Wednesday, January 19, 2005

The Obscure Chapter: 2.3

I still find a great part of this chapter very confusing and hard to get through (thankfully, it isn't too long, and the next chapter is much clearer).

Wyatt is returning home (again, never referred to by name), thinking he will leave his city life behind and go back to becoming a clergyman. His father, Gwyon has become as abstract as Wyatt and has become a Mithraist, to which he wants to initiate his son (he worships in a way the sun). The Town Carpenter, as I understand it, thinks Wyatt is a returned religious hero, Prester John. And your guess is as good as mine with regards to Janet (the mating with the bull thing escapes sense to me).

The weather is quite important in this chapter and Gaddis does wonderfully with making it seem quite ominous even though by all accounts its just a snowstorm.

I love the paragraph at the top of 399: "...the saneside outside sheltering the insane inside: to present the static sane side outside to another outside saneside [etc.]..."

I just don't know what else to say here. It's a strange, dark, and often completely obscure chapter.

7 Comments:

Blogger Richard said...

It is an obscure chapter. Looking back, I feel certain that this is where I left off, before returning a few months later, the first time I read the book several years ago. I must have been completely at sea.

Unfortunately, I'm not yet quite finished with the chapter this time. I'd hope to be done by tonight, and I was contemplating posting something about it, in part because it's kind of wack, and also because no one else had posted anything yet, and, alas, I will most likely miss discussion tomorrow night, assuming that's still the plan (Thursdays have been turned out to be a bad night of the week for me in that regard).

According to the Gaddis site's synopsis, Janet thinks Wyatt is the Second Coming. Dunno about the bull thing, either, though (even given the annotations bit about bulls)...

So, yeah, it's obscure, and everyone in the chapter appears to be pretty much looney tunes. Why exactly is Wyatt having a breakdown? Just because? I mean, given his background, it hardly seems likely that he'd be altogether sane. But, even so, what has set him off? The conversations with Basil Valentine? The strange exchange with Fuller in the previous chapter? Ellery and his crass views of art (as a last straw, esp. on top of Rektall's)? His exhaustion from his odd work schedule? Esme? All of the above combined with just good genes? He seems a rather fragile dude...

Obscurity aside, however, I have actually found much to like in the chapter--there is some fine writing and some interesting observations. I like the paragraph about the "pointless" winter wind on p. 411; the Town Carpenter's harangue about heroes on p. 408; the passages on p. 405-6 about Wyatt's experience of the house upon returning home, as compared with childhood--"oppressive familiarity", "the involuntary smile of recognition" at the statue of Olalla, the paragraph beginning on the bottom of p. 405, with "Childhood, the plain-dealer:", and continues on 406: "What greater comfort does time afford the objects of terror re-encountered, and their fradulence exposed in the flash of reason?"--though, right in the middle of that, the "Suffer barbaric childhood" paragraph on 405 is utterly perplexing to me; I liked, also, the description of the bull's movement as it approaches Janet on p.403: "Its approach was effortless, not a movement wasted, because every bit of it was in movement, movement which absorbed the weight of it and became motion coming forth here on legs as slender they looked as man's wrists swinging beneath. It came on at an angle to its path, which gave it a sense of drift as though suffering the wind to carry it along from behind; and the great weight of it was not apparent until it came close by, when even its breath dashed on the cold air fell with weight, and a hoof no longer adrift, but exerted to break the crust of the winter ground, made its force volitive, standing still."; etc... something simple, like, on p. 394, where we are told that Wyatt has a headache, "throbbing with permanence"... and much else besides.

also, no wonder he had a headache--it seems to be the only logical outcome of pages 390-394... these few pages (the synopsis: "a dense interior monologue"--yeah, no kidding) I basically skimmed, skimming also the annotations for the pages, in case something interesting jumped out...

elsewhere, going back a little, I only finished the previous chapter the other day--is anyone else amused by the existence of the character Willie, referred to by Basil Valentine on p.372-3? I was thinking that his brief phone conversation there was a little joke about Gaddis' Recognitions itself ("My, your friend is writing for a rather small audience, isn't he."), and so was pleased to see in the annotations that "Willie" is, indeed, William Gaddis, and that he makes another appearance later on...

January 19, 2005 at 11:46 PM  
Blogger genevieve said...

Hi to the club, thanks to Derik for permission and advice on commenting. I am a fan of TEV and decided to have a look at TR as you guys so obligingly put so much intriguing information up for the public's delectation. So here I am.
Now down to business, 2.3:
I agree with Derik and Richard that this chapter does, as it would seem, put chaos at the centre of this book somewhat. I nearly gave up here too – but I’m on holiday with four kids, what’s a forty-four year old student librarian to do? Keep reading in the midst of other madness.
It does seem a funny thing to do at this point in the book, have everyone at home disintegrate. It needs to be placed in the structure of the whole book which you only see as you proceed ( and yes, I’m almost done).
As a centrepiece we then see that Wyatt has flipped from religion to art and back to religion in a desperate attempt to stave off the madness that Basil Valentine accurately predicts for him on page 383 ll. 19 – 27, calling him and Martin “the ones who wake up late”. Little wonder there’s a storm in his soul.

Perhaps there is a rather clumsy pun going on too -no-one recognises him at home! but did Gaddis really need to do this to advance his narrative? or is he just having a play around with us? hard to know.

On style and influences and such stuff, first time around I did find it hard to accept Gaddis’ assertion that he had not read Ulysses before writing T. Rex – so much of the Wyatt material seems derivative, and of Beckett too (see p.385, “that is all, and Gresham’s law, and Gresham’s law for love or money” and sundry other places earlier on.)

I wonder what the student response would be if academics set Ulysses or Finnegan's Wake, a Beckett novel and T.Recs in one undergrad semester? What would you call it, 'The Hermetic Narrative - Modernism and Intelligibility'?

January 20, 2005 at 8:40 PM  
Blogger DerikB said...

Delayed response again.

I've read this book a few times and I still find Wyatt's mental state rather mysterious. I want it to be about his feelings of isolation and separation from something authentic, all that fakery and forgery. Perhaps it is the realization that all that work he did comes to naught. All those paintings sold off as others' work.

I do find this chapter mood and evocative, but some of that is destroyed by the passages of internal narration by Wyatt.

January 22, 2005 at 1:56 PM  
Blogger DerikB said...

Genevieve: Now that you mention it, the "dense interior monologue" in this chapter is quite reminiscent of Ulysses' chapter 2 or 3, which I always found quite tough going too.

January 22, 2005 at 4:03 PM  
Blogger genevieve said...

Yes, I agree, Derik, that his state is not clear but perhaps Gaddis wants us to watch him stumble, maybe this is his fictional version of what spiritual writers call the dark night of the soul ( admittedly in a pretty bloody advanced state!)
My gut feeling is that Gaddis has some thesis to advance through this novel that art and religion are closely related, that the act of creation can actually be superficial but because of our vanity becomes more important (in both art and religion) than the substance of what's made. The devil says in the opening epigram 'we have made a man', the novel perhaps describes the destruction of that man by what passes for art and religion in modern times.
Basil criticises Wyatt gently for wanting the substance to continue to animate his life and the lives of others even when he is not creating, in much the same way as a priest wants his work of preaching to spread out through his parishioners- I think these are concerns Eliot would also show interest in, though he did it more concisely! And became much more famous which is perhaps a shame. This is a splendid rant of a novel, isn’t it – my son would call it a “beast”.
I do wonder if Gaddis is looking at art and religion both as "opium for the masses" here. Which would kill a sensitive soul like Wyatt.

January 23, 2005 at 4:14 AM  
Blogger Scott Esposito said...

Good God this is obscure. Thank you all for being as absolutely stupefied as I am (btw I'm still really liking the book, even if I only understand about 1 in 20 sentences in this chapter).

January 24, 2005 at 1:24 PM  
Blogger DerikB said...

Genevieve wrote:"maybe this is his fictional version of what spiritual writers call the dark night of the soul"

Which comes from St. John of the Cross, the book the Reverence hides his liquor in!

January 25, 2005 at 10:56 AM  

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