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William Gaddis quotes (showing 1-30 of 94)

“Justice? -- You get justice in the next world. In this one you have the law.”
William Gaddis, A Frolic of His Own
“I know you, I know you. You're the only serious person in the room, aren't you, the only one who understands, and you can prove it by the fact that you've never finished a single thing in your life. You're the only well-educated person, because you never went to college, and you resent education, you resent social ease, you resent good manners, you resent success, you resent any kind of success, you resent God, you resent Christ, you resent thousand-dollar bills, you resent Christmas, by God, you resent happiness, you resent happiness itself, because none of that's real. What is real, then? Nothing's real to you that isn't part of your own past, real life, a swamp of failures, of social, sexual, financial, personal...spiritual failure. Real life. You poor bastard. You don't know what real life is, you've never been near it. All you have is a thousand intellectualized ideas about life. But life? Have you ever measured yourself against anything but your own lousy past? Have you ever faced anything outside yourself? Life! You poor bastard.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“How ... how fragile situations are. But not tenuous. Delicate, but not flimsy, not indulgent. Delicate, that's why they keep breaking, they must break and you must get the pieces together and show it before it breaks again, or put them aside for a moment when something else breaks and turn to that, and all this keeps going on. That's why most writing now, if you read it they go on one two three four and tell you what happened like newspaper accounts, no adjectives, no long sentences, no tricks they pretend, and they finally believe that they really believe that the way they saw it is the way it is ... it never takes your breath away, telling you things you already know, laying everything out flat, as though the terms and the time, and the nature and the movement of everything were secrets of the same magnitude. They write for people who read with the surface of their minds, people with reading habits that make the smallest demands on them, people brought up reading for facts, who know what's going to come next and want to know what's coming next, and get angry at surprises. Clarity's essential, and detail, no fake mysticism, the facts are bad enough. But we're embarrassed for people who tell too much, and tell it without surprise. How does he know what happened? unless it's one unshaven man alone in a boat, changing I to he, and how often do you get a man alone in a boat, in all this ... all this ... Listen, there are so many delicate fixtures, moving toward you, you'll see. Like a man going into a dark room, holding his hands down guarding his parts for fear of a table corner, and ... Why, all this around us is for people who can keep their balance only in the light, where they move as though nothing were fragile, nothing tempered by possibility, and all of a sudden bang! something breaks. Then you have to stop and put the pieces together again. But you never can put them back together quite the same way. You stop when you can and expose things, and leave them within reach, and others come on by themselves, and they break, and even then you may put the pieces aside just out of reach until you can bring them back and show them, put together slightly different, maybe a little more enduring, until you've broken it and picked up the pieces enough times, and you have the whole thing in all its dimensions. But the discipline, the detail, it's just ... sometimes the accumulation is too much to bear.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“If it is not beautiful for someone, it does not exist.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“If you want to make a million you don't have to understand money, what you have to understand is people's fears about money”
William Gaddis, JR
“What's any artist, but the dregs of his work? the human shambles that follows it around. What's left of the man when the work's done but a shambles of apology.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“How real is any of the past, being every moment revalued to make the present possible...”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“It is the bliss of childhood that we are being warped most when we know it the least.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“Everybody has that feeling when they look at a work of art and it's right, that sudden familiarity, a sort of...recognition, as though they were creating it themselves, as though it were being created through them while they look at it or listen to it...”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“Why do you treat me as they do, as though I were exactly what I want to be. Why do we treat people that way?”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“-Put on the lights there, now. Before we go any further here, has it ever occurred to any of you that all this is simply one grand misunderstanding? Since you're not here to learn anything, but to be taught so you can pass these tests, knowledge has to be organized so it can be taught, and it has to be reduced to information so it can be organized do you follow that? In other words this leads you to assume that organization is an inherent property of knowledge itself, and that disorder and chaos are simply irrelevant forces that threaten it from outside. In fact it's exactly the opposite. Order is simply a thin, perilous condition we try to impose on the basic reality of chaos...”
William Gaddis, JR
“...mementos of this world, in which the things worth being were so easily exchanged for the things worth having.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“Justice? -You get justice in the next world, in this world you have the law.”
William Gaddis, A Frolic of His Own
“Merry Christmas! the man threatened.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“I mean why should somebody go steal and break the law to get all they can when there's always some law where you can be legal and get it all anyway!”
William Gaddis, JR
“That's what I can't stand. I know I'll bounce back, and that's what I can't stand.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“When he was left alone, when he had pulled out one stop after another (for the work required it), Stanley straightened himself on the seat, tightened the knot of the red necktie, and struck. The music soared around him, from the corner of his eye he caught the glitter of his wrist watch, and even as he read the music before him, and saw his thumb and last finger come down time after time with three black keys between them, wringing out fourths, the work he had copied coming over on the Conte di Brescia, wringing that chord of the devil’s interval from the full length of the thirty-foot bass pipes, he did not stop. The walls quivered, still he did not hesitate. Everything moved, and even falling, soared in atonement.

He was the only person caught in the collapse, and afterward, most of his work was recovered too, and it is still spoken of, when it is noted, with high regard, though seldom played.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“Say a word, say a thousand to me on the telephone and I shall choose the wrong one to cling to as though you had said it after long deliberation when only I provoked it from you, I will cling to it from among a thousand, to be provoked and hurl it back with something I mean no more than you meant that, something for you to cling to and retreat clinging to.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“He walked out into the cold morning asking himself this heretical question: Can you start measuring a minute at any instant you wish?”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“What is it they want from a man that they didn't get from his work? What do they expect? What is there left of him when he's done his work? What's any artist, but the dregs of his work? the human shambles that follows it around. What's left of the man when the work's done but a shambles of apology.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“That was Youth with its reckless exuberance when all things were possible pursued by Age where we are now, looking back at what we destroyed, what we tore away from that self who could do more, and its work that's become my enemy because that's what I can tell you about, that Youth who could do anything. ”
William Gaddis, Agapē Agape
“Tragedy was foresworn, in ritual denial of the ripe knowledge that we are drawing away from one another, that we share only one thing, share the fear of belonging to another, or to others, or to God; love or money, tender equated in advertising and the world, where only money is currency, and under dead trees and brittle ornaments prehensile hands exchange forgeries of what the heart dare not surrender.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“Then, what is sacrelige [sic]? If it is nothing more than a rebellion against dogma, it is eventually as meaningless as the dogma it defies, and they are both become hounds ranting in the high grass, never see the boar in the thicket. Only a religious person can perpetrate sacrelige: and if its blasphemy reaches the heart of the question; if it investigates deeply enough to unfold, not the pattern, but the materials of the pattern, and the necessity of a pattern; if it questions so deeply that the doubt it arouses is frightening and cannot be dismissed; then it has done its true sacreligious [sic] work, in the service of its adversary: the only service that nihilism can ever perform.

(unused 1949 prefatory note to The Recognitions) ”
William Gaddis
“The Mona Lisa, the Mona Lisa....Leonardo had eye trouble....Art couldn't explain it....But now we're safe, since science can explain it. Maybe Milton wrote Paradise Lost because he was blind? And Beethoven wrote the Ninth Symphony because he was deaf...”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“—I really prefer books. No matter how bad a book is, it's unique, but people are all so ordinary.
—I think we really like books that make us hate ourselves.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
tags: books
“what is it you have, or don't have, that you sit there completely self-contained, that you can sit and know . . . and know exactly where your feet are? Yes, that's what makes cats incredible, because you know they're aware every instant of where their feet are, and they know how much they have to share with other cats, they don't try to . . . pretend . . .”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“It is a naked city. Faith is not pampered, nor hope encouraged; there is no place to lay one's exhaustion: but instead pinnacles skewer it undisguised against vacancy.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“That's what it is, this arrogance, in this flamenco music this same arrogance of suffering, listen. The strength of it's what's so overpowering, the self-sufficiency that's so delicate and tender without an instant of sentimentality. With infinite pity, but refusing pity. It's a precision of suffering, he went on, abruptly working his hand in the air as though to shape it there, --the tremendous tension of violence all enclosed in a framework...in a pattern that doesn't pretend to any other level but its own, do you know what I mean? He barely glanced at her to see if she did.--It's the privacy, the exquisite sense of privacy about it, he said speaking more rapidly, --it's the sense of privacy that most popular expressions of suffering don't have, don't dare have, that's what makes it arrogant.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“There’s much more stupidity than there is malice in the world...”
William Gaddis, Carpenter's Gothic
“Each generation was a rehearsal of the one before, so that that family gradually formed the repetitive pattern of a Greek fret, interrupted only once in two centuries by a nine-year-old boy who had taken a look at his prospects, tied a string around his neck with a brick to the other end, and jumped from a footbridge into two feet of water. Courage aside, he had that family's tenacity of purpose, and drowned, a break in the pattern quickly obliterated by the calcimine of silence.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions

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