B0nnie's Reviews > The Recognitions

The Recognitions by William Gaddis
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Jun 12, 12

bookshelves: favourite-books
Recommended to B0nnie by: Ian Heidin[+]Fisch
Read from May 18 to June 12, 2012 — I own a copy



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: btw thngs fal aprt :-()

We begin our recognitions...at the beginning. The title. It's a reference to a text mistakenly attributed to Pope Clement I. One of the characters, Basil Valentine, later explains,
The what? The Recognitions ? No, it's Clement of Rome. Mostly talk, talk, talk. The young man's deepest concern is for the immortality of his soul, he goes to Egypt to find the magicians and learn their secrets. It's been referred to as the first Christian novel. What? Yes, it's really the beginning of the whole Faust legend…What can drive anyone to write novel...?


That's almost an outline of Gaddis's book too.

There's an apocryphal account that Clement was martyred, thrown into the sea with an anchor tied around his neck.

mrtyrd

The Recognitions revisits this in various ways with the reoccurring image of "that tale about the sky being a sea, the celestial sea, and a man coming down a rope to undo an anchor that's gotten caught on a tombstone".


This novel is an exercise in recognitions - within the text, the characters, ourselves. Gaddis intended that we recognize and understand these references and allusions, and apply their meaning to the overall story. He has paid us a high compliment, and respects us as thinking readers who are willing to work with him,
What writing is all about is what happens on the page between the reader and the page . . . What I want is a collaboration, really, with the reader on the page where the reader is also making an effort, is putting something of himself into it in the way of understanding, in the way of helping to construct the fiction that I am giving him. - William Gaddis, Albany, April 4, 1990

The effort is worth it, for this book is a delight. But never mind - it stands on its own even if we don't get all the references. As Jonathan Franzen says about it, "Peel away the erudition, and you have The Catcher in the Rye: a grim winter sojourn in a seedy Manhattan, a quest for authenticity in a phony modern world."

There's help with the erudition - it's been enthusiastically annotated

Gaddis has a style of writing that I easily respond to. His themes are ones I want to read and think about.
Eliot and Dostoyevski are the most significant names here; none of Gaddis's reviewers described The Recognitions as The Waste Land rewritten by Dostoyevski (with additional dialogue by Ronald Firbank), but that would be a more accurate description than the Ulysses parallel so many of them harped upon. Not only do Gaddis's novels contain dozens of "whole lines lifted bodily from Eliot," but The Recognitions can be read as an epic sermon using The Waste Land as its text. The novel employs the same techniques of reference, allusion, collage, multiple perspective, and contrasting voices; the same kinds of fire and water imagery drawn from religion and myth; and both call for the same kinds of artistic, moral, and religious sensibilities.

...Life proved terrible enough by the 1950s to produce in The Recognitions the most "Russian" novel in American literature. Gaddis's love for nineteenth-century Russian literature in general crops up in his novels, his letters, and in his few lectures, where references are made to the major works of Dostoyevski, Tolstoy (especially the plays), Gogol, Turgenev, Gorky, Goncharov, and Chekhov. Gaddis shares with these authors not only their metaphysical concerns and often bizarre sense of humor, but their nationalistic impulses as well. - William Gaddis by Steven Moore


The first few pages of The Recognitions are like a separate novel, pared to its essentials. Call it The Spanish Affair . It's an account of the ship Purdue Victory , Camilla, Spain, and Reverend Gwyon. It ends with "They never forgave him for not bringing the body home". These pages sit in my memory like whole other books do.

The rest of the novel can be seen as the sequel. The story continues with the son Wyatt. We first meet him as a "small disgruntled person", four years old, shocking his stern (great) Aunt May by exclaiming "You're the by-Goddest rabbit I ever damn saw!" I wanted to hug that child right there. I love this unhappy mirror version of Christopher Robin.

IN WHICH WYATT EMPTIES THE POT ON WHICH HE MEDITATED FOR AN HOUR OR SO EACH MORNING INTO A FLOOR REGISTER.

The old Aunt May who raises him is a hard woman, yet oh, she breaks one's heart too, "when she made things, even her baking, she kept the blinds closed in the butler's pantry when she frosted a cake, nobody ever saw anything of hers until it was done".

The father, Reverend Gwyon, had "the look of a man who was waiting for something which had happened long before", buries himself in old obscured religious writings...but "the book most often taken from its place was Obras Completas de S Juan de la Cruz, a volume large enough to hold a bottle of schnapps in the cavity cut ruthlessly out of the Dark Night of the Soul.

Later he falls under Mithra's spell.

mithra

Wyatt grows up warped by this upbringing.


He becomes the man who seems to believe that, where there is God, do not stay; where there is no God run away as fast as you can. He planned to enter the ministry, but early on had found the Christian system suspect.


There's a long cast of characters that drift in and out and we lose sight of Wyatt for long stretches. Names are changed! Identities are mistaken! Life and art are so entangled that their boundaries are not clear. We constantly overhear fragments of conversations, catch glimpses of the characters as they hurry by.



The frame of The Recognitions is forgery: in culture, religion, art, relationships, sex, business, money. Its subject is an examination of meaning - what is real? what is love? what is God? can we ever really know who we are?

The personage Wyatt was in part based on the real life infamous art forger Han van Meegeren. His paintings are at best competent, and without mystery or depth. See if you agree from this sample.

SHIT


And take a quiz: Vermeer or Meegeren?

Meegeren made clumsy technical mistakes that should have alarmed the experts.

Copying masterpieces is now an industry in Southern China, "the world’s leading center for mass-produced works of art. One village of artists exports about five million paintings every year — most of them copies of famous masterpieces. The fastest workers can paint up to 30 paintings a day."

Millions of *masterpieces* churned out like cheap garments...(said in the voice of an angry Dr. McCoy).


Wyatt, I think, was a better painter than all these, starting with his copy of Bosch's table painting. He carried its themes in his head too, the ever watching eye of God and The Seven Deadly Sins.


boschtable


The copy of this painting underscores one of the themes of The Recognitions, the theme of forgery, and it is asking: what is original? Is it even possible to be original?

That romantic disease, originality, all around we see originality of incompetent idiots, they could draw nothing, paint nothing, just so the mess they make is original...Even two hundred years ago who wanted to be original, to be original was to admit that you could not do a thing the right way, so you could only do it your own way. When you paint you do not try to be original, only you think about your work, how to make it better, so you copy masters, only masters, for with each copy of a copy the form degenerates...you do not invent shapes, you know them, atiswendig wissen Sie, by heart...


And to carry the question further, has mankind, that master forger, outdone the creator? Each one of us is merely the latest link in the chain of human experience. Everything we know, believe, have, is founded on what has been passed down from the previous generations. Religion, culture, music, science, art. Nursery rhymes. Jokes. What claim to originality do we really have?

Everything is a collage built from previous works, a blatant example being The WasteLand yes, and The Recognitions too.


So, we can search out the allusions, and the bits and pieces directly copied from other writers. Our understanding is deeper, the experience is richer of course. But the new work stands on its own.


Bosch's painting is also used to introduce the theme of existential meaning and purpose. Its watchful eye of God raises a question: does anything mean anything at all, if it is not looked at by God? Wyatt says,

This...these...the art historians and the critics talking about every object and...everything having its own form and density and ...its own character in Flemish paintings, but is that all there is to it? Do you know why everything does? Because they found God everywhere. There was nothing God did not watch over, nothing, and so this...and so in the painting every detail reflects...God's concern with the most insignificant objects in life, with everything, because God did not relax for an instant then, and neither could the painter then. Do you get the perspective in this? he demanded, thrusting the rumpled reproduction before them. -There isn't any. There isn't any single perspective, like the camera eye, the one we all look through now and call it realism, there...I take five or six or ten...the Flemish painter took twenty perspectives if he wished, and even in a small painting you can't include it all in your single vision, your one miserable pair of eyes, like you can a photograph, like you can painting when it...Like everything today is conscious of being looked at, looked at by something else but not by God, and that's the only way anything can have its own form and its own character, and...and shape and smell, being looked at by God.

e

The cynic Basil Valentine replies:
Yes, I remember your little talk, your insane upside-down apology for these pictures, every figure and every object with its own presence, its own consciousness because it was being looked at by God! Do you know what it was? What it really was? that everything was so afraid, so uncertain God saw it, that it insisted its vanity on His eyes? Fear, fear, pessimism and fear and depression everywhere, the way it is today, that's why your pictures are so cluttered with detail, this terror of emptiness, this absolute terror of space. Because maybe God isn't watching. Maybe he doesn't see. Oh, this pious cult of the Middle Ages! Being looked at by God! Is there a moment of faith in any of their work, in one centimeter of canvas? or is it vanity and fear, the same decadence that surrounds us now. A profound mistrust in God, and they need every idea out where they can see it, where they can get their hands on it. Your...detail, he commenced to falter a little,- your Bouts, was there ever a worse bourgeois than your Dierick Bouts? and his damned details? Talk to me of separate consciousness, being looked at by God, and then swear by all that's ugly!


Like Eliot, sometimes Gaddis steals his material outright. The letter that begins "You: The demands of painting have the most astonishing consequences" was entirely written by Sheri Martinelli and used without her knowledge. She was the inspiration for the character who wrote it, Esme.

sheri

There are so many odd characters in this book worthy of mention:

Ed Feasley "He was not afraid: not a grain of that fear which is granted in any definition of sanity. In college, he had entertained himself and others, quiet evenings in his rooms when his allowance was cut off, by beating the back of his fist with a stiff-bristled hairbrush, then swinging his hand in circles until the pressure of descending blood broke small capillaries and spotted the rug and ceiling with spots turned brown by morning; or standing before a mirror with thumb and forefinger pressed against his carotid arteries until his face lost all color and he was caught by consciousness as he fell....He liked a Good Time."

Fuller "We would believe that Fuller had had a childhood only in helpless empiricism, because we all have. But it was as unreal to him by now as to anyone looking at his face, where time had long since stopped experimenting. That childhood was like a book read, misplaced, forgotten, to be recalled when one sees another copy, the cheap edition in a railway station newsstand, which is bought, thumbed through, and like as not left on the train when the station is called."

Recktall Brown "Recktall Brown's laughter might seem to rise the entire distance of his frame, a laborious journey, complicated by ducts and veins, cavities and sedulous organs whose functions are interrupted by the passage of this billowing shape which escapes in shambles of smoke"

Basil Valentine "There were moments when Basil Valentine looked sixteen, days when he looked sixty. In profile, his face was strong and flexible; but, when he turned full face as he did now, the narrowness of his chin seemed to sap the face of that strength so impressive an instant before. Temples faintly graying, distinguished enough to be artificial (though the time was gone when anyone might have said premature, and gone the time when it was necessary to dye them so, instead now to tint them with black occasionally), he looked like an old person who looks very young, hair-ends slightly too long, he wore a perfectly fitted gray pinstripe suit, soft powder-blue Oxford-cloth shirt, and a slender black tie whose pattern, woven in the silk, was barely discernible. He raised a gold cigarette case in long fingers. Gold glittered at his cuff."

Agnes Deigh "...a stout woman [with a muscular arm which, on a man, might have been called brawny] She wore a knee-length fur cape, a green summer cocktail dress with a scalloped hem, what appeared to be gold paper stars pasted on it, and décolletage which exposed a neckline of woolen underwear. She advanced with a distinct rattling sound"

Frank Sinisterra "...he found himself rescued from oblivion by agents of that country not Christian enough to rest assured in the faith that he would pay fully for his sins in the next world....he tried a brief defense of his medical practice on the grounds that he had once assisted a vivisection."

Gaddis obviously was fond of these creations of his, in spite of their flaws.

And there are so many quotable passages - if God did not relax for an instant in the Flemish paintings, neither did Gaddis in his descriptions. A character's suit is given a paragraph,
Crémer's shrug still hung in his shoulders, and he emphasized it with a twitch, throwing the exact lines of his neat blue suit off, for it was a thing of careful French construction, and fit only when the figure inside it was apathetically erect, arms hung at the sides, at which choice moment the coat stood up neat and square as a box, and the trousers did not billow as they did in walking, but hung in wide envelopes with all the elegance that right angles confer, until they broke over the shoes, which they were, fortunately, almost wide enough at the bottoms, and enough too long, to cover.

That's too much - and it's brilliant.

I think of the infamous opening,
It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents - except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness.

Ha, that makes me laugh every time. Though I'm laughing *at* it.

There's a lot of laughing *with* in The Recognitions. It's satire at its finest.

And there are animals: a Barbary ape; a black poodle that "spies" on Fuller; an ill-fated kitten; Huki-lau the Hawaiian poodle dog in a chastity belt; Paris cats that "go to sleep on Paris windowsills and ledges high up, and fall off, and plunge through the glass roof of the lavabo; "cats hung in telephone wires, Cow kills woman. Rooster kills woman. Dogs eat Eskimo".

And Mad Men ad men campaigns:
Kanthold Korsets
Necrostyle - the wafer-shaped sleeping pill, no chewing, no aftertaste.
Zap - the wonder-wakener.
Cuff - it's on the cuff.
Pubies - for men and women over forty, start living again.
THE GHOST ARTISTS ...We Paint It You Sign It Why Not Give an Exhibition?
Arsole Acres - from the Latin ars meaning art


Some of the many motifs that run through The Recognitions: the constant random snatches of overheard conversations are like a Greek chorus; Christianity is relentlessly contrasted to its pagan origin; characters pause in distress to brush a spot of moonlight off the sleeve; mirrors - distorting, creating, confirming, paralyzing "Wyatt was sent to bed for saying he could not move, as though the mirrors in the arms of the cross on the wall had gripped him from behind". Art, so much art - paintings, sculptures, churches, ornaments. Mummies and babies, roses and lavender, windows. Body parts. And death: suicide, murder, disease, drowning, calamity.

And suits!

Jonathan Franzen bitterly claims The Recognitions is "difficult". Maybe. I'll confess that I was better prepared for it than most people. I shrewdly majored in painting at university. The skeletons in my closet were helpful too - some closely resemble the characters in this book. Perhaps that is why I... umm...I tell you The Recognitions is MY book...I don't want to share it. I...I'll bury it. And dig it up from time to time! just as I did with those poor feral kittens from my childhood: dead from worms, buried elaborately with solemn service, the free Gideon bible from school in hand, laying flowers kindly donated from mommy's flowerbed - and yes - exhumed on the odd occasion to see how things were coming along.
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Quotes B0nnie Liked

William Gaddis
“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

William Gaddis
“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

William Gaddis
“...the face of Christ in your van der Goes, no one could call that a lie.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions

William Gaddis
“The dirty Arab children sold peanuts from the top of the basket and hashish from the bottom. They spoke a masterful unintimidated French in guttural gasps, coming from a land where it was regarded neither as the most beautiful language, as in America, nor the only one, as in France.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions

William Gaddis
“How real is any of the past, being every moment revalued to make the present possible...”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions

William Gaddis
“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

William Gaddis
“...mementos of this world, in which the things worth being were so easily exchanged for the things worth having.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions

William Gaddis
“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

William Gaddis
“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

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

William Gaddis
“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


Comments (showing 1-50 of 93) (93 new)


message 1: by [deleted user] (new)

So am I. Enjoying it?


B0nnie yes indeed, it's so wonderfully smart and funny I don't know what to do with myself. I started having fits of wild mirth from the very beginning, with the description of the ship's surgeon, who "was a spotty unshaven little man whose clothes, arrayed with smudges, drippings, and cigarette burns, were held about him by an extensive network of knotted string. The buttons down the front of those duck trousers had originally been made, with all of false economy's ingenious drear deception, of coated cardboard. After many launderings they persisted as a row of gray stumps posted along the gaping portals of his fly. Though a boutonnière sometimes appeared through some vacancy in his shirt-front, its petals, too, proved to be of paper, and he looked like the kind of man who scrapes foam from the top of a glass of beer with the spine of a dirty pocket comb, and cleans his nails at table with the tines of his salad fork, which things, indeed, he did."
Well Sean, I hope you're enjoying it too...or else...!


message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

I'm very much enjoying it. My favourite parts so far (up to pg. 240 or so) have been the party scene and the parts with Esther and Wyatt in New York. At first I was skeptical that it was a little too scathing of the characters themselves, but I'm starting to feel like Gaddis is more scathing of the way consumer capitalism desecrates true art and engenders the hollowness of the characters. It's brilliant, and it's fast becoming one of my favourite books.


message 4: by William (new)

William You brave person! I admire your fortitude.


B0nnie William wrote: "You brave person! I admire your fortitude."

Ha, not at all! stopping was the most difficult part - I was worried I'd only give up this book when they pry it from my cold, dead hands. You want to re-read and re-read.


message 6: by Mike (new) - added it

Mike Puma Stellar.


message 7: by sckenda (new) - added it

sckenda WOW! Hold on I have to reread review to make sure I understand what you were saying about what you did with those kittens, but WOW! I own the aqua-green Penguin of this book, which I started to read. I made it to page 63 chp. 2. THe first chapter is full of highlights and my pencil annotations. I wrote in pencil in the margins: "Dante Malebolge Canto 18-30; Look HOmeward Angel; Nicean Creed; Frazer's Golden Bough; TS Eliot; Prufrock; Wasteland; Gerontius; St. John of Cross; Bosch; Hammer of Witches;Truman Capote; Pelagius, Early Church fathers, and lots of bible citations." I think I did this without any help. I really enjoyed the first chapter and I thought the book was about art forgery. Something distracted me and I never made it back. I was intimidated by the length and I lacked confidence. But now that I read your review, and saw that I picked up on TS Eliot on my own, I think I might be able to handle this. The only deterrent now is its length, 956 pages in my version. That's like 4 books. But I guess you would tell me to go for it. Your wonderful review tempts me. OK, now I'm going to go back and try and understand about the exhumation of kittens and whether that was you or whether that happened in the book.


message 8: by sckenda (last edited Jun 12, 2012 07:32PM) (new) - added it

sckenda Just read your link about Sherri Martinelli. Esme. Loved her connection with Anais Nin. I would love to be a part of that group. I couldn't help but see this passage about Stanley the neurotic Catholic. (Any resemblence to certain gr reviewers is purely coincidental....

"Stanley, a neurotic Catholic organist also in love with Esme, to Italy . By day Stanley tries to convert her to Catholicism, but by night her "simulacra" assail him "immodest in dress and licentious in nakedness, many-limbed as some wild avatar of the Hindu cosmology . . . full-breasted and vaunting the belly, limbs indistinguishable until he was brought down between them and stifled in moist collapse" (828)

OK its official. I will read this this year. Infinite Jest will have to wait until next. Damn you, B0nnie, you just cost me a month of my life. You can't ever get that back you know.... i'm moving Recognitions to my bedroom bookshelf, which means its time is soon at hand.


message 9: by sckenda (last edited Jun 12, 2012 08:07PM) (new) - added it

sckenda Tomorrow I will let you know whether I dreamt of Sherri Martinelli or Zora Neale Hurston (Janie) or Anais Ninn-- or if I'm lucky all of them. Damn you, you God-fearing Albertans, for interfering with this poor Okies' sleep!


B0nnie Steve, I can see you'll be able to handle this book with no problem! It's interesting about Sherri Martinelli. I never knew a thing about her before. You, like Stanley? ha. Wait until you read the book.
...yes, it was me with the kittens...the result of spending most my time playing outdoors, doing whatever - a real mother nature's child...


B0nnie ha ha...well they're dead like the kittens so keep that in mind


B0nnie Mike wrote: "Stellar."

thanks Mike


message 13: by Mike (new) - added it

Mike Puma B0nnie wrote: "Mike wrote: "Stellar."

thanks Mike"


(shhh! truth told, I read it rather hurriedly the first time; I'm reading it more carefully now--our secret)


message 14: by sckenda (last edited Jun 12, 2012 08:07PM) (new) - added it

sckenda B0nnie wrote: "ha ha...well they're dead like the kittens so keep that in mind"

Well, if you are allowed to dig up kitten carcasses, why can't I do a little nocturnal resurrection of my own? Consenting adults right? Or do I have to pay a licensing fee to somebody's estate?


message 15: by Nilesh (new)

Nilesh Kashyap Can I anyhow add this review to my read shelf possibly with 5-star rating.
Great Stellar review BOnnie. I also (like Steve) got interested in this book after reading this review but thanks to page count, not going to read it soon.


B0nnie Mike wrote: "B0nnie wrote: "Mike wrote: "Stellar."

thanks Mike"

(shhh! truth told, I read it rather hurriedly the first time; I'm reading it more carefully now--our secret)"


act in haste repent in leisure!


B0nnie Steve wrote: "B0nnie wrote: "ha ha...well they're dead like the kittens so keep that in mind"

Well, if you are allowed to dig up kitten carcasses, why can't I do a little nocturnal resurrection of my own? Conse..."


Oh yes, anyway characters in books are real to us reading types. You get so attached. Too bad you're putting off Infinite Jest - there's the P.G.O.A.T. (view spoiler)
BTW, I was going to suggest Visions of Johanna as a theme song for The Recognitions. I totally ran out of space!


B0nnie Nilesh wrote: "Can I anyhow add this review to my read shelf possibly with 5-star rating.
Great Stellar review BOnnie. I also (like Steve) got interested in this book after reading this review but thanks to page ..."


Well you just read War and Peace so I understand!


message 19: by sckenda (new) - added it

sckenda B0nnie wrote: too bad you're putting off Infinite Jest - there's the P.G.O.A.T. BTW, I was going to suggest Visions of Johanna as a theme song for The Recognitions. I totally ran out of space .."

Well, if there is a PGOAT, I might have to bump IJ up. Let's just say, "I have issues." And lack of space is no excuse for not making room for Dylan. I don't want to impose on our friendship or anything, but I sort of expect a soundtrack with every review now.


B0nnie You'll love the pgoat!
http://vimeo.com/30256466


message 21: by sckenda (new) - added it

sckenda Dug out Blonde on Blonde. Listening to Visions of Johanna again.


message 22: by [deleted user] (new)

I like the sound of this. This seems different from the erstwhile pile of postmodernities I've thrown against the wall. This seems more European than American. More focused on the persevering spirit of the Humanities than the variegated surface data of the passing moment. Maybe this is the postmodernism that could have been had Borges held more sway than television.


message 23: by [deleted user] (last edited Jun 12, 2012 10:01PM) (new)

"that tale about the sky being a sea, the celestial sea, and a man coming down a rope to undo an anchor that's gotten caught on a tombstone".


is this line a Gaddis original?

"He becomes the man who seems to believe that, where there is God, do not stay; where there is no God run away as fast as you can. He planned to enter the ministry, but early on had found the Christian system suspect."

Wyatt est moi!


message 24: by sckenda (new) - added it

sckenda I'm soon to be 46 and this album/song was released the year of my birth. I have listened to this for the first time in many years. I am older and wiser, but I still don't have a clue how to decipher this song. But I am challenged and I will continue to work on this new challenge. First, these lyrics are beautifully enigmatic. They are virtually a novella. OK I am beginning to understand why smart money is on Dylan. "the ghost of electricity howls in the bones of her face." That's poetry.


B0nnie Justin, I hope that wall has been repaired...some of those po-mos are pretty hefty. TR is extremely entertaining. It's a satire on the very spirit of postmodernism while kind of being part of it at the same time. If the references and allusions to the past 2000 years of western culture add weight to a book, this one's a ton.


B0nnie Justin wrote: ""that tale about the sky being a sea, the celestial sea, and a man coming down a rope to undo an anchor that's gotten caught on a tombstone".


is this line a Gaddis original?

"He becomes the man ..."

Gervase of Tilbury: "There is an amusing story of this celestial sea as late as Gervase of Tilbury [thirteenth century]. Some people coming out of a church were surprised to see an anchor dangling by a rope from the sky, which caught in the tombstones, presently a man was seen descending with the object of detaching it, but as he reached the earth he died as we should if drowned in water"
http://www.williamgaddis.org/recognit...
moi aussi...


B0nnie Steve wrote: "I'm soon to be 46 and this album/song was released the year of my birth. I have listened to this for the first time in many years. I am older and wiser, but I still don't have a clue how to deciphe..."

The Recognitions was based on that song...see?


message 28: by sckenda (new) - added it

sckenda B0nnie wrote: "You'll love the pgoat!
http://vimeo.com/30256466"


Ok at first I listened to VOJ on my Blonde on Blonde. Totally clueless. THen I watched your video. Is Johanna supposed to be Joan Baez, b/c they kept going back to her picture every time Johanna is brought up? BTW Joan Baez may the woman for whom I abandon my children. is she a PGOT. Is "a" the proper article for "PGOT" or it "the" :)


B0nnie I think "was"...Joan Baez is Louise...?


message 30: by sckenda (new) - added it

sckenda Well, I'm going to sleep, and hope I dream of Joan. I don't know who Ron Talley is but its his video and he seems to think that Johanna is Joan Baez and some skinny blonde lady who looks like Twiggey is Louise. I'm sure he is highly qualified to decipher those lyrics, B0nnie. "Was" ??? Now I'm even more confused becuase Joan is very much alive, isn't she? OK you have bemused, confused, and enlightened me all at the same time. Reognitions and DOJ very much at top of my list now, thanks to you.


B0nnie meow...I'm a catty cat... Joan is great. No way is she Johanna though.


message 32: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul great review Bonnie!


B0nnie thank you Paul!


message 34: by knig (new)

knig Amazing review Bonnie. I love the Vermeer /Meegeren quizz: only got the procuress wrong, thought it was a Meegeren. Re bosch: interesting take that he explores the existential meaning of life. I always thought he was obsessed with showing the non righteous the delights that await them in hell.


message 35: by Bennet (new)

Bennet Bonnie, you're a genius and it's my great pleasure to know you and read your reviews. I believe you've outdone yourself here. Bravo.


message 36: by s.penkevich (new) - added it

s.penkevich Wonderful, wonderful review! I'm quite excited to get to this book, I plan on revisiting this review many times when I do. Also, thank you very much for the link to the annotations!


message 37: by Riku (new) - added it

Riku Sayuj sold


Nathan "N.R." Gaddis May I kindly inquire whether the next on your to-read would be:
JR?
http://www.williamgaddis.org/jr/index...
Franzen actually finished The Recognitions (and still called it 'difficult'). JR he was in the middle of when he got distracted and when he got around to getting back to it he couldn't figure out who was who and what was going on so he blamed Gaddis for it all. JR is in fact even more entertaining than The Recognitions.

If you are interested in further Gaddis background I'd recommend his only collection of non-fiction, published posthumously: The Rush for Second Place: Essays and Occasional Writings. It has material relevant to both The Recognitions and JR.


message 39: by [deleted user] (new)

I think I'm prepared to call bullshit on The Recognitions being the hardest book Franzen has ever read. I'm willing to bet $50 he's read a Pynchon or Joyce book back to front.


Nathan "N.R." Gaddis Sean wrote: "I think I'm prepared to call bullshit on The Recognitions being the hardest book Franzen has ever read. I'm willing to bet $50 he's read a Pynchon or Joyce book back to front."

Exactly. But both the Pynchon cult and the Joyce cult were too powerful for him to take on. He settled for Gaddis as ill-defended. Little did he know. . . But, in my opinion, that lovely man from New York, Joseph McElroy, would have been a better--most difficult, most thoughtful, most literary--target. But he's so totally unknown that Franzen's essay would've gotten no attention. And the tongue lashing he would've gotten had he gone after Gass. . .


message 41: by [deleted user] (new)

Yes. I have read McElroy's story Night Soul three times now. It's unbelievably beautiful.


B0nnie Knig-o-lass wrote: "Amazing review Bonnie. I love the Vermeer /Meegeren quizz: only got the procuress wrong, thought it was a Meegeren. Re bosch: interesting take that he explores the existential meaning of life. I al..."

Thanks Knig-o-lass, the quiz really underscores what a fail Meegeren's paintings are. Why, they're on par with the fuhrer's! At least Meegeren found an outlet for his non-talent. The weird surrealness in Bosch to me has such a nightmare quality that his depiction of heaven is as chilling as his hell.


B0nnie Bennet wrote: "Bonnie, you're a genius and it's my great pleasure to know you and read your reviews. I believe you've outdone yourself here. Bravo."

Bennet - I remember how wowed I was the first time I read one of your reviews. I know who the genius is, ha! Thanks so much for the praise. I look forward to your book...no pressure there....


B0nnie s.penkevich wrote: "Wonderful, wonderful review! I'm quite excited to get to this book, I plan on revisiting this review many times when I do. Also, thank you very much for the link to the annotations!"

I haven't gone through all of those annotations, but I can see there is a lot of information on that site. If I were insane I would hyperlink all of the individual references to the text. Oh who am I kidding, I'll probably do it (Steve seems to have started a one man attempt at doing it with his first go at the reading). I'm sure you will love TR. Thank you s.penkevich!


B0nnie Riku wrote: "sold"

delighted...I await your review...


B0nnie Nathan "N.R." wrote: "May I kindly inquire whether the next on your to-read would be:
JR?
http://www.williamgaddis.org/jr/index...
Franzen actually finished The Recognitions (and still called it 'difficult'). JR he ..."


Nathan, I have JR in my sights, although I'm not ready to tackle that puppy just yet. And also The Rush for Second Place - I actually have that one from the library. I'm a real Gaddis buff. And a Buffy gad too - in an ideal world Esme would kill vampires with her bare hands. Thanks for the Joseph McElroy mention - he absolutely sounds like a must-read.


Nathan "N.R." Gaddis B0nnie wrote: "Thanks for the Joseph McElroy mention - he absolutely sounds like a must-read. "

I'm always happy to strike up some curiosity about McElroy. I've still Gaddis' Gothic and Frolic to read, but so many others have been getting in the way lately.


B0nnie Sean wrote: "I think I'm prepared to call bullshit on The Recognitions being the hardest book Franzen has ever read. I'm willing to bet $50 he's read a Pynchon or Joyce book back to front."

I read his Mr. Difficult and found it interesting. He seems pretty bitter. And perhaps this is unfair, but he also comes across as an unpleasant person. TR is not difficult per se, it's just full of things one might not know. I can understand his impatience with JR. I might be of the same mind, but I have the feeling I'm going to like it - the random bits of dialogue in TR are amazing. And now when I'm in public it's funny to overhear things that could be from the book. Coming out of the library: "it's better on the sunny side of the street", then someone else "can you imagine, he called me a faggot on gay pride day!". Meanwhile a panhandler is giving a long story how she needs some money to get to Moose Jaw to see her kids.


B0nnie Nathan "N.R." wrote: "B0nnie wrote: "Thanks for the Joseph McElroy mention - he absolutely sounds like a must-read. "

I'm always happy to strike up some curiosity about McElroy. I've still Gaddis' Gothic and Frolic to..."

Oh yes I understand - my to-read list mocks me day and night. I had hoped to finish off Dickens this year as well. Right.


message 50: by MJ (new)

MJ Nicholls Indeed, I also want to add that Bonnie, your review OWNS all the other gushing book-length encomiums on this novel. And there are many. Top bookgeekage.


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