Thursday, December 09, 2004

Section 3: Plantations, Parties, and Passing of Time.

More of my comments on the reading:

Loved the line: "Otto was young enough to find answers before he had even managed to form the question..." (131) and slightly further down: "...mementos of this world, in which the things worth being were so easily exchanged for the things worth having." (131)

On alchemy: " revelation, that doctrine which finds man incapable of receiving Truth al of a lump, but offers it to him only in a series of distorted fragments, any one of which, standing by itself might be disproved by someone unable to admit that he is, eventually, after the same thing." (132) I think this concept of distorted fragments speaks to Gaddis' analogical relation of alchemy to art. As Wyatt says "thank god there was gold to forge", the alchemical search for a formula for gold is similar to an artistic search for... well whatever the artist is searching for.

As mentioned in the summary Rake quoted, somewhere in here, Wyatt stops being referred to by name. He becomes a rather shadowy and greatly peripheral character... or rather a central but unseen character.

There must be some significance to the choice of a poodle as Recktall Brown's dog of choice. I don't know what that is. That whole rainy night, dog in the apartment scene feels very Faustian to me, particularly in light of the preceding discussions of alchemy.

The contrasting Recktall and Wyatt. Former: "Money gives significance to anything." Latter: "A work of art redeems time." (144)

Great way to show the passing of time: "Otto had followed her in, and he sat at the foot of the bed which had become a refuge, no longer a beginning but a desperate end, no longer a vista of future conquest but sanctuary where failure in all else made this one possession unbearable, unearned and come too soon." (151) Otto and Esther's relationship has already crested and broke without us seeing much of anything.

And slightly further along, this confusing dialogue that also passes some amount of time:

-Ellery?... Oh, Otto? Otto went away. (151-2)

That’s the kind of device Gaddis uses throughout his next novel "JR". Some element of dialogue let's us now that a transition has occurred.

Otto's stay at the banana plantation is comic relief, but not particularly interesting, in my opinion.

I've noticed a number of references to fingernail parings, and I'm wondering about that. I only started noting here on p 173: "… he [Wyatt, again no name used] makes gold down there, out of fingernail parings." It's tempting to relate this artist/fingernail connection to Stephen Dedalus' creator god, though Gaddis claims to Joyce influence.

The party scene is wonderful. Confusing at times, too many people, overlapping dialogue, but in that way very real.

And I really need to check for the source of the Henry James quote on 186: "To work successfully beneath a few grave, rigid laws." That's up my alley.

And that's probably enough/too much for now.


Blogger Richard said...

I agreet that Otto's sojourn in Central American was not terribly exciting, but I did like this passing observation:

"The plantation outside was quiet, the jungle held at distance by thousands of pert green erections rearing on the stalks of the banana plants. There were no poisonous snakes, no poisoned darts. Few years before, within every discouraged native memory, they had managed in primitive content selling a consistently inferior grade of sisal, hands of green bananas, and occasional loads of hardwood to ships which came in leisurely to trade. Then an American fruit company arrived, tired of buying thousands of hands of bananas set on hundreds of thousands of stems. The Company replaced the shaky wharf in the port with two firm piers, cleared and planted a tremendous plantation; and while waiting for their own trees to mature offered eight dollars a stem to local growers, since the Company ships were ready to call regularly. The natives gathered bananas in frenzied luxuriance, and planted thousands more. Then the Company's crop started to ripen. The price dropped to three dollars. The Company's bananas were cut and loaded, filling the Company ships to capacity. The Company ships were the only ones to call, since the Company owned the two new piers which the people had been so proud of at first. The local banana market disappeared. It simply ceased to exist. Ships passing the coast sailed through the smell of the fruit rotting on the trees miles out to sea. (It was now said that a plywood company in West Virginia was planning new and similar benefits for these fortunate people, so recently pushed to the vanguard of progress, their standard of living raised so marvelously high that none of them could reach it.)"

December 9, 2004 at 2:31 PM  
Blogger DerikB said...

I had that part marked in my copy, Richard. I was too lazy to retype it all though. Thanks.

December 9, 2004 at 3:33 PM  
Blogger Scott Esposito said...

I noticed that quote too. When it comes to foretelling the future of capitalism, Gaddis is pretty prescient (not just here, but JR too)

December 9, 2004 at 7:27 PM  
Blogger Rake said...

The annotations say yep, Faust:

135.17] that dog's following us: as earlier critics have noted, a deliberate echo of Faust 1147-77, where Mephistopheles appears in the guise of a black poodle. The following scene ("Study") opens with the poodle entering with Faust, as Brown's poodle does with Wyatt.


141.11-12] You’d think I was wicked as hell, even if what I do for them turns out good: Mephistopheles to Faust in Goethe‘s Faust. Der Tragödie erster Teil (Faust I), Faust's Study 1335 - 1336.

Mephistopheles. Ein Teil von jener Kraft,
Die stets das Böse will und stets das Gute schafft.
(Mephistopheles: A part of that force
That always desires evil but always fashions goodness.)
-- trans. John Soutter [JS]

For what it's worth.

December 9, 2004 at 7:27 PM  
Blogger Richard said...

Don't know that I would say Gaddis is being prescient there so much as observant. That's Capitalism--past, present, and future.

December 9, 2004 at 8:50 PM  

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