Friday, November 12, 2004

Textually Corrupt

Now that I have joined the club, I have to admit that the edition of The Recognitions that I read six or seven years ago, when I first read the book, was the old Bard/Avon mass market paperback. There is still a price written in pencil on the first page: $3. I bought the book at the best used bookstore in New Hampshire, and one of the best in New England, The Old #6 Book Depot in Henniker. I had read parts of JR and parts of Carpenter's Gothic at that point, and liked what I'd read, but felt for one reason or another that I needed to begin at the beginning. And so I did.

Little did I know that the paperback I read was, as Steven Moore notes, "a textually corrupt edition that should be shunned by Gaddis scholars". I wasn't then, and am not now, a Gaddis scholar, or a scholar of any sort, really. I enjoyed much of The Recognitions on that first reading, but also knew that I was missing a lot, perhaps even 80% of what the book was up to. For one reason or another, I didn't mind being lost in the book, though. I was both lost in the book in the traditional sense -- engrossed, enchanted, beguiled -- and lost in the pedestrian sense: I kept forgetting which character was which and how they related, had no idea for many pages what was going on, and sometimes wondered if English were even a language Gaddis and I shared. Consequently, my memories of The Recognitions are impressionistic, imagistic, and not tied at all to narrative or meaning.

I've been meaning to return to the book and study it more closely. Part of me is afraid of ruining the remembered joy of the first reading. But I have extracted that joy and saved it in amber and set it on the bookshelf beside me here, right next to the innocent heart I keep in a jar of formaldehyde. I've also just ordered the Penguin paperback of the novel, so for this reading I won't be textually corrupt. As for other forms of corruption ... well, we'll just wait and see...


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