The Recognitions
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The Recognitions

4.2 of 5 stars 4.20  ·  rating details  ·  2,203 ratings  ·  251 reviews
The book Jonathan Franzen dubbed the “ur-text of postwar fiction” and the “first great cultural critique, which, even if Heller and Pynchon hadn’t read it while composing Catch-22 and V., managed to anticipate the spirit of both”—The Recognitions is a masterwork about art and forgery, and the increasingly thin line between the counterfeit and the fake. Gaddis anticipates by...more
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Published February 7th 2012 by Dalkey Archive Press (first published 1955)
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This book has me in its grip.

Reading The Recognitions is like wandering in a labyrinth, and around each corner there's a new revelation. One feels a little lost at times, but there are familiar sights. Can we trust our guide? Gaddis gives you the sense he knows the way...until he lets go of your hand...and pushes you into the darkness saying, dilige et quod vis fac. You must cling to those words, because that's the only thread this Ariadne offers - except for the follow up text message he sends:...more
Ian [Paganus de] Graye
100 Words in Search of Precision

The purpose of both Religion and Alchemy is to realise Perfection.

Christianity places an obstacle in the path: Original Sin. We are born with an Inherent Vice. Nobody will give us assurance.

Our need for meaning and happiness is so great that we fall victim to fraud and pretence.

Gaddis suggests we must love and we must be active, in order to be happy.

We need to construct an undivided Self, a Whole, not a Soul.

There is only the Self that Lives, therefore the Life th...more
I've been meaning to read one of Gaddis' big novels for years now, ten or so actually. I'd always been drawn more to trying my hand with JR, but after reading Franzen's essay a few years ago on Gaddis I sort of changed my mind, and decided that if the day ever came when I'd read Gaddis I'd start at the beginning of his work. Then of course at some point I realized that being the type of person I am I had to read this book because it fills out the lower rung of the trinity of difficult post-1950...more
Gaddis’s first novel is a big, ambitious thing, a juggernaut, overwhelming, a planetary body’s worth of kinetic energy packed into its 956 pages. “Planetary” is a descriptor I come back to again and again while thinking about this book- it not only reflects the geographic scope of the novel, which unfolds across oceans and continents (though for the greater part we do not leave the microcosmic nocturama of New York City), but also the attempt to put a world’s sum of knowledge and history into on...more

Overlong? Probably. Grandiose? Almost certainly. Brilliant? Most definitely. This swollen, acerbic cult classic bursts with such wild imagination, vivid characterization and profound eloquence that I couldn't help but love it. Its many characters swirl in and out of each other's lives throughout the nearly thousand-page text, their paths and conversations overlapping like a most rambunctious Altman ensemble film (though with Gaddis's relentless and sometimes hallucinatory skewering of organized

Probably the best part of the The Recognitions is the very beginning. The novel seems destined to unravel as an absolute masterpiece after the evocative opening in Spain and small town New England, followed by a quick stay in Paris before descending (in the Dantean sense) into New York City for the majority of the book. But then it begins to meander while taking on a new agenda, one less of allusion-heavy storytelling than of society satire sans commentary: Gaddis lets large swaths of the book u...more
Nick Craske
Is Bob Dylan Authentic?

Robert anglicised himself and veiled his roots. Zimmerman changed to Dylan...

What is Authenticity then?

The dictionary definition is: true to one’s own personality, spirit, or character.

The Recognitions is many things, but ultimately, it's an artist’s quest of for an authentic self told stylistically through satire and the exploration of forgery, on all levels.

Wyatt Gwyon is an artist, who after meeting a rather dubious character with a fabulously dubious name, Rektall Brow...more
Aug 21, 2013 Jonathan rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: the whole goddamn stinkin' world
Recommended to Jonathan by: Nathan "N.R." Gaddis

"It rained; then it snowed, and the snow stayed on the paved ground for long enough to become evenly blacked with soot and smoke-fall, evenly but for islands of yellow left by uptown dogs. Then it rained again, and the whole creation was transformed into cold slop, which made walking adventuresome. Then it froze; and every corner presented opportunity for entertainment, the vastly amusing spectacle of well-dressed people suspended in the indecorous positi...more
This is a novel that I have not one single clue how to approach in terms of constructing a review — at least not one that would be in any way coherent. The overwhelming temptation is to just type this:


and be done with it. Something tells me, though, that a simple “squee” would not be good enough for certain friends of mine. There is also the temptation to steal someone else’s review and pass it off as my own, fitting with the themes of the novel. But I won’t do that, either. It would be cl...more
The Recognitions—my favourite Gaddis, although he wrote several wonderful books—delves deeply into the theme amongst the most intriguing to me in a novel: exploration of the dichotomy between the increase in both man's material well-being and his spiritual anguish in this, the modern age of consumer capitalism and progressive democracy; an age in which even the sacred and the beautiful are debauched by being made to sell themselves in the ubiquitous marketplace.

The principal characters in Gaddis...more
Dec 08, 2012 Mariel rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: this is all I know
Recommended to Mariel by: I was wrong to try and free you
Is that how he meant it? Before Otto could answer she went on, lowering her eye again, - No, how did he know what he meant. When people tell a truth they do not understand what they mean, they say it by accident, it goes through them and they do not recognize it until someone accuses them of telling the truth, then they try to recover it as their own and it escapes.

I want to tell what I mean, what my truth is, without fearing what came out is not what I meant, without hoping what came out sounde...more
I started reading this book the same way I assume many others did: after a yearlong staring contest. I'd be wondering, hmmm, what should I read now, and there it'd be, the biggest book on the shelf. And I'd say....nah. Until finally I decided to stop being a bitch and actually read it.

And you know what? It's pretty good. Definitely a work of genius, extremely well put together, chock-full of symbolism and flattish characters and all sorts of other pomo English-majory stuff. Endless riffs on frau...more
I’ve had The Recognitions on my horizon for some time. What really spurred me on to read it was a fellow Goodreader; Bonnie, whose review of this book is magnificent. Sadly Bonnie died last year and I still miss her wit, wisdom and perspicacity; she survives in her reviews and I would recommend you read her review of this.
This is not a book that you can pick up and casually read; it demands work of the reader. However erudite or well read you are you will not get all the references because they...more
There are so many good reviews of this on Goodreads already that I'm not sure if I can come up with something interesting or at least original. I'll save this as a project of its own, to be accompanied with organ music on some Italian vacation. Instead I'll offer up a quotation direct from the book itself. Not my words, but his.

And then they silenced, each bending forth, closer and closer, to
fix the book the other was carrying with a look of myopic recognition.
—You reading that? both asked at o...more
J Frederick

Hieronymus Bosch, Christ Carrying the Cross (1515-1516)

The Recognitions reveals a hellscape, where, flipping Hippo's Bishop, "good, exposed passive and foolish at the lifting of chaos, is the absence of evil". Disease, somatic and psychotic, wreaks the characters; buildings collapse and burn; words are cutoff, misinterpreted, parroted back and forth between posturing late hipsters or early beats.

-Chavenet. It really doesn't mean anything, but it's familiar to everybody if you say it quickly. Th...more
We live in Rome, he says, turning his face to the room again,
-Caligula's Rome, with a new circus of vulgar bestialized suffering in the newspapers every morning. The masses, the fetid masses, he says, bringing all his weight to his feet.-How can they even suspect a self who can do more, when they live under absolutely no obligation. There are so few beautiful things in the world.

Such higher machinations proved beyond me. So much was required. Too often I was found wanting. The Recognitions is a...more
David Lentz
In a habit I sustained in college I make it a practice to underline the most quotable lines of novels I read: The Recognitions has underlines on every page. Gaddis is a major literary talent who hasn't yet even begun to receive the following of which he is worthy. This novel concerns the discoveries, both major and minor, of what is authentic in life: The Recognitions is enlightening, almost beatific, in the way in which it focuses upon the shortcomings and moral lapses of humans in pursuit of t...more
Given that The Recognitions ends on Easter Sunday, this would seem to be the perfect day to review a book which is suffused with references to the bible and to manifestations of religious impulses, delusions and repudiations. Somewhere in the rites and wrongs; the tribulations and transubstantiations there is a story about the impossibility of being who we want to be; a profound and, however bizarrely presented, convincing examination of the ontological turmoil which is our lot.

More important t...more
Sentimental Surrealist
Now that I've finished this, I feel like I could read anything. I want to go back to other books I've had to set down on account of sheer difficulty, like Absalom, Absalom! and Finnegans Wake, and tell them I ain't afraid of no ghost. Because this sat on my shelf for several months, abandoned around page 150, waiting for the day when I worked up the courage to finish it.

That day was today. On April 13, 2014, I finished the goddamn Recognitions. Out of all the books I've had to abandon, there are...more
Eddie Watkins
I'm actually not finished reading this yet. I'm saving the last hundred pages or so, just to savor them. I did the same thing when I read through all of Proust. Sometimes I just don't want to finish a book.

This thing sat on my shelf for almost 20 years before I read it. I was intimidated by it, but I also wasn't too turned on by sections I would occassionally read. So it took me 20 years to recognize how wonderful it is. And what's strange is that it was a Recognition.

I read somewhere that Haro...more
Jul 12, 2007 Matthew rated it 5 of 5 stars  ·  review of another edition Recommends it for: jonathan franzen
Big, angry, sad, and rich. I felt changed after reading this, which is something I can say of few books. People speak of this book in hushed, religious tones sometimes, and it makes me nervous: wondering: am I like you?

Of course: I was 19 when I read the thing, so maybe this book was just adolescence's departing revenge upon succumbing to pseudo-adulthood.

Still, ten years later, even though I haven't read it since, certain scenes and moments reverberate, call themselves back. I'll forever take...more
Until I work up the gall to write an extensive summation of how important this book is, I'll leave it at this for now; no single text has influenced the way that I think about existence in general, more than the Recognitions.
Joselito Honestly and Brilliantly
This is a thick book I could proudly say I managed to read but did not understand. There is a part here which approximates how I felt while reading it. A character said:

"--Reading it? Christ no, what do you think I am? I just been having trouble sleeping, so my analyst told me to get a book and count the letters, so I just went in and asked them for the thickest book in the place and they sold me this damned thing, he muttered looking at the book with intimate dislike.--I'm up to a hundred and t...more
Oct 03, 2012 Paul marked it as assorted-rants-about-stuff  ·  review of another edition
I found a great article on


by Mark O'Connell which uses The Recognitions as its main example - here is the bit I liked, but the whole article is worth a read (

the greatness of a novel in the mind of its readers is often alloyed with those readers’ sense of their own greatness (as readers) for having conquered it. I don’t think William Gaddis’s The Recognitions, for instance, is nearly as fantastic a novel as people often claim it...more
James Dyke
Ok. So. I'm trying to avoid the typical responses to this text, such as 'it's about art and forgery yo,' or 'what's that coming over the hill? Is it postmodernism?'

Firstly, Mr Franzen, this text is far from 'difficult.' It is long. If you are a human being, then this text is as clear as the day, it's your life on a page, Gaddis recreates what it is to be human right in front of your eyes, you know all of these characters, admit it.

The Recognitions is absolutely a phenomenal work of art, of geni...more
To attempt to summarize this amazing book is an exercise in futility. Its nearly 1000 pages are replete with multiple plots, innumerable memorable characters, humor and anguish, clarity and obscurity. Controversial from the time of its publication in 1955, it was initially criticized and dismissed as incomprehensible and valueless, but the passing of time has revealed it to be in the eyes of critics, scholars, and many readers one of the most influential and finely-wrought novels of the 20th cen...more
William Gaddis-- the author who makes Thomas Pynchon look like Stephanie Meyer, Jonathan Franzen's both adulated-towards and inveighed-against "Mr. Difficult," and writer of this 1000-page tome it took me weeks to fight my way through.

To talk about The Recognitions is like talking about Ulysses or Gravity's Rainbow or any other famously dense and massive text-- it must be laden with all manner of caveats, presumptions, and dispellings of those presumptions before-- and perhaps instead of-- discu...more
Aidan Watson-Morris
i didn't want to write a review of this book, because it is a truly ineffable experience, so whenever a line would hit me particularly hard, i'd make a note of it. within pages of starting doing this i gave up doing it, simply because there were too many moments of awing beauty, from intentionally moving scenes to a casual turn of phrase or even a throwaway joke. if i quoted just one line, i'd have to quote the rest of the entire book - that's the only way i can truly convey how powerful this is...more
Angry white male writes at great length in the 1950s about how false and corrupt contemporary civilization is. If only we were all medieval monks, then everything would be okay. Imagine the worst of Joyce combined with the worst of Salinger.
Megan Baxter
This book was not for me. I was frustrated by it, but stuck with it in hopes that it would come together in some amazing way and justify its inclusion in 1001 Books You Must Read Before You Die. It didn't, relying on literary tricks and vagueness instead of characters or plot. I don't mind if an author focuses on characters but not plot, or plot but not so much characters (if the books are well-written.) But neither? You'd have to have something damned impressive to make me like a book that mean...more
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William Gaddis was the author of four very complex novels (he completed an as-yet-unpublished fifth book, a non-fictional study of the player piano, called Agape Agape, before he passed away) and an artist inclined to avoid the trappings of celebrity. Gaddis was born in New York December 29, 1922. He went on to Harvard, but was asked to leave the college in his senior year (the circumstances of th...more
More about William Gaddis...
JR A Frolic of His Own Carpenter's Gothic Agapē Agape The Rush for Second Place: Essays and Occasional Writings

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“If it is not beautiful for someone, it does not exist.” 40 likes
“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.” 36 likes
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