Greg's Reviews > JR

JR by William Gaddis
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Sep 22, 10

bookshelves: fiction, favorites
Read from September 10 to 21, 2010

1.

Trying to make sense of corporate America is like trying to make sense of Beckett. Wait, this was a bad year when you made 5% more than last year which was a good year?----Why are they waiting for some dude who never shows up? Why doesn't he just get out of the pile of pig shit?.

I hate capitalism. I abhor it. I don't have a better idea for how things could run, but I know that there is something fundamentally wrong with it. Corporate America knows there is something fundamentally wrong with it too, that is why they play their game from a socialist standpoint; if the game were truly played fair most of them wouldn't stand a chance of surviving. America would be a vast wasteland of destruction with just a few having won everything. They would be the emperors of a big pile of shit. Hooray for them!

Fortunately laws are in place that let lots of people people rule over their own little piles of shit.

Before I even knew about the whole corporate take-over bullshit with Barnes and Noble I had dreams about the store turning into a fucking supermarket. In my dreams I yell and scream that this is all bullshit, we are a bookstore, not a fucking supermarket, that there is more to the business than just making the most possible money. In my dreams I'm a troublemaker who people get angry at, and then ignore while I throw temper tantrums. Now there is a guy who runs supermarkets trying to buy the company and institute policies more favorable to the shareholders.

Art and making conditions that are fiscally favorable to those greedy idiot children that go buy the name of shareholders do not go hand in hand. Actually, they are antagonistic to one another.

As is seen in JR.

2.

JR is now part of the holy trinity of novels. The father (Gravity's Rainbow), the son (JR), and the holy spirit (Infinite Jest). Feel free to move these around, arguments can be made for any of the books to occupy any of the spaces.

JR is not quite as engaging as Gaddis's first novel The Recognitions, but it's a more cohesive novel. I mentioned in my review for the earlier novel that it felt like it was straddling the line between the moderns and the post-moderns (this is such bullshit really, how is Joyce any less of a post-modernist than most of the pomo authors? High Modernism and post-modernism are the same shit, but whatever this makes sense if you don't over think it (and by this I mean my argument about Gaddis, you need to over think the modernism is post-modernism thing)). The straddling of The Recognitions gave the text an interesting tension. It was almost like Gaddis was afraid to really let go and let the novel go where it wanted to go.

He no longer has that problem in JR. I don't know if it is because writers like Pynchon, Coover and Barth had staked out some of the territory for him, or if he just grew more comfortable, more angry, more something in the twenty years he hid from writing novels in corporate America, but whatever happened he produced a capital em fucking Masterpiece.

3.

A caveat.

While the book is a capital em fucking Masterpiece I do not recommend you read it. Seriously, I'm telling you don't read it, or if you do decide on your own to read it. Don't let anything I say influence you to read it. If you do let anything I say influence you to read it and you hate the book I don't want to hear about it. I'll just tell you I told you so. And then I'll tell you that it is one of the greatest books ever written and that I told you not to read it on my advice.

JR is possibly a 726 page headache. Or it is an oh my fucking god of all literature this is one of the greatest fucking things ever!! type experience. The book is probably about 99.5% dialog (maybe higher actually). NONE of the dialog is attributed to anyone. There is no he said, Stella exclaimed, JR excitedly yelled, Bast resignedly agreed, Jack drunkenly argued. None of that stuff. Just approximately seven hundred some odd pages of people speaking who you need to build the story up out of the context of what they are saying and the brief action/description paragraphs that move characters either temporally or spatially around. If you can give yourself into the author. If you can trust that Mr. Gaddis. knows what he is doing and he isn't going to steer you too wrong then go right ahead and start reading. If you are going to get your asshole in a knot over not always being completely clear about who is speaking to whom or that you need to know everything immediately than this book is not for you. Roland Barthes kooky theory aside, this book shows the author is not dead, the reader is to the author and that giving yourself over to the hands of a very skilled writer, such as William Gaddis, is a transcendent experience. I imagine engaging in a novel like this is about as close as I will ever have to putting myself fully in the hands of a higher power.

BUT! that doesn't mean the book is going to excuse you from having to do some work on your own. You've got to pay attention and read the fucking thing like an intelligent adult and not as a passive consumer. And you have to be the type of reader who can enjoy that an author is creating a cantata of dialog (well it may have been an opera at first, but after a bit it had to be toned down...).

4.

Why we (re)read.

Why does a book like this appeal to me? Why at the midway point in my days (well midway point in a year) do I spend ten days reading a satire on corporate America written in a difficult and slow style? Why did I feel a total rush reading this? Why does reading a book like this get me excited for the possibilities of literature, the intellect, creativity, etc., that a straight forward book just doesn't usually do for me? Why are most, well all, of my absolute favorites all 'difficult' in one way or another? I'm not looking to impress anyone by reading this. If anything I'd recommend most people I know not to read this because I don't think they would have the patience to let the book unfold on it's own terms (this is the condition that I imagine one must have to read Finnegans Wake, I believe Joyce is an able writer (genius) who may make things difficult but not guide one wrong. As opposed to certain 'wits' on this website who believe that it is just gibberish that a computer program could write as satisfying of a read).

I read lots of books that aren't difficult. And some of those books I enjoy a great deal. Some I even award five stars. But they don't usually strike me as books I will want to return to again. For example Kafka's prose isn't the most enjoyable to read, I mean stylistically for me. But he is an author that I can see returning to again and again. His stories have an openness to them that invites re-readings and play, even though they take place in a very confining and formally rigid realm (I'm not just talking about plot setting here). Or why are DFW's long serpentine sentences really a light joy that can be savored? Why doesn't a more straight-forward writer not seem to invite re-readings? Of course this is only for me. For you there are probably a whole different set of characteristics that make you want to cherish one book over another. But can we even really point a finger to what it is in a book that makes one work over another?

5.

In closing. JR is an amazing book and I don't recommend you read it. Or read it but I disavow all responsibility for you reading it and consider yourself warned.
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Reading Progress

09/16/2010 page 370
51.0% "So. Fucking. Great."
09/19/2010 page 590
81.0% "Maybe as good or better than Gravity's Rainbow?" 3 comments

Comments (showing 1-50 of 62) (62 new)


Jimmy Yes! This is one of my favorite books. As I've probably mentioned like twenty times already.


Jimmy Now I'm totally jealous. I tried to review The Recognitions once and ended up with a five page rant that I subsequently deleted. Well done, Greg.


Jimmy Seriously, nice job. It's a difficult book to make articulate statements about. Really, I've a mountain of opinions on this fucking thing, but feel completely stuck when trying to write about it. I've also read the Gaddis Annotations in its entirety so that probably doesn't help much. It's just so goddamn wonderful to hear that someone else felt as strongly as I did about this amazing novel. And amen on the holy trinity thing. Those are probably my three favorite novels. Once again, kudos.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio I've gots to read this crazy ass book soon.


message 5: by Krok Zero (new)

Krok Zero Don't worry: I can safely say that I will never read this book.


Greg Thanks, Jimmy! Where did you see the Gaddis annotations? I looked over some of the annotations on williamgaddis.org, but most of them were fairly obvious references and allusions.

I'm going to re-read Carpenter's Gothic sometime soon. I read that one years ago, and I recall being surprised at how accessible it was. Nothing at all like what I expected from the couple of friends I had who had tried JR and given up.

MFSO, you should ignore my pleas to ignore my praise of this wonderful book. I think you will have the patience for it.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Already ignored (/contrarianly subscribed to) your pleas.

P.S. I absolutely LOVE the cover for Carpenter's Gothic. Even if it sucks I'll give it the benefit of the doubt.




message 8: by Jimmy (last edited Sep 23, 2010 01:20PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jimmy Greg wrote: "Thanks, Jimmy! Where did you see the Gaddis annotations? I looked over some of the annotations on williamgaddis.org, but most of them were fairly obvious references and allusions.

I'm going to..."


Oh, I don't have a hard copy or anything. I'm not sure that one exists, but when I first got heavily into Gaddis, I read everything of his in this frenzied, six-month rush, subsequently after this I basically read every link on the site. There are some interesting essays, as well as a couple of interviews. The annotations of the actual novels are probably less interesting on the whole, and I agree; the references are either clearly stated, or obvious enough to understand. Gaddis sure loves his Max Weber though.

I also completely agree with you that Gaddis had restrained himself in the most tactful way possible for the construction of JR. The Recognitions occasionally smacks of Stephen Daedelus-type earnestness, and Gaddis' emotional preoccupations with the way that he saw the world around him sort of overwhelmed his ability to make objective characterizations and scenarios. JR is, I think, devoid of any romantic sensibilities of that kind. It's funny too because when you consider the fact that the book is composed of like 99.9% dialogue, you'd think there would be so much excessive rambling about "the system", but it's really just a masterpiece; basically a by-product of Gaddis listening intently to the world around him for about twenty years.

I was quite fond of Jack Gibbs myself, especially his drunken rants about the Diderotesque encyclopedia of knowledge that he was at work on, mirroring Gaddis' own incomplete social history of the player piano. There is something to Gibbs' ambition to write this, and Bast's insane dedication to music composition. I feel that Gaddis ultimately thinks that the artist types in his novels feel shafted by a system which bogs them down with an abundance of mindless work that prevents them from doing what Gaddis repeatedly refers to as "work worth doing". Of course, he also portrays the ways in which these people are blinded by their own artistic narcissism. The black comedy aspect of these novels of his is so important in this respect.

Franzen sort of seemed to understand that Gaddis wasn't so entirely solemn as much as some of these fictional scenarios might lead the reader to believe, but he still seems to feel that Gaddis was just this old misanthrope, blinded by illogical social rage. JR is fucking funny. I mean like, as you sort of mentioned, as funny as something like Gravity's Rainbow. His intention was always satire, and I think that that's why JR is almost perfect next to The Recognitions; because he let go of choosing just one particular side. Gaddis seemed to admire the Russian novelists of the 19th century for this same reason. He was indignant, sure, but definitely not blinded by his own rage.

Add to all of this, the fact that JR is essentially a 726 page novel composed of (mostly) real-time dialogue, that actually works. That's just fascinating. And in a vague way that's what I just loved about Gaddis when I first read him; this is the strangest, most beautiful statement on the chaotic language of twentieth-century society that I've ever read. I'd truly never read anything like it before, and to this day I'm still just blown away by the accomplishment that JR is.

See, all superlative praise. Sort of why I think I might just keep my fawning sentiments to comment threads.


Jimmy MyFleshSingsOut wrote: "Already ignored (/contrarianly subscribed to) your pleas.

P.S. I absolutely LOVE the cover for Carpenter's Gothic. Even if it sucks I'll give it the benefit of the doubt.

"


Yeah, that cover pretty much fucking rules. Carpenter's Gothic is alright. Probably the most underwhelming piece that Gaddis wrote, but it's still really good. It definitely contains more straightforward third-person narration than any of his other novels. I wish these books were still fresh enough in my mind; it's been like three years since I've read Gaddis.


message 10: by Paquita Maria (last edited Sep 23, 2010 10:48AM) (new)

Paquita Maria Sanchez Thanks for the advice, Greg! As per your avid suggestion, I'm going to make this my next beach read. LIKE, TOTALLY EXCITED!


Jasmine I think I want to read it.


message 12: by John (new) - rated it 5 stars

John Greg, my compliments. A sweetly insightful song of praise for a masterpiece. Oh, & Jimmy, my sympathies regarding the difficulties of addressing what Gaddis has accomplished. If anyone's interested, I've also given the novel a 5-star write-up, here.


message 13: by Greg (last edited Sep 23, 2010 06:16PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Greg Brian wrote: "You call this book a 726 page headache, yet you read it in eleven days? Dude, your mad reading skills are way out of my league. (chicks want guys with skills)"

Totally. My usual way of scoring with the ladies is let them know I read Infinite Jest in ten days. It gets them lining up around the block!


message 14: by karen (new)

karen fact.


Jasmine it's why I'm in love with greg.


message 16: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Sep 23, 2010 06:23PM) (new) - added it

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio 'Heya honeys, wanna watch me read at a relatively speedy clip? If ya knowwhaddamean?'


message 17: by Greg (new) - rated it 5 stars

Greg Sometimes, if the lady is lucky, I'll even offer to read, while, you know, we're doing it.


Jimmy Sometimes, I let chicks do me while I'm reading. My books love it.


message 19: by Greg (new) - rated it 5 stars

Greg Chicks love guys reading really big books.


message 20: by karen (new)

karen this thread is super hot


Jasmine karen wrote: "this thread is super hot"

seconded.


message 22: by [deleted user] (new)

i do think this review is totally sexy.


message 23: by Greg (new) - rated it 5 stars

Greg I totally lied in the review. I only read this book to get chicks.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio How to make the most of a night on the town, literary-sophisticate seduction artiste style:

Stuff the crotchal region with The Recognitions, Gravity's Rainbow and Infinite Jest. This is called 'peacocking.' Then proceed to 'neg' the hell outta some females with great icebreakers like "I bet you don't have a fucking clue about the filmography of James Incandenza, bitch!" quickly turning the 'neg' into an intriguing challenge for The Object, remembering to immediately follow the 'neg' with a compliment like "I can tell you probably washed your labia this evening. Nice necklace."


Jasmine MyFleshSingsOut wrote: "I can tell you probably washed your labia this evening. Nice necklace."

does this count as one or two compliments?


message 26: by Greg (new) - rated it 5 stars

Greg MyFleshSingsOut wrote: "How to make the most of a night on the town, literary-sophisticate seduction artiste style:

Stuff the crotchal region with The Recognitions, Gravity's Rainbow and Infinite Jest. This is called 'p..."


Or, "Did someone throw acid in your face when you were younger? You're a real PGOAT."


message 27: by [deleted user] (new)

you'll always be my madame psychosis.


message 28: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Sep 23, 2010 06:59PM) (new) - added it

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Jasmine wrote: "does this count as one or two compliments?"

Depends on where the necklace is at the time. Seduction Artistes care not for details like this though, rather they need to spend all of their time and energy drawing any and all kinds of attention to their pitiful pursuit of mutually degrading sexual intercourse with peacockings like blond streaks in perfectly mussed and gelled hair, black nail polish, glinty jewelry, big idiotic leopard print hats, and exuding clouds of douchebag pheromones leading the ladies helplessly to the pot o' douche at the end of the rainbow.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Ariel wrote: "you'll always be my madame psychosis."

See, that's genuinely hot though. I'd fall for that one. Just sayin', ladies...


message 30: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Sep 23, 2010 07:02PM) (new) - added it

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Greg wrote: Or, "Did someone throw acid in your face when you were younger? You're a real PGOAT."

I would pay real money to see the reaction to this one.

Jimmy, you're on this right?


Jasmine MyFleshSingsOut wrote: "Jasmine wrote: "does this count as one or two compliments?"

Depends on where the necklace is at the time. Seduction Artistes care not for details like this though, rather they need to spend all o..."


so you are really into meaningless sex then.


message 32: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Sep 23, 2010 07:20PM) (new) - added it

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Me?? I wish! Life would be so much easier then. No, I've got this annoying problem where meaningless sex generally depresses me and makes me pine even harder for a genuine romantic relationship. I'm a sucker for that stuff. Though if I'm drunk enough all bets are off, self-control and so-called 'thinking-before-acting' gets tossed out the window and nerve-endings take control of the whole operation. But I've unintentionally trained myself into being unable, no matter how puppeteered by nerve-endings, to make the Seduction Artiste type concessions and efforts like pretending to be interested in uninteresting things that Objects of Base Desire are displaying, so it's also not like I'm fending 'em off in hordes either.


Jasmine sucks being a good person. you'll find someone eventually


message 34: by Greg (new) - rated it 5 stars

Greg MFSO, you just need to show off your big books more often.


message 35: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Sep 23, 2010 07:26PM) (new) - added it

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Jasmine wrote: "sucks being a good person. you'll find someone eventually"

And I'll ask her to be the PGOAT to my Orin and immediately start laughing at how nerdy it is and ruin the moment.


message 36: by Greg (new) - rated it 5 stars

Greg Jasmine wrote: "sucks being a good person. you'll find someone eventually"

She's lying to you. You'll die alone just like everyone else in the world, but in the meantime you got to neg those b's and fly honeys if you are going to get them in the sack.


Jasmine MyFleshSingsOut wrote: "And I'll ask her to be the PGOAT to my Orin and immediately start laughing at how nerdy it is and ruin the moment."

you know I think it is important to open with something insane.

for example open a date with a really tasteless dead baby/helen keller joke. Or you caan make a comment about how black light boards are written on with sperm.


message 38: by Greg (new) - rated it 5 stars

Greg Prettiest Girl Of All Time. It's from Infinite Jest


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Thanks, Greg! Man, we really think alike.

Brian, PGOAT is a character in Infinite Jest also known as Joelle van Dyne by birth and as Madame Psychosis on the radio. It stands for Prettiest Girl Of All Time.


message 40: by Greg (new) - rated it 5 stars

Greg MyFleshSingsOut wrote: "Jasmine wrote: "sucks being a good person. you'll find someone eventually"

And I'll ask her to be the PGOAT to my Orin and immediately start laughing at how nerdy it is and ruin the moment."


But then you can save the moment and go back to being a douchebag by offering to find a Mario who can film you the two of you together.


Jasmine Greg wrote: "Jasmine wrote: "sucks being a good person. you'll find someone eventually"

She's lying to you. You'll die alone just like everyone else in the world, but in the meantime you got to neg those b's ..."


don't listen to greg he just hates himself.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Greg's fast. TWSS.


message 43: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Sep 23, 2010 07:30PM) (new) - added it

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Greg wrote: "But then you can save the moment and go back to being a douchebag by offering to find a Mario who can film you the two of you together."

Ahaha! Grrooooooss!


Jasmine which is why he'll always be alone


message 45: by Greg (new) - rated it 5 stars

Greg Brian wrote: "Greg wrote: "MFSO, you just need to show off your big books more often."

No, I got one you can use: "Damn you're ugly! I just read The Charterhouse of Parma on the way over here, so do you want to have sex, or what?"


That one is good! I'd suggest not giving them the option of saying no. Maybe instead say 'do you want to have sex, or just blow me?' That way the b only thinks she has one of two options, and either way you win!


Jimmy MyFleshSingsOut wrote: "Greg wrote: Or, "Did someone throw acid in your face when you were younger? You're a real PGOAT."

I would pay real money to see the reaction to this one.

Jimmy, you're on this right?"


I always wanted to bang the Moms. What can I say? It turns me on when women correct my grammar. Just thinking about it ... mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmhhhhhhhhhhhh.


message 47: by Greg (new) - rated it 5 stars

Greg Brian wrote: "Greg wrote: "Prettiest Girl Of All Time. It's from Infinite Jest"

Oh, I have to read that sometime. But does it make any sense to use an indefinite article with that? Don't you have to call the object of your lust "the" PGOAT?"


Technically, yes. But you will have just zinged her with the neg that she won't be thinking clearly.


Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Greg wrote: "Maybe instead say 'do you want to have sex, or just blow me?' That way the b only thinks she has one of two options, and either way you win!"

I just knew you were really Mystery this whole time. Now I have proof.

That's a brilliant idea though, sounds like it's straight from the Colbert handbook, e.g., when he asks things like "George W. Bush: Great President or Greatest President?"


message 49: by Greg (new) - rated it 5 stars

Greg That is a perfect pick up line!


message 50: by Joshua Nomen-Mutatio (last edited Sep 23, 2010 07:45PM) (new) - added it

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio Is Gaddis rolling in his grave or dancing for joy in there? That is the question.


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