb dumb..

November 18, 2004 at 8:01 PM  
Blogger gwenda said...

Carrie is totally bringing the college. Hmmmm... Let me consult the oracle, er, wine glass.

I can't think of any action that Aunt May takes that would make her a hypocrite... except perhaps the sheer fact of her intolerance and abhorrence for the accursed Spanish. Maybe in Gaddis' view all the church people are frauds who don't march to the drum they claim to; the text would certainly support that. Maybe they're all frauds, except the ape.

Mr. Rowe has no choice, as I will be in whatever room he chooses to be in on Thursday nights!

(Did you notice the semicolon fever?)

November 18, 2004 at 8:08 PM  
Blogger gwenda said...

(Um, that would be MY semicolon fever tonight, not Gaddis'.)

November 18, 2004 at 8:10 PM  
Blogger Tito said...

Does anybody else see parallels between Aunt May leaving out the 'R' in her stitchwork and Wyatt's thoughts on the leaving paintings unfinished, while perfection is still possible. Her ommission is unintentional and she is continually troubled by it, where his is intentional ... and where will this take him ???

November 18, 2004 at 8:15 PM  
Blogger CAAF said...

Yeah, Tito, I think there are weird things of perfectibility going on.

Which reminds me of thoughts I had reading (to amuse myself) as to whether Gaddis' writing style seems Catholic or Calvinist in sensibility. The multiple clauses, the ornate descriptions, the occasional overwriting: Catholic?

The quest for authenticity: Calvinist? The fact that a Barbary ape is our most authentic p.o.v.: Atheist?

Is there a hott Calvinist author? George Eliot?

By the way, am paging through the first 62 looking for my WTF moments. I know there were plenty. But I just kept letting them wash over me, like "water over a rock."

November 18, 2004 at 8:31 PM  
Blogger Matthew Cheney said...

I'm going to pause for a moment to celebrate pages 24 and 34.

Page 24 starts with Gwyon giving a sermon in which tells how joyful, or at least comforting, it is to feel God's hatred. We then move to Aunt May, and then Janet is introduced, and then everything comes together with Aunt May getting nostalgic for the stocks and pilloy and Gwyon agreeing with, "What is more gratifying than this externalizing of our own evils? Another suffering in atonement for the vileness of our own imaginings..." Which brings up what Derik has written about scapegoating, etc. And so we have one page that encapsulates so much of what the rest of the chapter is about, and is tremendously (I think) funny. In a dark way.

Page 34 I love for its form. At the top, Wyatt's first drawings. Middle, Lucifer as a forger and forgery as an aspiration toward originality. Bottom, a return to Wyatt's drawings. The juxtaposition -- the insertion of Lucifer into the origins of Wyatt's art -- is magnificent.

November 18, 2004 at 8:45 PM  
Blogger gwenda said...

Nice, Matthew.

I've got a WTF, which is probably in the annotations (but I couldn't find it). The only relevant thing google brings up is a reference from Ed. What is the Use-Me Society? (first ref. p 21)

November 18, 2004 at 8:49 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Coming in late here...

I had marked a couple of lines about Janet, to pick up Matthew's introduction of her into the discussion:

"After her original disapproval of the kitchen girl had been firmly established, Aunt May worked her toward salvation with every discouragement she could supply. Janet was willing. She was, indeed, far on the way to that simple-mindedness which many despairingly intelligent people believe requisite for entering the kingdom of Heaven. This quality might prevent her from grasping some of the more complicated arcana which Aunt May tendered, still there was room for the residence of terror in the collapsing tenement of her mind."

I love that "still there was room for the residence of terror in the collapsing tenement of her mind"...

November 18, 2004 at 8:49 PM  
Blogger Syntax of Things said...

My WTF is on p. 56:

"Janet did not go to church. There was no disaffection, but she seemed to have attained some unity of her own. And she was no longer found benumbed on the kitchen floor; but might interrupt any household drudgery to hurry to her room where rapturous gasps could have been heard from behind the closed door, if anyone had listened. For the most part she went about her work happily, detached, padding through the dim passages in soft slippers, and ordering the kitchen with dark-gloved hands. Occasionally she kept to her bed."

Rapturous gasps?

November 18, 2004 at 8:52 PM  
Blogger gwenda said...

Janet was being defrauded by the virgin of self-pleasure...

(Or where was Heracles?)

November 18, 2004 at 8:54 PM  
Blogger CAAF said...

Um, is she masturbating? The dead giveaway would be if people in the hallway could hear faint strains of "She Bop" playing on the clock radio.

And is there any correlation between her and the cross-eyed saint next to whom Camilla is buried (in terms of besmirched innocence)?

November 18, 2004 at 8:55 PM  
Blogger gwenda said...

The virgin of self pleasure is obviously Louise Brooks.

November 18, 2004 at 8:56 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Also, in general, I like the images of Gwyon's congregation dutifully attending his services, but kind of squirming as he veers a tad off the expected path... I can imagine people looking around at each other as he starts speaking what must sound to them like madness (and may well be)... Gwyon's rant/sermon about the doctors, which was "[a] stirring sermon, everyone agreed; as they agreed later that their minister was tired, and might do well to rest for the summer. He was undergoing a severe trial, and they gave him credit for that, as practicing Christians magnanimously sharing their sins approve the suffering of others."

Just before that "there was a cheer from the far end of the nave, a moment of unholy silence, and the organ lusted into Rock of Ages..."

November 18, 2004 at 8:58 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Nice. Who knew "She Bop" would come up in this discussion?

November 18, 2004 at 8:59 PM  
Blogger Syntax of Things said...

The organ lusted into "She Bop." Gads...

November 18, 2004 at 9:04 PM  
Blogger CAAF said...

And "Rock of Ages"= Def Leppard. (I'll stop with that now. Sorry.)

I love the congregation too. It seems like there are two ways the masses work in novels: As mob justice, mob rule (scary dangerous bearing pitchforks); and as signifiers of this passive but common sense, gee whiz, middle of the road outlook. In each way they're each upholding the status quo (in the first scenario from monsters & witches; in the second, from crazy ideas) but it's interesting the differences between seeing them as malevolent or benign.

I think Gaddis plays them really well. Anyone know much about Gwyon's Mithraism?

November 18, 2004 at 9:08 PM  
Blogger DerikB said...

Coming in late to the party on my terribly slow dial-up (and Blogger is damn slow too).

Gwenda, I loved the bloody earrings episode, too. It spoke a lot to Camilla's mental state and perhaps points us to the odd state of her son, Wyatt.

Jeff, I don't think it is surprising you confused Gwyon and Wyatt. There is a certain similarity. Come to think of it, do we ever get Gwyon's first name?

CAAF, what is the Catholic vs. Calvinist sensibility?

November 18, 2004 at 9:08 PM  
Blogger DerikB said...

Carrie, we'll see more of the Mithraism later on down the road.

November 18, 2004 at 9:09 PM  
Blogger DerikB said...

There is an interesting connection between Wyatt's desire to see beauty in the incomplete portrait of his mother, as a potential perfection, and Gwyon's warning that: "You must finish it [...] Or she will be with you always." (60)

In a way finishing the portrait not only cuts off perfection but cuts of his mother, as if he exorcised her from himself and put her into the painting, a dead object, imperfect.

November 18, 2004 at 9:12 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

A WFBW passage:

"Only once, going to the window before it was light, he was stopped in his tracks by the horned hulk of the old moon hung alone in the sky, and this seemed to upset him a good deal, for he shivered and tried to leave but could not, tried to see the time on the clock but could not, listened, and heard nothing, finally there was nothing for it but to sit bound in this intimacy which refused him, waiting, until the light came at last and obliterated it."

November 18, 2004 at 9:13 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

...which passage he forgot to mention is on p.53.

November 18, 2004 at 9:14 PM  
Blogger CAAF said...

Re: Catholic v. Calvinist sensibility, I guess I'm going from the churches, making some pretty broad and I'm sure error-filled extrapolations. But.

In Catholic churches, there tends to be a lot of decoration for the glory of god. Great art= great love of God.

And I've never been in a Calvinist church, but if it's anything like Lutheranism/Protestantism in general, you're relying on the individual's ability to worship alone over worship in church. So. More simple. Plain lines.

Contrast Matt's WBFW quote (about the shadows): Calvinisty. Vs. my WBFW (about the rock confection of the Spanish town): Catholicy.

Again, I could be being really intellectually fradulent here but I was raised extremely Lutheran in an evenly divided Lutheran/Catholic town so it's the kind of schism I enjoy thinking about. B/c I think even when authors are in the act of refuting something they are often embodying the very thing they're refuting.

November 18, 2004 at 9:19 PM  
Blogger DerikB said...

Thanks, Carrie. I think Gaddis is more Catholic by your standards in this novel. JR on the other hand, probably more Calvinist.

Anyone out there IM? I'm derikbad (AIM, Yahoo) if anyone' online.

November 18, 2004 at 9:25 PM  
Blogger CAAF said...

You know what? I still don't know what IMing is. I get that it's an instant message. But does it appear on the computer screen? On your Blackberry? ... And why do those kids like that rock music? It's just noise!!!

November 18, 2004 at 9:29 PM  
Blogger DerikB said...

The last two sentences of the chapter:

"Tearing his eyes from the empty place in the sky where the sun had set, he stopped stumbling back by years and ran, vaulted through centuries. The letter he had torn in pieces lay on the moving air for an instant, was caught, spread up over the ground and blew away from him like a handful of white birds startled into the sky." (62)

Seems to be a mental break for Gwyon "vaulted through centuries" taking him back to some more primitive place.

November 18, 2004 at 9:29 PM  
Blogger DerikB said...

IMing is... you type something and hit 'enter', the other person sees it. They type and hit 'enter', ditto. On the computer screen or on some mobile devices. Not to be confused with SMS (a.k.a. text messaging) which is more a phone thing (and far more european).

November 18, 2004 at 9:33 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

anyone else find it odd that Wyatt's grandfather is referred to only as the Town Carpenter? I mean, I know about the Jesus/Joseph business, but still...

November 18, 2004 at 9:47 PM  
Blogger CAAF said...

Oop. Getting at the Catholic/Protestant sensibility: I've been reading Stephen Greenblatt's Will in the World and it references Aunt May's favorite volume, John Foxe's Book of Martyrs.

Here's an applicable passage about the battle of Catholicism v. Protestantism during Henry VIII-eraish England:

The Mass was an impressive performance, they conceded, but it was all a histrionic fake, a tissue of lies and illusions. [Hello, Recognitions - ed.] The theatre might have its value -- zealous Protestants like John Bale, who wrote anti-Catholic plays, clearly thought so -- but it had no business infecting worship. There was no miraculous transformation of the substance of the bread, as the Catholics claimed, olney a solemn act of commemoration, which should be conducted not at an altar but at a table. Faith should rest not on a gaudy spectacle but on the word of God, not on alluring images but on texts. The only certain guide was Scripture. It was a scandal, religious reformers repeatedly complained, that the Holy Bible had hbeen deliberately kept out of the hands of lay men and women (English translationsdeemed heretical had been burned in great bonfires by the Catholic authorities) and thereby confined to a Latin translation mumbled by priests. In the 1520s, aided by the printing press, Protestants moved to make an English version, shaped by the principles of the Reformation, widely available and to encourage the literacy that would give ordinary people access to what they called the plain, unvarnished truth. [Authenticity!-ed.] They moved as well to translate the liturgy into English and promulgate the Book of Common Prayer, so that all believers would understand the service and pray in unison in their own mother tongue.

This was the crucial moment in the devleopment of the English language, the moment in which the deepest things, the things upon which the fate of the soul depended, were put into ordinary, familiar, everyday words. Two men above all others, William Tyndale and Thomas Cranmer, rose to the task. Without them, without the great English translation of the New Testament and the sonorous, deeply resonant Book of Common Prayer, it is difficult to imagine William Shakespeare.

The achievement did not come lightly. Too radical for the doctrinally conservative Henry VIII, Tyndale was driven in the 1520s to the Continent, where eventually he was captured and garroted to death by the Catholic authorities. During the reign of Edward VI, Cranmer, as archbishop of Canterbury, led the Protestant reforms, but when the sickly Edward died in 1553 the throne passed to his sister, the Catholic Mary Tudor. Mary moved at once to reverse direction, and Cranmer, along with other leading Protestants who had not managed to escape to Germany or Geneva, was burned at the stake at Oxford in 1556. The memory of these exectuions -- which formed the core of John Foxe's great Protestant Book of Martyrs -- haunted the late sixteenth century and sharpened the violently anti-Roman Catholic sentiments of the committed reformers.

I know that's a long passage, but it blows me away. That the whole upset over Henry and the religious turmoil of those times would have led to ... the Book of Common Prayer ... which led to Shakespeare. And that those martyrs would pop up in Gaddis, even if in the shadows of the title Book of Martyrs, is beautiful to me.

November 18, 2004 at 9:49 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Lovely post, CAAF. Fascinating.

November 18, 2004 at 10:05 PM  
Blogger gwenda said...

Carrie -- are you still drinking? *whistles innocently*

Odd little notes I made:

never heard of a mermaid composed of a monkey and a codfish so that's funny (and I consulted my cryptozoology fraud books too); love the referene to the "rabbit episode" and kind of wish it hadn't been explicitly told; love this tragic/comic couple of sentencs (p 6): "The widower debarked in a lighter that cool clear NOvember night, with one more piece of luggage than he had had when he set out. Gwyon had refused to permit burial at see."; and I am a total whore for all the beautiful references to mythology and folklore... "the stars in broad daylight..."

I post all this because I am not long for this world. I have two chapters left in the last Kage Baker Company novel before bed. (!)

November 18, 2004 at 10:05 PM  
Blogger gwenda said...

(Okay, love the martyr post and also the spelling errors above are Camilla's fault.)

November 18, 2004 at 10:07 PM  
Blogger gwenda said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

November 18, 2004 at 10:08 PM  
Blogger gwenda said...

Okay, so I really typed "burial at see." My work here is done. A long WBFW night to you all, guys...

November 18, 2004 at 10:10 PM  
Blogger CAAF said...

Why, does typing in long passages about Shakespeare make me seem less drunk or more drunk? For the record, Mr. Tingle cut me off an hour ago, switching my beverage with some pointedness to Mandarin Orange tea.

I, too, am hieing to bed soon. I got a lot done today but have a lot more to do on this crazy story I'm writing. Hopefully the Mountain/West Coast zone people will start piping up and take up Richard's point about the Town Carpenter.

November 18, 2004 at 10:11 PM  
Blogger CAAF said...

p.s. I always type like that.

November 18, 2004 at 10:13 PM  
Blogger gwenda said...

See my reference to "burial at see." I should have been cut off an hour ago. I'm going to have a word with Mr. Rowe about this.

Theologically correct xox all round.

November 18, 2004 at 10:13 PM  
Blogger Syntax of Things said...

Bye ladies. I'll make sure that your keys are retunred first thing in the morning.

Richard, I wondered the same thing. It's also interesting that the Town Carp. attempted to right Aunt May's broken tree, but failed.

November 18, 2004 at 10:17 PM  
Blogger CAAF said...

Yes, authentic xoxo's all round from Asheville. Can't wait to read the rest in the morning.

November 18, 2004 at 10:18 PM  
Blogger Rake said... about late to the party.

The room smells like doob, there's smoked salmon mashed into the carpet, and CAAF's passed out face-first in the punchbowl. Guess I'll be here early next time, with my lampshade on.

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