Saturday, November 13, 2004

First person to accost Harold Bloom and say "Boo!" wins

In what is surely a sign of something (cue ominous strings), at the annual BWI warehouse sale this morning (mob scene, but all hardcovers $2, everything else $1) I snagged a copy of Bloom's Modern Critical Views: William Gaddis. It features an introduction by Harold Bloom and essays by Joseph Salemi, Susan Streble Klemtner, Miriam Fuchs, Jonathan Raban and several others. The opening paragraph (and change) of Bloom's introduction is priceless and I post it here for your edification:

My one personal memory of William Gaddis goes back to a meeting of the American Academy of Arts and Letters, sometime in the later 1990's. We had been introduced perhaps a year before, and he approached me, expressing gratification that I had included The Recognitions in a canonical catalog published in 1994. Not knowing him, yet apprehending that his grave and courteous manner did not seem ironic, I stammered that I had admired the novel since 1955, when it was first published, and had reread it several times since, always with a sense of gratitude. Gaddis graciously nodded his head, and walked away. Returning to New Haven that night, I rather weirdly found a copy of the Penguin paperback of The Recognitions in my briefcase, where I had not placed it.

This oddity (and I still do not know how the book got there) reflects for me the uncanniness of The Recognitions, where the inexplicable is marvelously omnipresent, in an almost Dickensian way.
Spooky, huh? Or did Gaddis "punk" Bloom?

In any event, it seems we really are reading the preferred edition.

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.

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...

Thursday, November 11, 2004

FURLing Relevant Pages

Since I have a FURL account set-up already, I'm gonna be FURLing any relevant reading pages that come up in our discussions.

For those of us using RSS, there is a feed of just the relevant topic at:

Web access is to the my whole FURL archive, but can be filtered to the topic "Gaddis_Reading":

FURL can't handle whole sites, only single pages, but beyond it's saving capabilities it also works as a bookmark repositiory.

On Faust, Gass (and Wikipedia)

This was originally a comment on Derik's post about Faust, but it became too long so I thought I would put it here.

Goethe's Faust Part One is actually pretty short (particularly for anyone who has read Recognitions twice already) at 148 pages (Luke translation, Oxford World Classics pbk.). It is the essential Faust story. Part Two is only "loosely connected with Part One and the German legend of Faust."

Gounod's opera synopsis will provide a real bare-bones summary, but that will probably not suffice.

The quote from the beginning of The Recognitions is from Faust Part Two, lines 6834-35.

Since there are various translations, I'll give it here:

Mephistopheles [sotto voce]:
What great work's that?

Wagner [in a whisper]:
A man is being made.

The rest of the passage is worth reading (I'm, guessing, but since WG left the passage in its original German, he was invoking the entire work instead of just those words).

A man? So you have locked an amorous pair
Up in your chimney-stack somehow?

Why, God forbid! That method's out of fashion now:
Procreation's sheer nonsense, we declare!
That tender point where life used to begin
That gentle power springing from within,
Taking and giving, programmed to portray
Itself, to assimilate what came its way
From near or far - all that's now null and void;
By animals, no doubt, it's still enjoyed,
But man henceforth, being so highly gifted,
Must have an origin more uplifted...

This is a bit of a stretch, but I think that passage is telling, particularly considering Gass' comments on the novel's journey aspect (aren't all journeys a metaphor for man's progress or [in later works] an attempt to recover from The Fall) and the Oedipal aspect that Gass points out too would make this passage seem particularly ironic (a Gaddis focal point?). I won't elaborate because it would seem shallow to do so until I've actually read some of the frickin book.

p.s. For anyone who hasn't read the Gass introduction, it's very good.

p.p.s. I was thinking that this might be a good opportunity for some of us to contribute to the Gaddis page on Wikipedia. There isn't very much information there now and that seems a shame. Any thoughts?

Firstly... comedy.

Something to keep in mind when you start reading, Gaddis considered this a comic novel. Don't forget to laugh amidst all that erudition and fancy language.

And a call for assistance: Anyone know of a good summary or Goethe's Faust? I've never read it, but it has some connections to The Recognitions that I'd like to be a little more aware of. And since I don't have the time to read the whole thing...

Thirdly, if anyone else out there wants to join the club (you need an invitation to post entries but anyone is welcome in the comments), send an email to me or Rake or CAAF, and we can invite you.

The Working Library

Apparently Washington University in St. Louis holds the William Gaddis Papers. While this doesn't do me any good, the WU people have posted a list of contents of Gaddis's "working library." But don't take my word for it:

...the William Gaddis Papers include his working library, which consists of approximately 1250 volumes that were housed in his study, the "west library," and his bedroom. The bibliography available here is a initial draft of the working library's holdings listed in alphabetical order by author. Nearly every entry is followed by a parenthetical statement, which describes from where each text was taken. This information is based upon descriptions written on packing boxes, which did not specify the exact physical order of the texts on the shelves. Also, some bibliographic entries include notes about marginalia and other distinctive characteristics of the book; these are initial, incomplete notes, which will be completed once the collection is fully processed.

This list goes from "AAA Florida Tourbook. Buffalo, NY: Qubecor, 1996. (Day Room)" to "Zamiatin, Eugene W.E. Trans. Gregory Zilboorg. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1952. (3rd from top Shoe)." Somewhere near the middle is a copy of Les Reconocimientos, trans. Juan Antonio Santos.

(I love this sort of thing. I imagine these scenes:

--Honey, where's the Florida book?
--Florida book?
--The book, the Florida book. The AAA thing?
--I think it's in the dayroom, darling.

But maybe it's just me.)

A Shocking Confession.

I am a Gaddis virgin.

(I'm abandoning the TEV-favored royal "We" for the purposes of GDC.)

We're talking nothing. Zippity-doo-dah. Total cherry. I admit that only among friends.

Oh, I can talk a good game at cocktail parties. "Ah, yes, of course. JR. Sure, The Recognitions. Big books. Not for everyone." (If you're ever caught not wanting to admit you haven't read a book, nod and say "Not for everyone." It fosters an odd sense of camaraderie that usually discourages further probing, like you're in some secret club of Smart People together.)

So I am boning up, reading my primary, secondary and tertiary sources - even bought the last five dollar used copy of Fire the Bastards from Amazon. Doin' my homework. And with a fresh bottle of Bushmills and a series of color-coordinated shotglasses courtesy of my friends at Swink at the ready, I'm going to dive in this weekend. (I plan to visit the newly opened Duttons Beverly Hills to obtain my copy.)

Should be very interesting, as it usually is when I don't know what the fuck I'm talking about. I'll try to stay out of the way of the experts.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Further Scheduling

Trying to break down a few more sections. We'll need volunteers for leading the discussion for the week, which, as it's been planned so far, means posting (on Monday) a summary of the section with commentary, questions, whatever to keep the discussion rolling along.

Where the reading does not end with a chapter (hard to do with the really short chapters and the really long chapters) , the page in question contains a line/paragraph break that should be obvious.

[Start]: [pages] ([section]) ([leader])

11.22.04: 63-131 (I.II-III) (Scott)

11.29.04: 131-201 (I.III-V) (Rake)

12.6.04: 202-277 (I.VI-VII) (CAAF)

12.13.04: 281-342 (II.I) (SoT)

12.20.04: 343-389 (II.II) (Gwenda)

That takes us up to the holidays (is a break needed there?).

If we could have a few volunteers...

" that definition, mine is frigid."

Knight, Christopher J., Ed. "The New York State Writers Tapes: William Gaddis." Contemporary Literature 42.4 (2001): 667-693.

I offer a few excerpts from this article (let me know if you want a pdf of it) which transcribes from a lectures and Q&As Gaddis made in 1990, 1993, and 1994:

"I generally think of experimental work as work which can fail and probably does, but shows good intentions. Whereas when I finish my work, I think it's the way I want it, and it's not an experiment. It's a complete, completed… scientific enterprise." (669)

"I don't know if Marshall McLuhan is a name that is much heard anymore… a hot medium like television has high definition… the viewer needs to bring little to his participation… a cool medium, such as a book… has a low definition. It provides less information, leaving much of the experience to be filled in by the reader. Cool media are high in participation or completion by the audience. So by that definition, mine is frigid." (670)

He speaks highly of Dostoyevsky and Twain, and recounts his amusement at a three-man con job to rob him of his money on a bus.

Most of it is on JR and A Frolic of His Own.

Also, a downloadable interview with Malcolm Bradbury (32 minutes).

Popping open my first bottle of pear juice

While I track my copy of The Recognitions across the vast red space of Jesusland, I feel I need to give a little to the ongoing discussion. In what will probably become known as the SoT formula--one that readers of my site know all too well--I scoop the bottom of the Internet barrel to give you something that matters little but could help untie some of your drunken tongues as you read the pages aloud to your pet or significant other(s). A confused reader asked Google Answers, I am reading "The Recognitions" by William Gaddis. What is the correct pronunciation of the name Gwyon?

For $5, this is the answer that Confused Reader received:

Thank you for allowing me an opportunity to answer your interesting question.

Interestingly enough is this, purportedly from Gaddis himself, as quoted by A READER'S GUIDE TO WILLIAM GADDIS'S ‘THE RECOGNITIONS’:

“Asked once how to pronounce “Gwyon”, Gaddis said he didn't know; he had never said it aloud. It probably should be pronounced as one syllable, like "Gwynne," its modern form.”


This appears to be confirmed by numerous mentions about the original name GWION, which sounds very similar to Gwynne and could very well have become Gwynne over the years.

The name Gwyon is a very, very old name and appears in THE MERIONETH LAY SUBSIDY ROLL for the years 1292-1293, many centuries before Gaddis was born. This was a tax roll of Welsh people living in northwestern Wales. A SIMPLE GUIDE TO CONSTRUCTING 13TH CENTURY WELSH NAMES, relying on the information in this historical tax role, indicates that the name GWYON is a variation of the original name GWION, both of which appear to be pronounced: “GWEE-ON” (in the Welsh languages of the time “GWI-” and “GWY-” were typically pronounced “GWEE-“)

So as you can see, the name GWION/GWYON in it’s early form would have been ‘GWEE-ON’, but the assumption made by A READER'S GUIDE TO WILLIAM GADDIS'S ‘THE RECOGNITIONS’ that the pronunciation of the name is ‘GWEN’ (similar to the way the name ‘GWYNNE’ sounds) as Gaddis surmised is logically correct.

Below you will find that I have carefully defined my search strategy for you in the event that you need to search for more information. By following the same type of searches that I did you may be able to enhance the research I have provided even further....

Best regards;
Tutuzdad – Google Answers Researcher




(see item #10 on this page)

Of course, now it would be nice to know how to pronounce Tutuzdad.

feeling smarter already

So, I must confess that my main knowledge of William Gaddis (prior to this week) and The Recognitions was simply an entry under the "Gigantor Books I Will Probably Never Read" column in my brain. (I know and love Dawn Powell though, which has to count for something.) The prejudice I seem to have developed against large books troubles me, and so I'm hoping that being part of a company of readers (and challenging, tipsy readers at that) will help me hang in and get past it. Because, based on what I've been reading, it's worth it.

Tim Conley has a moving obituary for Gaddis over at The Modern Word, which provokes guilt at not knowing more about this writer to begin with and especially at not having had any idea that he died (and so recently). If I didn't believe more in Houdini than the afterlife, we could try to call for his spirit using bourbon. Anyway, Conley has it:

Like the best satirists, Gaddis wrote (by his own admission) from a sense of indignation. His novels’ world, for all its sound and fury (as a character in JR accuses: “Noise, you’ll hide in noise any chance you get”), cannot conceal or altogether stifle the short cries of hope. The corruptions of art, thought, and language are part of the dreadful pomp and carnival heralding stupidity and greed as not only respectable values but cause for injustice. “We’re comic,” the character Benny admits in The Recognitions. “We’re all comics. We live in a comic time. And the worse it gets the more comic we are.” To recognize how very funny Gaddis is thus entails a further, less palatable acknowledgement about ourselves. What is most distressing about the death of William Gaddis is the general lack of notice of it and, more importantly, of his work: America has, for the most part, again managed to neglect one of its major artists. Herman Melville, in the winding path of whose encyclopaedic efforts and investigations of iniquity Gaddis’s writings walk, endured critical ignorance, scorn, and indifference when and after he produced Moby Dick. If people will read thoughtfully in the next century, William Gaddis and only perhaps we ourselves will be redeemed with wiser laughter.

I am all about wiser laughter.

Russell Banks' appreciation from Conjunctions is also fantastic and anyone who could merit the conclusion is worthy of a toast:

Gaddis looms larger, casting a longer shadow of his own, than all the others of his ilk and kin, Barthelme, Hawkes, etc., in that term mainly, ambition, but it was an important one, and he helped keep it alive. His ilk and kin, more wise than he, or shrewd, may have backed away from it--too transparently oedipal, perhaps, or simply too risky to put so many eggs in one enormous basket. But when Gaddis went to market, he brought home the whole pig, and I love him for that.

Did you guys know this year's George T. Stagg (i.e. The World's Best Whisky -- if you don't believe me, ask Jim Murray) has been released? Picked up the honorary Gaddis bottle last night.

To the top of 5

After a few bottles of Pilsner Urquell leftover from NaDrWriNi, at the behest of our generous host (who kindly offered an invite), I've excavated my 1993 Penguin edition of The Recognitions from the postmodernist perch on my bookpile and dug in again to the mammoth novel that first enchanted me at 25. What immediately strikes me is the grand degree of contradictions on the first page alone.

I'm going to take this a few pages at a time. And if my esteemed peers would like to run with the ball, then we should be in solid shape before Nov. 15.

Loosely translated using my lousy pidgin German skills, the opening Faust passage reads: "What gives it?" "Humans are made."

Indeed, it is with this that we are given our first depiction of humanity, and what a dupicitous affair it is! We are introduced to Reverend Gwyon, who is remembering his recently departed wife Camilla at a Spanish funeral. Camilla, barely discernible even as a stiff, was fond of masquerades, but those that, in Gaddis's inimitable phrase, "of the safe sort where the mask may be dropped at that critical moment it presumes itself as reality." It is the "presumes" part which sticks. From the very first sentence, Gaddis is suggesting that the presumption aspect (which shares a commonality with the Dale Carnegie books referenced later on) is more odious than the pretending itself. A half century before the Central Park West socialites and the grand pretenders that inhabit nearly every social niche from Peoria to the White House, Gaddis promises a fierce battle that involves sticking a dull knife into the backs of America's worst betrayers.

What's interesting is that Gwyon has to actually step outside of the United States to mourn, or to feel. But even on the open waters, the American obsession with duplicity remains. The ship that takes him to Spain is the Purdue Victory, as if a Midwestern college football team's weekend win was the only palpable symbol that Gwyon (or any of us) could relate to within America. The ship itself leaves the Boston harbor, a port intertwined with America's roots. The ship is insured against "acts of God," which suggests a duplicitious association with religion, later to be revealed by the ship's surgeon. The surgeon is dressed in artificial garb, and this sartorial sham contributes (in part) to his incorrect diagnosis. The surgeon himself is forced to shave (or clean up) when confronted with Camilla's actual pain, and it's worth noting that Gaddis has the surgeon caught in a quandary of crosses, thus tying his indolence and dual identity into religion.

The cruel upshot seems to be: You can't go home again, but your national identity will follow you by way of its hideous influence. It's a grim and hilarious question that's certainly pertinent today.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

53 stupid reviews on the wall. take one down and pass it around. 52 stupid reviews on the wall.

In his 2002 New Yorker essay about Gaddis, “Mr. Difficult,” Jonathan Franzen notes:

"The Recognitions" was published by Harcourt, Brace in 1955, with a marketing strategy of "Everyone is talking about this controversial book!" It received fifty-five reviews, an impressive number by today's standards, and, as William Gass notes in his introduction to the Penguin edition, "Only fifty-three of these notices were stupid." The New Yorker gave the book a brief, smirking dismissal ("words, words, words"); Dawn Powell, in the Post, offered up an error-riddled sneer. Sales were about five thousand in hardcover, not bad for a challenging first novel by an unknown writer. But the only prize the book won was for its design, and it quickly disappeared from public sight.

Dawn Powell’s diaries make no mention of the review or of Gaddis, but in his fine biography of Powell, Tim Page writes:

Like many readers since, Powell was both fascinated and perplexed by The Recognitions, the gigantic, almost impossibly erudite first novel by William Gaddis. “Mr. Gaddis has wit and a vast fund of information, assets that tend to cancel each other out,” she wrote. “The reader scampering to catch the ever-defaulting hero in his many guises through bordellos and monasteries is exasperated by Author Gaddis as Ancient Mariner, waylaying him with lectures on the Church Fathers, the Antichrist Descartes or the Book of the Dead.

It is no surprising that the agnostic Powell, who gave hardly a thought to religion of any kind, should have become frustrated by Gaddis’s obsessive and often mocking allusions to saints, relics, and church history; his irreverence horrified believers and delighted “fallen” Catholics, but it had little relevance to Powell’s concerns. She must have been at least intrigued by the publication of another major book about artists making their living through forgery; the hustlers and poseurs in The Recognitions are not so dissimilar from those in The Wicked Pavilion. Reading both books back to back, one gets the distinct impression that Gaddis and Powell attended the same parties and merely reported them differently.

I would assay “perplexed” as perhaps a biographer’s gentling of his subject; it’s hard for me to imagine Powell as “perplexed” and I suspect Page of using a filter on that lens. Nevermind. It’s not surprising that Powell and Gaddis would report Manhattan differently. At the time Powell was 60ish and had weathered her own fair share of stinging reviews. Gaddis was in his young 30s, The Recognitions his first published novel.

For a more fiery take on Powell’s review, here’s an excerpt from Jack Green’s clearly-going-to-be-indispensable Fire The Bastards!(italics and some formatting supplied). Incidentally, I may be starting a rock band called Dirty Wisecracks at Random:
Read more »

Fire the Bastards!

Rake linked to Jack Green's "Fire the Bastards!" at the bottom of his last post. I'd just like to add a little annotation. The short book (now copyright free online) is a kind of meta-review, a review of the reviews of The Recognitions. If you think the reviews of Bakers's Checkpoint were appalling, check out some of these.

Sure, Green is highly biased, but if you can take the annoying formatting, it is worth at least a good skim.

Gaddis Interview

The Center for Book Culture has what they claim to be the only interview of Gaddis published in the United States. Gaddis would only consent to be interviewed by mail, and it's a pretty short interview. Here's one of the better passages vis a vis Recognitions:

WG: The story that "The Recognitions" was edited down to its present size from a much longer manuscript must have gained currency from a hasty review of my papers by someone who came across fragments there that I'd rejected myself. In a work of that length and time in the writing some of it was rewritten repeatedly, some scarcely at all, some cut, tossed out, recovered and placed elsewhere, some later inserted, some sequences worried at and tossed out entire.

Some announcements while we hunt up the cocktail mixer...

The Gaddis Drinking Club will officially begin next week, Nov. 15th. If you'd like to join in, we encourage you to use this week to locate a copy of The Recognitions, preferably the one with the William Gass introduction, and begin reading. The first week we'll be reading Part 1 Chapter 1, pages 3-62.

We're still working out the kinks but here's the general plan: We will be attempting to down a modest amount of Gaddis per week, with thoughtful commentary provided throughout the week on this site, led by one of your hosts. Thursday nights will be drinking & discussion night (first one Nov. 18), with a free for all between time zones. Less thoughtful. Even more opinionated.

Everyone is very welcome. Please comment. Please read. Please give careful consideration to what you will be drinking.

The Usual Suspects

Moody and Franzen on Gaddis:

At the end of my drinking, when I was living in Hoboken, I started writing my first novel, Garden State. Later, through a chain of kindnesses, someone managed to slip a copy of it to William Gaddis, the writer I most admired, then and now. Much later, long after all of this, I got to know Gaddis's son Matthew a little bit, and he said that the book had probably gotten covered up with papers, because that's the way his dad's desk is. But maybe there was one afternoon when it was on top of a stack. (Moody, "Primary Sources")


People love to rank the top novelists, but what about the most difficult? Is Gaddis the best example of an author whose degree of difficulty forcibly ejects readers from his works? Who else comes close? Hawkes?

Hawkes at least wrote shorter books. But the problem with ranking novelists by difficulty is that there are a lot of incredibly hard avant-garde novels out there, much harder than Gaddis, which most of us have never heard of. The thing to keep in mind about Gaddis is that he wasn't just hard; he was also brilliant and, in many places, fun to read. If he was only difficult, we wouldn't be talking about him. The same goes for Joyce. (Franzen, Online interview, New Yorker)

I mean to track down that issue of the Yawker with the Franzen-on-Gaddis, Status-Authors-vs.-Contract-Authors article, but it might take some doing. In the meantime, the Complete Review Recognitions page is, naturally, a good resource if you're in need of one. I've found the remembrances over at Conjunctions pretty interesting, as well. (And don't sleep on Fire the Bastards! either.)

Monday, November 08, 2004


Rake suggested 50-100 pages a week... It will have to be arbitrary as the chapters are very long.

Starting next week? Is that too soon?

Weekly leaders to summarize, ask questions, or just lead things? Or do we just go for a free-for-all posting and commenting? Probably some structure is better for purposes of keeping things going.


Just taking it for a quick spin, while we mix the drinks.

Still no plan, but get a copy of The Recognitions, first of all (I recommend the one with William Gass's excellent introduction (Penguin, 1993)).

I added a self-portrait Gaddis did, a propos, with a drink. Also links to the Gaddis Annotation site (lots and lots of annotations to The Recognitions).

Are polka dots okay for a background?

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