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The Recognitions The Recognitions by William Gaddis
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The Recognitions Quotes (showing 1-30 of 54)
“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
“If it is not beautiful for someone, it does not exist.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“I know you, I know you. You're the only serious person in the room, aren't you, the only one who understands, and you can prove it by the fact that you've never finished a single thing in your life. You're the only well-educated person, because you never went to college, and you resent education, you resent social ease, you resent good manners, you resent success, you resent any kind of success, you resent God, you resent Christ, you resent thousand-dollar bills, you resent Christmas, by God, you resent happiness, you resent happiness itself, because none of that's real. What is real, then? Nothing's real to you that isn't part of your own past, real life, a swamp of failures, of social, sexual, financial, personal...spiritual failure. Real life. You poor bastard. You don't know what real life is, you've never been near it. All you have is a thousand intellectualized ideas about life. But life? Have you ever measured yourself against anything but your own lousy past? Have you ever faced anything outside yourself? Life! You poor bastard.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“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
“How real is any of the past, being every moment revalued to make the present possible...”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“It is the bliss of childhood that we are being warped most when we know it the least.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“...mementos of this world, in which the things worth being were so easily exchanged for the things worth having.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“Everybody has that feeling when they look at a work of art and it's right, that sudden familiarity, a sort of...recognition, as though they were creating it themselves, as though it were being created through them while they look at it or listen to it...”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“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
“Merry Christmas! the man threatened.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“When he was left alone, when he had pulled out one stop after another (for the work required it), Stanley straightened himself on the seat, tightened the knot of the red necktie, and struck. The music soared around him, from the corner of his eye he caught the glitter of his wrist watch, and even as he read the music before him, and saw his thumb and last finger come down time after time with three black keys between them, wringing out fourths, the work he had copied coming over on the Conte di Brescia, wringing that chord of the devil’s interval from the full length of the thirty-foot bass pipes, he did not stop. The walls quivered, still he did not hesitate. Everything moved, and even falling, soared in atonement.

He was the only person caught in the collapse, and afterward, most of his work was recovered too, and it is still spoken of, when it is noted, with high regard, though seldom played.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“He walked out into the cold morning asking himself this heretical question: Can you start measuring a minute at any instant you wish?”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“That's what I can't stand. I know I'll bounce back, and that's what I can't stand.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“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
“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
“Tragedy was foresworn, in ritual denial of the ripe knowledge that we are drawing away from one another, that we share only one thing, share the fear of belonging to another, or to others, or to God; love or money, tender equated in advertising and the world, where only money is currency, and under dead trees and brittle ornaments prehensile hands exchange forgeries of what the heart dare not surrender.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“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
“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
“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
“That's what it is, this arrogance, in this flamenco music this same arrogance of suffering, listen. The strength of it's what's so overpowering, the self-sufficiency that's so delicate and tender without an instant of sentimentality. With infinite pity, but refusing pity. It's a precision of suffering, he went on, abruptly working his hand in the air as though to shape it there, --the tremendous tension of violence all enclosed in a framework...in a pattern that doesn't pretend to any other level but its own, do you know what I mean? He barely glanced at her to see if she did.--It's the privacy, the exquisite sense of privacy about it, he said speaking more rapidly, --it's the sense of privacy that most popular expressions of suffering don't have, don't dare have, that's what makes it arrogant.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“Each generation was a rehearsal of the one before, so that that family gradually formed the repetitive pattern of a Greek fret, interrupted only once in two centuries by a nine-year-old boy who had taken a look at his prospects, tied a string around his neck with a brick to the other end, and jumped from a footbridge into two feet of water. Courage aside, he had that family's tenacity of purpose, and drowned, a break in the pattern quickly obliterated by the calcimine of silence.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“-We live in Rome, he says, turning his face to the room again,
-Caligula's Rome, with a new circus of vulgar bestialized suffering in the newspapers every morning. The masses, the fetid masses, he says, bringing all his weight to his feet.-How can they even suspect a self who can do more, when they live under absolutely no obligation. There are so few beautiful things in the world...”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“He took off his hat and shook it (having hurried home as though his own coronation were waiting), and moved now with the slow deliberation of lonely people who have time for every meager requirement of their lives.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“Fearful of missing anything, he read on, filled with this anticipation which was half terror, of coming upon something which would touch him, not simply touch him but lift him and carry him away.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“That after an hour's silence he can say, The one thing I cannot stand is dampness... That's all, it took him an hour to work that out.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“The ship's surgeon 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 boutoniere 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. He diagnosed Camilla's difficulty as indigestion, and locked himself in his cabin. that was the morning.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“—I really prefer books. No matter how bad a book is, it's unique, but people are all so ordinary.
—I think we really like books that make us hate ourselves.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
tags: books
“There was the cell where Fr. Eulalio, a thriving lunatic of eighty-six who was castigating himself for unchristian pride at having all the vowels in his name, and greatly revered for his continuous weeping, went blind in an ecstasy of such howling proportions that his canonization was assured.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
“It rained; then it snowed, and the snow stayed on the paved ground for long enough to become evenly blacked with soot and smoke-fall, evenly but for islands of yellow left by uptown dogs. Then it rained again, and the whole creation was transformed into cold slop, which made walking adventuresome. Then it froze; and every corner presented opportunity for entertainment, the vastly amusing spectacle of well-dressed people suspended in the indecorous positions which precede skull fractures.”
William Gaddis, The Recognitions
tags: humour
“We shall live for no reason. Then die and be done with it. What a recognition! What shall save us? Only the knowledge that we have lived without illusion, not excluding the illusion that something will save us.”
William H. Gass, The Recognitions

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