Thursday, December 09, 2004

Y'all Better Recognize

If anyone's around, please post away. And, if you're the last to leave, be sure to shut off the lights.

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.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Gaddis Shorts in Missouri Review

The latest issue of The Missouri Review, called “Experiment” (Vol. 27, No. 2), includes three previously unpublished short stories from William Gaddis.

Of the Gaddis stories, TMR editor Speer Morgan writes, “He wrote the three stories . . . during the '40s and '50s, when he was living a bohemian life in New York trying to learn his craft and find his voice. Writers become innovators by a combination of trial and error, accident, temperament, disappointment and discovery. These journeyman pieces demonstrate how naturally Gaddis experimented as he attempted different types of stories and voices. One of them reflects the New Yorker style of the 1940s; another is reminiscent of Beckett and the third is a sincere, moving story about underdogs, with echoes of proletarian fiction.”

This may be of interest to those that are looking for any little insights into our dour, enigmatic storyteller. I haven't read this issue yet and it doesn't appear that any of the Gaddis content is online, but I will post further if I get a chance to pick it up.

Notes From a Banana Plantation

OK, to get us started, here's the synopsis of this week's section (reaching back into the last section a bit, mind), courtesy

Some seven or eight years after leaving Paris, Wyatt is living in New York City and employed as a draftsman. He occasionally designs bridges to which his supervisor, Benny, signs his name, and he also restores a few paintings on the side, but he has done no original work since Paris. He has married (at her suggestion) a woman named Esther, an aspiring writer with a promiscuous "Village past." Their relationship is a study in futility, and the tension is compounded when they meet Otto Pivner, an aspiring playwright who recently left Harvard (whether he graduated with a degree is unsaid). Frustrated, finally, with both his job and his wife (and surely guessing of her adultery with Otto), Wyatt leaves both to forge paintings for Recktall Brown, whom he meets as a result of (or at least following) an infernal conjuration. Otto moves in with Esther; Benny fails to persuade Wyatt to return to his job. After a year or so, Otto too leaves Esther, and his place is quickly taken by a crass adman named Ellery. From the middle of this chapter onward, Wyatt is nameless.

Otto is in Central America working on a banana plantation (in the office rather than the fields), and working after-hours on his play, The Vanity of Time. Enduring the unwanted company of the tattooed Jesse Franks, Otto looks forward to returning to New York City tanned, his play completed, and sporting a black sling with which he plans to win sympathy and admiration.

Upon returning to New York in early December, Otto is invited to a Greenwich Village party for the unveiling of a new painting (actually a mounted workman's shirt) by an artist/critic named Max. Though some of the characters at the party have already appeared briefly - Agnes Deigh on page 100, Anselm on 103 - it is here that most of the novel's cast is introduced: Arny and Maude Munk, a childless couple always failing in their attempts to adopt; Herschel, a clever homosexual and ghostwriter for politicians and army generals; Agnes Deigh, a literary agent, lapsed Catholic, most comfortable in the company of homosexuals; Hannah, a dumpy Village artist, amateur psychologist, living by charity and her wits, fond both of beer and Stanley, a devout Catholic, composer of organ music, concerned for the souls both of Agnes and Anselm (real name: Arthur), an acne-ridden poet, obsessed with the spirit (but contemptuous of the common practice) of religion; assorted Village people (the suicidal Charles Dickens, guilt-ridden for being in a plane that dropped an atomic bomb in "the late hate"; the onanistic critic in the green wool shirt; Buster Brown; Sonny Byron; Adeline Thing); Ed Feasley, a practical joker who attended Harvard with Otto without learning an occupation; Big Anna the Swede, a flamboyant homosexual and cross-dresser; Mr. Feddle, a befuddled old man who writes poetry and pays to have it published; and Esme, "manic depressive, schizoid tendencies" (196.24) as well as a heroin addict and model, who also writes poetry. The party ends viciously with Herschel hitting Hannah and Anselm maligning everyone else. Otto accompanies Esme home.


Personally, I'm enjoying Otto's antics very much. He represents a big of source of relief--comic and otherwise--for me in this book, functioning as he does as a sort of silly, slapstick-y figure (and Gaddis manque. Is Ellery the "adman" also meant to be one?)

We have at least one suggested topic in the mirroring/reflecting going on with Otto, particularly on the banana plantation, where he preens in the mirror endlessly. Is it just a comment on Otto's vanity, his delusions of grandeur? A joke made by Gaddis at his own expense? Just another recognition? What say you? (Even his name is a mirroring of sorts, isn't it? Ot|to.)

Also, I haven't dug through the annotations for this part yet, or in other sources, but I assume there's some major roman à clef going on in this party scene at the end of our section. Anyone have the skinny?

Go wild, you drunkards.

(Additional Fun Fact: According to the annotations, Gaddis, who seems to have read most everything, said he hadn't read Proust's In Search of Lost Time past its "overture," meaning past the first fifty or so pages, I'm guessing. Perhaps he was busy reading Bright Lights, Big City--as J. Franz suggests.)

Monday, December 06, 2004

all roads lead to...

So, the relevant snippet from the Samuel Delany interview in Issue No. 1 of Black Clock:

Delany: Do you mean I love the city? I do! Yes, and reasons to love it, to seek it out, to leave the provinces and refashion your life among its squares and courtyards include the fact that sex in particular and satisfying relationships in general are more generously available there than among the forests, in the deserts, and on the plains--not to mention in the suburbs. Cities are the site of theater and art, which challenge God in their representations of complex worlds. That's why (Plato suspected and William Gaddis knew) they are fundamentally evil and godless--thank God!
This makes me wonder -- this being the sudden omnipresence of Wm. Gaddis -- if this is just like when your good friends move to a new town and everything suddenly seems to reference said town, etc. Or if it is far more sinister.

(dum dum dum)

I shall start reading again immediately.