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Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things

4.09  ·  Rating Details  ·  255 Ratings  ·  44 Reviews
Wildly comic and bitterly satiric, Imaginative Qualities of Actual Things is Gilbert Sorrentino's ruthless, and timeless, attack on the New York art world of the 1950s and '60s. Among the best of Sorrentino's novels, Imaginative Qualities is also, quite simply, the best American novel ever written about writers and artists.
Paperback, 243 pages
Published March 1st 2007 by Dalkey Archive Press (first published September 1971)
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Rabelais' Codpiece
34th out of 104 books — 107 voters
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Sorrentino's Syllabus
28th out of 60 books — 27 voters

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Community Reviews

(showing 1-30 of 1,509)
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Mar 15, 2013 s.penkevich rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: You!
Recommended to s.penkevich by: MJ Nicholls
There is no place for an artist here any more. He has been officially dismissed in favor of the entertainer.

Gilbert Sorrentino mourns the artist, the true purveyor of prose drowning in the growing mass of fakers and sell-outs whose false glamour makes them the candle in which the literary flies will be immolate themselves. Through the voice of his spurned narrator, each chapter dissects the little-to-no-talented lives of several archetypal artists in the 50’s and 60’s New York art world and pi
Consider the following non-review a stellar example of my hyperactive way of reading too damned much between the lines; hence what I think he meant may veer off completely from what the author had actually meant. I do not have the faintest about what the author may have intended and I am probably typing out a bullshit non-review full of cloying platitudes. After all, I may be an even bigger phony than the phony artists who go about living their phony, make-believe lives with their phonier soundi ...more
MJ Nicholls
Re-read Aug 10-12 2012

This book is dear to me as a writer, reader, wannabe aesthete lacking the Ivy League education, and someone familiar with laughing in the dark. The book presents itself as an acid-tongued rant from an embittered narrator, commonly mistaken for Sorrentino himself, who performs a serious of misanthropic character assassinations over eight lurid, self-referential chapters.

As a satire, IQOAT is as blunt as it gets, though it’s wrong to view the book as a series of personal atta
Feb 06, 2013 Hadrian rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Viciously funny. You have to close the book every few pages sometimes, look up with a sigh, and say a long reverent "Daaaaaaaaaaaaamn."

Sorrentino takes a sardonic look at society in the 1950s and 1960s. Not just the grey flannel suit types, but also the beatniks and the hipsters which latched on to any developing counterculture - those who embraced the appearances of a counterculture, but were never able to shake an inner core of mediocrity. Comically shitty poetry, vicious and bitter minor maga
Jul 26, 2012 Geoff rated it it was amazing
”Such the perfections of fiction, as well as that honed cruelty it possesses which makes it useless. Everything it teaches is useless insofar as structuring your life: you can’t prop up anything with fiction. It, in fact, teaches you just that. That in order to attempt to employ its specific wisdom is a sign of madness.”

Holy hell, what a book! Caustic, caustic! Firey! Lava-esque! Melting that dear earth under our feet, that we need so badly to stand on! Solar flare! But not that innocuous type,
Eddie Watkins
Sep 30, 2014 Eddie Watkins rated it really liked it
Shelves: american-fiction
It's taken me twenty years but I've finally started AND finished a Gilbert Sorrentino novel. I've had trouble fulfilling my readerly duties previously because of my perception of GS as an unrelenting post-modernist (meaning not a sentence can go by without being injected with some "clever" "trick") and a splenetic parodist. Though my intuition recognized him as a master of sorts, these imagined qualities of his were like two Moe Howard pokes in my eyes making reading him impossible.

Well, both im
Mar 16, 2013 Megha rated it it was amazing
Recommended to Megha by: MJ Nicholls

Every time you read a Sorrentino, a week is added to MJ's life.
Ian GalaDali
Gross Vision in a Slow Dance

This book is hilarious.

As might (not) be hinted by the title, it achieves a special hilaritus without resort to the quiddities of verbosity. The concern here is all with the maintenance of literary thrust, pure and unadorned, in spite of itself. For it is metafictional:

“I’m making this up”.

I'm Not the First Person (to Say That)

Lest the reader be tempted to confuse the first person narrator with the author, let’s call the former Sorritoni.

Henceforth, there will be n
Jeff Jackson
Mar 02, 2013 Jeff Jackson rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Jeff by: John
I'm reading this with a bunch of friends and have already heard complaints about the "torrents of bile" and "oversexed imagination." Plus the inevitable "maybe he's writing this way because he doesn't know how to write a real novel." Yes, "real novel." Which cuts to the quick of Sorrentino's enterprise here, highlighting and then refusing to indulge in all the conventional - read: cliched - tropes of the so-called well made novel. (It's sad how little those tropes have changed since 1971.)

Jan 06, 2013 AC rated it it was amazing
A modern day Juvenal...! Raunchy, sardonic, ironic, irreverent, bitter, unforgiving... detached. Sorrentino knows that nothing you do that matters matters... none of the pain, beauty, craft, honesty...gets you anywhere in the modern world... only the hustle benefits you... and he excoriates any and all who resort to it.

Some brilliant writing..., not for the faint-hearted, though.
Dec 18, 2007 Chris rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: the poseur in us all
This is the kind of book that makes you look in the mirror and see the phony you're always cornered by at parties.

Sorrentino's "handbook", published in 1971, follows a garden-variety hipster clique in 1960's New York city. Despite dated names and references, most of which were unfamiliar to me, the novel is far from a completed action in the simple past. It is instead a caustic satire of the modern "artist" ("modern" artist?) as well as a strikingly accurate portrayal of the vanity and pretensio
Mar 25, 2008 John rated it it was amazing
Recommends it for: those seeking laughs, vision, poignance, & inspiration
Decades after I first read it -- and going on two years, now, after the author's death -- this book remains for me a touchstone. A swirling collage-portrait of a few New York strivers in the arts, only one of them with the talent worth a drink, it combines both a brilliantly cleansing parodist's cynicism and a deeply probing thinker's sympathy. The applicable cliche might be "humanity, warts and all," but this novel-without-narrative goes further than that, ascending to the level of an indispens ...more
Dec 23, 2007 Stephan rated it it was ok
Recommends it for: Artists who believe they're ahead of their time
I don't know much of Gilbert Sorrentino's work, so maybe this book is just his curve ball. "Imaginative Qualities" is a cynical satire of of artists who think they're artists, namely writers. But he doesn't spare anyone making anything during 50's and 60's village-era. This book is shamelessly vulgar...near pornographic at times. I enjoyed how wonderfully a mess his characters are. And how much he has hipster, "art freaks" pegged. He also doesn't spare himself, writing in a holier-than-thou, fuc ...more
Andrew Schirmer
Mar 19, 2013 Andrew Schirmer rated it it was amazing
243 pages of bitter invective meta-fictional satire. Absolutely brilliant. Immensely entertaining, and though Sorrentino would spurn such an epithet, accessible as well. You need this book in your life. Sorrentino's voodoo-doll pushpieces FUCK and eat and defecate poetry to great success.

When you live in a town like Seattle...or Portland...or Austin...

...where the art scene is highly insular and back-slapping...
...where arts "coverage" consists of sloppy blowjobs...
...more writers are concerned
Apr 09, 2011 Amy rated it really liked it
I really liked this book and how hipsters of the '50s basically fall into the same categories as hipsters today. Posers, fuck-ups, sell-outs, sluts, etc. It's easy to see myself and friends echoed in these obviously exaggerated character portraits. While, this book is clever and undoubtedly funny, I found myself wishing there was less breaking of the 4th wall.
Simon Hollway
Oct 13, 2015 Simon Hollway rated it it was ok
Shelves: american, 2015
Bowing out at the halfway mark on this. Crashing disappointment. The blurb reads, 'ruthless and timeless attack on the New York art world of the 1950s and 60s.' I had mistakenly imagined high society gaffes, gauche behaviour in art galleries, pretentious frauds defrauded by Machiavellian artists and Dorothy Parker types delivering withering put-downs to ignorant faux-art hounds. Instead it read more like Middle American suburbia and a second-rate Ivy League knockabout. The art world here predomi ...more
Jul 16, 2012 D rated it did not like it
Not finished. I thought I lost this book somewhere, hopefully at the pool because we’ve never recovered anything left behind at the pool. But no, it wasn’t lost there and I found it somewhere else. I had been wanting to lose it so that I wouldn’t be burdened with reading it all the way to the end. You can never lose things when you really need to lose them.

It starts out well enough, funny but it’s a mean funny, being mean to people and how funny that can be if you are properly mean; the mean-fun
Sep 13, 2011 Alex rated it liked it
Another 3.5er.

Why not higher? This is a pretty brilliant, avant-garde, self aware book. That is, in the long run, it's biggest pro and it's biggest con.

On the plus side, I've never read anything like it, and don't expect to read much similar. It is a scathing critique of the non-artist in the artist's world... the hack in it for the money... the groupie feigning culture to be a part of a circle. The pretension as well as the obliviousness within the circle. It's a novel aware of the artifice of
Ratan Sebastian
Jan 12, 2015 Ratan Sebastian rated it really liked it
A well structured book. Never dull. When it gets dull it acknowledges it and quickly moves on.

Putatively it is the story of a bunch of Pynchonian poets, novelists, sulptors and painters who happen to intersect each others lives more often than not at some party celebrating artistic mediocrity (This is a rather bitter book) or in their conjugal bed with their significant other. All the characters are known to the narrator and the author amuses himself with them.

Paragraphs progress on the whims
David Gillette
Nov 10, 2014 David Gillette rated it really liked it
So this book is about the metaphysics and epistemology of reading and writing, especially fiction, built around gossipy made-up (?) stories about the New York art/literary scene in the sixties. (If you want to know what a high-rent gossip site like Gawker would have been like [don't think about it too hard, you'll break my glib simile] in Manhattan in 1969, read this book.) Sorrentino constantly has his narrator emphasize that he is making the characters up, but then he also acts like he knows t ...more
Jan 06, 2014 Cindy rated it it was ok
Some truly hilarious sections but also a lot of I'm miserable, everyone I know is miserable and everything is fake - intermixed with lots of impotence. I'll take Patti Smith's version of New York artists in tbe 60's.
Thomas T.M. Wentonik
Mar 14, 2016 Thomas T.M. Wentonik rated it really liked it
Many reviews here call this thing bilious. That seems to be a standard characterization of mordant postmodernists. It's interesting to see Sorrentino struggle with or diagnose what he sees as the culture's disease of phoniness. Especially in light of a new generation of authors who deem that whole project (of diagnosing with satire and irony) phoniness par excellance. I'm thinking of, of course, David Foster Wallace. I wonder what he thought of Sorrentino.

I definitely had fun reading this book,
May 23, 2013 Phil rated it liked it
Sorrentino's biting humor and enjoyable style are undermined here by an overabundance of metafictional devices. He never misses an opportunity to remind us that he's making up these characters, so he can make them do whatever he wants, damn it! This sort of self-referentiality was a fairly fresh pursuit when this novel was written, but it's ironic to see a writer go at it in such an overeager, clumsy fashion in a novel focused on lampooning trendmongering artists. Luckily for the reader, Sorrent ...more
Mike Tracy
Aug 14, 2013 Mike Tracy rated it liked it
If you're looking for a story, pass on this one, especially if you're the type of compulsive reader who thinks it's a sin not to finish any book you start. If you are such a reader and you're looking for a story you'll regret starting this one. This is a set of a half-dozen or so character descriptions cataloging the flaws and foibles of its subjects. There is very little to be liked or admired in these players. On the other hand, this book is a dizzying, shape-shifting piece of cubist literatur ...more
Aug 13, 2015 Sam rated it really liked it
5 stars if I were less of a dolt. Sorrentino's writing is spectacular at the sentence level and the metafiction works like a charm. The narrator is irreverent, untrustworthy, compassionate, hysterically funny and filled with contempt at the liberalism pervading the NYC art scene in the 1950s. I hope to re-visit this book somewhere in my mid to late 40s.
Nov 01, 2014 Mark rated it really liked it
a book with more affection than most of reviews I'd seen seemed to suggest- sure it's parody and skewers its subjects harshly, but there is an apologetic aspect to the send-up that feels downright friendly sometimes. very metafictional too, which might be a demerit but I usually found the authorial intrusions likable.
Nick Duretta
Apr 11, 2013 Nick Duretta rated it liked it

I don't normally read "experimental" novels like this one (how Sorrentino would have hated that phrase!) so it takes some getting used to. The plot, such as it is, concerning three couples within the New York art world of the early 1970s, is nearly buried beneath an avalanche of free-flowing prose, dancing around what is going on but shooting off into many seemingly unrelated tangents. It's not quite stream of consciousness, but...well, it's difficult to say what it is exactly, but it is interes
Apr 22, 2012 Shannon rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: library
This book is a small masterpiece. I highly recommend it for any artist who's ever harbored any bitterness toward his peers. Or heck, anyone who can't stand his friends from time to time. Which is pretty much everyone, right? A brutally honest satire, this is a work of experimental writing and metafiction coming not from a desire to be the cleverest motherfucker in the room, but form a place of deeply earnest human feeling, regardless of how sharp the barbs. I wouldn't have known about this book ...more
F.X. Altomare
Aug 11, 2013 F.X. Altomare rated it really liked it
Experimental, edgy, and outrageously funny, Sorrentino's novel betrays all the rules. There's no plot, the narrator is obsessively self-conscious, and the bones of the story are bared to expose fiction as artifice in a way that only a master writer could pull off. The criticisms of the art world are keen, and Sorrentino manages to grapple with sexuality, literature, and society without sacrificing style. An excellent example of post-narrative, this anti-novel is not for the easily offended but i ...more
Austin Mandel
Mar 08, 2016 Austin Mandel rated it it was ok
A lot of this one went over my head, so if there's a shred of empathy in here I guess I missed that too.

The basis of the book is a fictional circle of artists, writers, and their significant others supposedly representative of the 1950s NYC art scene - a time & place with which I am mostly unfamiliar, so take this review with a grain of salt.

The book is a world-class display of low-ph cynicism on the part of the narrator.

The constant reminders that the characters are made-up are exhausting,
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Gilbert Sorrentino was one of the founders (1956, together with Hubert Selby Jr.) and the editor (1956-1960) of the literary magazine Neon, the editor for Kulchur (1961-1963), and an editor at Grove Press (1965-1970). Selby's Last Exit to Brooklyn (1964) and The Autobiography of Malcolm X are among his editorial projects. Later he took up positions at Sarah Lawrence College, Columbia University, t ...more
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“Rapacity plus taste is a formidable combination, since it so often passes for intelligence. One pities the artist in a world of such predators, all of whom are deeply engaged in the arts too.” 2 likes
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