#OccupyGaddis discussion

Spoiler Discussions > Discussion of pp. 331-360

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message 1: by Lee (new)

Lee | 39 comments Mod
Discussion of pp. 331-360

message 2: by Brian (last edited Jul 20, 2012 11:37AM) (new)

Brian | 34 comments Kindle readers, take note!

I can sail past a typo in The Sheriff of Yrnameer or The Sisters Brothers or even occasionally in Infinite Jest. But in J R, where so much of the text scans oddly and is so precisely off kilter, typos can be utterly destructive to comprehension. Case in point:

As you may have noticed on Twitter today, @zenjew and I found a significant typo in the Kindle edition of the Dalkey Archive J R reprint. On page 341, the Kindle version reads:

"And Nanook's losing battle against the blizzard of scratched remnants of film finally gave over to the barrage of flying milk cartons that daily signaled lunch and the furtive departure of the monitor whose back could be seen through the A blazing red in? A R a step beyond the legal distance ..."

@zenjew tells me that in print, the significant passage reads, "...through the A blazing red in B A R a step beyond..." Which makes so much more sense.

I'm now wondering where I've been flummoxed by similar typos in J R. Is anyone from Dalkey reading this board?

message 3: by Cameron (new)

Cameron | 5 comments Brian, did you get to page 363 yet? Does your Kindle version also read “—Yes, I can’t turn it off, he said fittifig the door back into place behind her”?

I just got around to reviewing the debate set off by Brian’s post last week. Although the initial post was about hostility, the conversation started to morph into a discussion of the most effective way to read JR. Should you let it flow across you (as I have been doing), knowing that you are missing details every minute? Or should you not let a sentence pass without understanding it to the best of your ability?

Great novels teach you how to read them. Early in JR, Gaddis teaches us that there will be no attributed dialogue, and that the reader will have to identify characters by their verbal tics. But he reassures us that those verbal tics will be forthcoming and frequent, and in this he taught me to trust him. So far (378pp for me) that trust has not been betrayed.

But the second thing this novel taught me was that all will be revealed. In general the novel makes me feel like I am always a step behind, I’m always catching up. But the things I’m scratching me head about tend to get clarified. Gaddis just suddenly throws you a generous sentence that clears up something confusing from 100 pages earlier.

On a few occasions, even reading quickly, I feel like I’m up to speed with the average reader, or even slightly ahead. When JR orders all those wooden picnic forks, there’s this exchange on page 169:

“--Forks, picnic, wooden, nine thousand gr I never saw such crap, what’s gr supposed to be.
--How do I know it’s probably green, and you just copy off how the Navy says it and say that to the Army is it my fauly if they all talk backwards there…?”

I was proud of myself for figuring out that gr stood for gross. And I got a little frisson of anticipation at knowing that 1,296,000 forks were on their way.

But if I had missed that reference, I would not have been lost in the wilderness. On p224 it becomes clear what gr stands for:

“—Wooden yes wooden picnic forks no that’s the problem, I can’t find them, nine thousand gross wooden pic…
--See what I mean? Wooden picnic fork it doesn’t sound like much but bring in nine thou, gross? You said gross? Well that’s, nine thousand gross that’s over a million!”

Even if you completely forget about the passage on p169, Gaddis scoops you up and carries you along, tells you about the thousands of forks and makes it crystal clear what’s happening with them. You can trust him not to drop you in the darkness and leave you hunting for moss on the North sides of oak trees.

So I’ve decided to read quickly, and as intelligently as I can, but without anxiety and without a pencil. I trust Gaddis. For every “gr” that I catch I’m sure I miss ten or more obscure references, but the process, for me, is more pleasurable this way.

I have two questions. Does anyone think that my (our? Who’s with me?) way of reading Gaddis makes my experience of the novel less rich?

And here’s the provocative one: Is it possible that some people are not smart enough to read William Gaddis?

message 4: by Stephanie (new)

Stephanie | 1 comments I don't think reading quickly makes the experience any less rich. The structure almost demands it. On occasion I flip back a couple of pages to re-read a thread if I feel I've missed something, and I usually have. No pencils. For me that would detract from the experience to stop and make notations. You're right about how he clarifies a plot point a hundred pages on. That's the beauty of it. I find it so absorbing I can't stop at 10 pages a day now that I've caught up.

I understand why its been labeled "difficult" though that is unfortunate. Once you get into the flow of it, after the first 80-100 pages, its hard to resist. That said, this group reading of it, and the conversations that come out of it on Infinite Zombies, here and elsewhere make it infinitely more intriguing. But that's a bonus.

Anyone who decides to read it is certainly smart enough to understand it. Do you want to involve yourself in a 725 page novel? These days it's our attention span that is lacking. Different books for different readers. I'm not smart enough to understand how a book like 50 Shades of Grey could make such an impression. My 2 cents.

Too bad about the typos on the Kindle. I'm reading from a brand new Dalkey version. Smells good, feels good.

message 5: by Brian (last edited Jul 20, 2012 03:12PM) (new)

Brian | 34 comments Cameron: Good catch, yes my edition has "fittifig" as well. Frustrating. I've noticed over the last decade, as publishing budgets have tightened, that more errors are creeping into books of all formats, paper included. As an editor, I'm frustrated that there's so much obvious work to be done, but so few people willing to pay to get it done. That may or may not have been a factor here; my understanding is that Dalkey is an admirable publisher. Errors still happen, no matter how many editors you throw at a text.

I agree with what y'all are saying about Gaddis solving conundrums from earlier sections of the novel. This is bound to be one of the signal pleasures I'll remember from J R when I'm done. However, I reject completely the idea that people of average intellect are "not smart enough" to read J R. This book is not intellectually difficult, at least not in the same way as the Principia Mathematica or Hegel. It's STRUCTURALLY difficult. In other words, the ideas are relatively simple, but the way to get at them is difficult and takes time to decode. I'm curious to see if the process of decoding the text is, itself, part of the central idea Gaddis is trying to get across.

5SoG: I absolutely get how this publishing phenomenon happened. Since it was Twilight fan-fiction, you've got a built in audience of teens who loved Twilight. Now they're a little older and ready to explore reading erotica. This cohort of readers also has the advantage (as we older readers did not) of coverless, perfectly hideable electronic reading. No one has to know that you're reading 5SoG on the bus, or in class, or at the dinner table. It's the perfect storm. It'll be worth it, so very worth it, if this results in these readers graduating to better erotica and a saner overall attitude toward sexuality in fiction.

I should follow Infinite Zombies more closely; I feel I've let that rich vein of #occupygaddis pass me by.

message 6: by Brian (new)

Brian | 34 comments Also, I'm reading this at the advertised rate of 10 pages/day to maintain my sanity. No notes, although I'm grateful for the J R annotations site and for the opportunity to occasionally consult with you kind readers.

At this point in Infinite Jest, I was eagerly devouring 30+ pages a day, despite some initial frustration in the first 50-100 pages.

message 7: by Sonia (new)

Sonia | 12 comments I have no idea what the procedures are for fixing misprints (misreads? typos?) in ebooks are, but I'd guess that Dalkey would want to know about the errors.

Personally, my recommendation would be for Carpenter's Gothic if you want more Gaddis after this. It's obviously a spin-off of the J R world, but using a unity of place rather than time. It is primarily about a woman though, so if you want to read about men doing man things you're better off with the other novels.

I'm all about reading without anxiety and with trust (so long as the author seems to be earning it). I have a theory that that's how science fiction teaches you to read, making sf an excellent learn to learn to read unfamiliar literary styles.

Based on my experience teaching literature, I would say that there are definitely people who do not possess the skills to read Gaddis. Gaddis' writing seems, to me, specifically designed to be more enjoyable for people with strong skills in the kinds of literacy demanded and complex, abstract thinking and with strong memories. Similarly, if you sink below certain thresholds in those areas then the text will become increasingly difficult tending towards incomprehensible.

This also means that difficulty isn't an inherent property of the text but the product of the fit between the assumed and actual skills of the reader. Based on the interviews and various other correspondence, I think Gaddis genuinely didn't intend for J R's style to be difficult. He just assumed that we can all read like him, I think.

Then there's also the factor of how much literary, cultural and historical context you're bringing with you. For example, since I know basically nothing about corporate finance the sections which discuss business are the hardest for me.

I feel like this conversation gets into the whole "drag them down to out level" line about "democratizing" the arts in the novel. Why is it so provocative to suggest that some people are smarter than others? Or that some things might be too intellectually difficult for "average" people? As Gaddis points out, America does have a long and proud tradition of anti-intellectualism.

message 8: by Whitney (new)

Whitney | 12 comments Stephanie wrote: "Anyone who decides to read it is certainly smart enough to understand it. Do you want to involve yourself in a 725 page novel?..."

I agree with Stephanie, it's not a matter of 'smarts', it's a matter of commitment. (I'll add I'm a believer that, outside of people with mental disabilities and geniuses, intelligence is a cultural definition anyway; but that's a bit beside the point). I stated in another discussion that a challenging book isn't that different from a challenge in any other endeavor. Most people could climb Annapurna if they were willing to put in the time and effort, but most people aren't.

I also agree in thinking the best reading of 'J.R.' is probably a somewhat casual one, followed by a more thorough second reading. This worked quite well for me with 'The Recognitions' (which I actually preferred to 'Frolic').

I think Brian's assessment of '50SoG' is spot on, with the ready-made Twilight audience and privacy of e-readers pushing it into critical mass so that it ended up gaining a more mainstream acceptability.

message 9: by Kristin (new)

Kristin | 13 comments I couldn't wait. So I have finished the book and will re-read it. I chose to ignore the annotations after using them for the first 100 pages or so. It feels like the right decision.

Now I have an urge to over-annotate the book! I find myself looking back on things like:

money - actual money in the form of coins and bills - from the bag of coins for the class trip to the penny Nora demands from her father so she can make her brother's "jumping machine" get moving again.

doors - doors that say pull and people who push them - doors that are stuck (in the aunts' house)

pencils - from JR's stubs to ... well that's later in the book, I think.

I have a naive question for you e-book readers: are books searchable? Can you search for the word "penny" and see how often it appears? And therefore, is annotation easier?

message 10: by Sonia (new)

Sonia | 12 comments Kristin wrote: "
I have a naive question for you e-book readers: are books searchable? Can you search for the word "penny" and see how often it appears? And therefore, is annotation easier?"

Yes! I bought the e-book versions of J R and the The Recognitions solely for the search function. It makes working with them SO much easier.

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