Author Topic: The Recognitions by William Gaddis  (Read 2542 times)

buttgammon

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The Recognitions by William Gaddis
« on: December 05, 2020, 10:14:28 AM »
This has been mentioned a few times on here lately - mostly in the thread about big novels - and it's getting a lot of attention because of a reissue by NYRB. Despite not having a great experience with JR, I've bitten the bullet and started reading this. So far so good; unlike that book, it's not just a mess of noisy dialogue, but something that seems much more delicately woven.

Re: The Recognitions by William Gaddis
« Reply #1 on: December 06, 2020, 11:26:25 AM »
I think I'll join you.

buttgammon

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Re: The Recognitions by William Gaddis
« Reply #2 on: December 06, 2020, 04:33:34 PM »
I think I'll join you.

Excellent! Glad to hear it. As much as I'm enjoying it so far, reading something of this length can be a lonely journey. There seems to be a Twitter read along thing at the moment but I haven't really engaged with it beyond knowing it's there.

Two chapters in (one of which is very long) and we've already had a few big changes in the setting and the focal point of the narrative. It looks like this is going to be one of those books that keeps unravelling.

Famous Mortimer

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Re: The Recognitions by William Gaddis
« Reply #3 on: December 07, 2020, 12:04:46 AM »
I enjoyed it a lot, but I'd recommend keeping this page open - https://www.williamgaddis.org/recognitions/annota.shtml for all the references which were probably a bit obscure even in the late 50s, multiple foreign languages, etc.

buttgammon

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Re: The Recognitions by William Gaddis
« Reply #4 on: December 07, 2020, 08:20:21 AM »
I enjoyed it a lot, but I'd recommend keeping this page open - https://www.williamgaddis.org/recognitions/annota.shtml for all the references which were probably a bit obscure even in the late 50s, multiple foreign languages, etc.

That looks great, thanks for the link! Googling stuff from virtually every page has been annoying.

falafel

  • Yes, blue.
Re: The Recognitions by William Gaddis
« Reply #5 on: December 07, 2020, 08:33:18 AM »
Is there a resurgence of interest in this book now or is it just a coincidence that the people on this forum have the same taste as me? I remember bringing an exceprt into a uni seminar in 2005 and my tutor (esteemed professor of American Literature) had never heard of it. I dropped it a couple of times and only actually managed to get to the end of it in 2013 on a 3 week holiday, at which point I could hardly imagine enjoying a book more or finding it more rewarding. I evangelised for a while but none of my friends were remotely interested or had heard of it, including some quite voracious readers. So I gave up, read J R (didn't like it as much as I wanted to) and moved on. Which meant I was really surprised to see The Recognitions getting so many mentions in the thread about long books. Just assumed it was doomed to decline. So what's going on?

buttgammon

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Re: The Recognitions by William Gaddis
« Reply #6 on: December 07, 2020, 10:18:09 AM »
A new edition has been printed in the last few weeks but there were posts on the forum before that, so perhaps there's something else driving the resurgence; of course, there's a reason why publishers decide to revisit old books anyway. I first heard about this book years ago, then I picked up The Tunnel by William H. Gass in a bookshop by mistake and sort of forgot about it, not least because I discovered I really like Gass. It seems his books weren't easy to get hold of in the UK or Ireland for a while and were possibly even out of print.

He's at least heard of in academic circles now (a Joyce scholar recommended JR to me when I told him about the topic of my PhD thesis) but I don't recall ever seeing much actual scholarship about Gaddis, so maybe he's still a bit too out there for study, and it's just that some literature lecturers who have adventurous tastes outside work like him? For what it's worth, I didn't like JR, but will have to give it another go at some stage.

falafel

  • Yes, blue.
Re: The Recognitions by William Gaddis
« Reply #7 on: December 07, 2020, 11:30:04 AM »
Maybe just serendipity. It feels a bit like when you find out someone famous you like didn't actually die after all.

Famous Mortimer

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Re: The Recognitions by William Gaddis
« Reply #8 on: December 07, 2020, 03:16:02 PM »
Is there a resurgence of interest in this book now or is it just a coincidence that the people on this forum have the same taste as me?
I think the "big fuck off novels" thread coincided with me wanting to get my teeth into something a bit meaty, and there was a bit of a coincidence with other people having read it. Also, Gaddis's "papers" are collected at the University I work at, which is another nice coincidence.

fucking ponderous

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Re: The Recognitions by William Gaddis
« Reply #9 on: December 07, 2020, 09:08:58 PM »
Been reading this on and off this past month. There are parts where I don't know what the hell he's talking about but the parts I do understand I'm very much enjoying. I'm in the middle of the first few chapters centering on Otto, who's such a great character. Very well observed portrayal of an insecure yet pompous creative type.

buttgammon

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Re: The Recognitions by William Gaddis
« Reply #10 on: December 08, 2020, 08:54:25 AM »
Been reading this on and off this past month. There are parts where I don't know what the hell he's talking about but the parts I do understand I'm very much enjoying. I'm in the middle of the first few chapters centering on Otto, who's such a great character. Very well observed portrayal of an insecure yet pompous creative type.

Good to know the focus switches to him for a bit, because I've only just got to the Otto bits and can already see he has the potential to be exactly that kind of character.

I love the fact that your username reads like a criticism of the book.

buttgammon

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Re: The Recognitions by William Gaddis
« Reply #11 on: December 09, 2020, 06:02:26 PM »
That party in the Village! 200 pages in and I can safely say I've never seen another writer so capable of taking a sword to pseuds and the way they talk at parties.

chveik

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Re: The Recognitions by William Gaddis
« Reply #12 on: December 09, 2020, 08:43:00 PM »
That party in the Village! 200 pages in and I can safely say I've never seen another writer so capable of taking a sword to pseuds and the way they talk at parties.

not even Proust? I might grab this one for christmas then, I love this kind of stuff

buttgammon

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Re: The Recognitions by William Gaddis
« Reply #13 on: December 09, 2020, 08:47:44 PM »
not even Proust? I might grab this one for christmas then, I love this kind of stuff

Hmm, forgot about him! There still seems something a bit more scathing about this, as though the writing can be particularly scathing.

Famous Mortimer

  • War - it's fantastic!
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Re: The Recognitions by William Gaddis
« Reply #14 on: December 09, 2020, 09:55:00 PM »
That party in the Village! 200 pages in and I can safely say I've never seen another writer so capable of taking a sword to pseuds and the way they talk at parties.
It's a particularly brilliant bit.

buttgammon

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Re: The Recognitions by William Gaddis
« Reply #15 on: December 10, 2020, 03:44:36 PM »
End of part 1. Valentine. Esme. All the ellipses... Wow, this book is fantastic!

falafel

  • Yes, blue.
Re: The Recognitions by William Gaddis
« Reply #16 on: December 10, 2020, 03:51:28 PM »
The party is absolutely wonderful. Is that when you meet Agnes Deigh? Theres a locked-in-the-bathroom sequence? There's so much in the book but I remember that feeling of being passed around endless circles of vacuous idiots in an absolute daze, a sense of low level hysteria underpinning the whole sequence. Maybe full on hysteria?

buttgammon

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Re: The Recognitions by William Gaddis
« Reply #17 on: December 10, 2020, 04:54:23 PM »
The party is absolutely wonderful. Is that when you meet Agnes Deigh? Theres a locked-in-the-bathroom sequence? There's so much in the book but I remember that feeling of being passed around endless circles of vacuous idiots in an absolute daze, a sense of low level hysteria underpinning the whole sequence. Maybe full on hysteria?

Yeah, I think it's where Agnes is first introduced. That undercurrent of hysteria is remarkable, it's like a fever dream at times.

Having struggled with JR, I was a bit worried about how the dialogue-heavy sections would be, but they actually work really well. They can be noisy, chaotic and confusing, but also very funny, and they're broken up by some stunning prose in places too

fucking ponderous

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Re: The Recognitions by William Gaddis
« Reply #18 on: December 11, 2020, 03:53:18 AM »
I love the fact that your username reads like a criticism of the book.
Haha, could be about the book's characters too

buttgammon

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Re: The Recognitions by William Gaddis
« Reply #19 on: December 21, 2020, 09:19:51 PM »
On the home stretch (i.e. third section) now. It's rare that a very long book ever holds my attention as much as this, especially 700+ pages in. It's still kept its capacity to confuse, surprise and amuse in equal measure.

Famous Mortimer

  • War - it's fantastic!
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Re: The Recognitions by William Gaddis
« Reply #20 on: December 21, 2020, 09:27:45 PM »
I think you've got the same feeling I had from it.

falafel

  • Yes, blue.
Re: The Recognitions by William Gaddis
« Reply #21 on: December 21, 2020, 10:34:43 PM »
Love seeing people enjoy this book.

buttgammon

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Re: The Recognitions by William Gaddis
« Reply #22 on: December 28, 2020, 10:47:45 PM »
"From behind, when she stood still in that yellow velours gown, Mrs. Deigh rather resembled an uneven stack of sofa cushions."

This starts a section 902 PAGES IN! Still really enjoying it, obviously!

chveik

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Re: The Recognitions by William Gaddis
« Reply #23 on: December 28, 2020, 10:49:25 PM »
got this big boy for christmas, I hope I'll enjoy it as much as you lot

Re: The Recognitions by William Gaddis
« Reply #24 on: December 30, 2020, 06:10:34 PM »
Googling stuff from virtually every page has been annoying.
There's a whole year's curriculum of references on every couple of pages! What do people think of the density of literary-philsophical-religious references? I'm nearly at the end of chapter 3, and though I'm really, really enjoying big stretches of the dialogue,  I'm just not sure I think all the references are well handled or enlightening. (I would say broadly I've been enjoying the book more as these started to become a bit less frequent and the emotional/relationship elements started to come to the fore a bit more)

The back of my copy (the Dalkey Archive) suggests Gaddis "anticipates the spirit of Pynchon"- but I think imagining a sequence James Joyce-Gaddis-Pynchon would run like this- (maybe buttgammon will correct me on this):

-Joyce almost certainly had all the weird references in Ulysses ready-to-hand: though Ulysses is obviously dense, I never really get a sense of him throwing stuff in that was outside of his understanding as a well-educated man with a knowledge of Irish/Catholic/Classical history. Other grand encyclopaedic books similarly convince as one mind's gargantuan vision (e.g. Anatomy of Melancholy).

-Pynchon uses references in a very different way- he wants to show something of how overloaded with information contemporary life is, so the mad range of references in Lot 49 or Gravity's Rainbow suggests not one mind's vision, but vast, inhuman, impersonal collections of data.

-On what I've read so far, Gaddis sits in an uncomfortable place between these two extremes: there are so many references in there that aren't doing anything except sort of sit there. If "The Recognitions" had been written today, I think I'd be saying that Gaddis was just throwing things into the text that he'd googled- he somehow doesn't sell the idea that he knows this stuff well, but on the other hand I don't really see that he's satirising or parodying anything about this knowledge. I found this getting in the way of the imaginative or evocative power of the book- for example the sentence:

"When the great monastery was finished, with turreted walls, parapets, crenelations, machicolations, bartizans, a harrowing variety of domes and spires in staggering Romanesque, Byzantine effulgence, and Gothic run riot in mullioned windows, window tracings, and an immense rose window whose foliations were so elaborate that it was never furnished with glass, the brothers were brought forth and tried for heresy"

didn't put images of an extravagant building into my mind, just images of Gaddis looking up words in an architectural reference book.
Maybe if it had been restricted a bit, so as to suggest more specifically that Gwyon and Wyatt had esoteric interests I'd have felt it was working better, but really Otto, and Esther's voices, and the narrator's are very similar.

Are there supposed to be references in the characters names? Otto as in "Auto"biographical character? The density of references is making me try and see something of Wyatt Earp in Wyatt and Old Testament Esther in Esther...

buttgammon

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Re: The Recognitions by William Gaddis
« Reply #25 on: December 30, 2020, 06:41:51 PM »
^I wouldn't correct you on that assertion because I agree with it. There's been some really good recent academic work on Joyce as an encyclopedic writer, but it manifests itself very differently with people like Pynchon. Finnegans Wake probes at some different ideas, particularly because much of the material was taken from stuff Joyce didn't necessarily have a background in (word lists taken from Armenian dictionaries or a book about the postal system, for example) but the overarching structure of it is something that attempts to create some sort of history of history.

To make a massive, unsupported claim that I'd never get away with in my day job, there was a shift around the second world war that changed the focus from what we can know to what we can't know/what is unknowable. Pynchon's ideas run away in such bizarre ways that they can't be contained by that kind of encyclopedia project, while The Recognitions keeps its references largely within a certain field but has so many mad digressions that seem to exceed its own limits.

The names are interesting, and I wondered the same about Wyatt Earp.

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