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The Recognitions

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  4,833 ratings  ·  577 reviews
A postmodern masterpiece about fraud and forgery by one of the most venerated novelists of the last century.

The Recognitions is a sweeping depiction of a world in which everything that anyone recognizes as beautiful or true or good emerges as anything but: our world. The book is a masquerade, moving from New England to New York to Madrid, from the art world to the underwor
Kindle Edition
Published November 24th 2020 by NYRB Classics (first published 1955)
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Loring Wirbel I honestly think any of Pynchon's longer works, as well as Infinite Jest, provide more coherent story lines and more self-deprecation than does The Re…moreI honestly think any of Pynchon's longer works, as well as Infinite Jest, provide more coherent story lines and more self-deprecation than does The Recognitions. I like all of Gaddis's work, but think his first novel took itself far too seriously. Many elements of story progression literally have to be dug up at the wiki, because even a careful reader will fail to find the subtle clues that lead one from one scene to another.(less)
Stephen Blower I don't know if the question is rhetorical, but here's what I would say: The center of the novel is (according to Gaddis) the play upon the word "forg…moreI don't know if the question is rhetorical, but here's what I would say: The center of the novel is (according to Gaddis) the play upon the word "forge" in both it's meaning of creating and imitating through fakery. They both signify "making," and the idea is what makes one art form desirable and valuable and the other considered base and without value? But the novel takes a cynical approach to these ideas, as everyone may turn out to be a 'forger' in the end, in both senses. At least that is my opinion.
That said, it is an excellent novel if you are up for the challenge. It holds many rewards once you work your way through. A big help was
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See the face on the book cover? That is my face now as I finish this book. That was my face every step of the way.

I heard somewhere while reading this that Gaddis is praised for this work in that he made it the ultimate challenge for the reader. Yay! Let's make reading hard! #sarcasm

You know how you might read a book with 5 storylines that will change each chapter. It might be a bit confusing, but at least chapter breaks give you the chance to regroup. This book frequently mixes many storylines,
Vit Babenco
Apr 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
There is so much falseness in the world… And so little authenticity has left… So on seeing some authentic thing now one feels deceived and prefers tawdry falsehood…
– He invited me there, in fact, to see the mummy. He had made one himself for me! Oh, but with such ingenuity, it was really a masterpiece…
– Really, my dear fellow…
– I confess I did not have heart to finish our business so immediately, I spent a few minutes congratulating him. He became very angry when I appeared to question the… aut
Jan 11, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to B0nnie by: Ian "Marvin" Graye
Shelves: favourite-books

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:
Images surround us; cavorting broadcast in the minds of others, we wear the motley tailored by their bad digestions, the shame and failure, plague pandemics and private indecencies, unpaid bills, and animal ecstasies remembered in hospital beds, our worst deeds and best intentions will not stay still, scolding, mocking, or merely chattering they assail each other, shocked at recognition.
Shocked, surprised and mesmerized by these Recognitions. Sometimes reading of a book happens without any
Michael Finocchiaro
This book clearly influenced Pynchon and DFW and I would imagine Cormac McCarthy as well, but it is pretty damn unreadable. Looking behind The Recognitions, many level that criticism at Ulysses. Well, Ulysses does require some work, but the difference is that Stephen Daedalus as well as the Blooms are fantastic deeply moving and well-drawn characters and we WANT to see them succeed. In The Recognitions, there is a plethora of characters, but none of which I could have more than a shred of sympat ...more
Ian "Marvin" Graye
100 Words in Search of Precision

The purpose of both Religion and Alchemy is to realise Perfection.

Christianity places an obstacle in the path: Original Sin. We are born with an Inherent Vice. Nobody will give us assurance.

Our need for meaning and happiness is so great that we fall victim to fraud and pretence.

Gaddis suggests we must love and we must be active, in order to be happy.

We need to construct an undivided Self, a Whole, not a Soul.

There is only the Self that Lives, therefore the Life th
Paul Bryant
Oct 03, 2012 marked it as probably-never  ·  review of another edition
I found a great article on


by Mark O'Connell which uses The Recognitions as its main example - here is the bit I liked, but the whole article is worth a read (

the greatness of a novel in the mind of its readers is often alloyed with those readers’ sense of their own greatness (as readers) for having conquered it. I don’t think William Gaddis’s The Recognitions, for instance, is nearly as fantastic a novel as people often claim i
Oct 12, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-novels
I’ve had The Recognitions on my horizon for some time. What really spurred me on to read it was a fellow Goodreader; Bonnie, whose review of this book is magnificent. Sadly Bonnie died last year and I still miss her wit, wisdom and perspicacity; she survives in her reviews and I would recommend you read her review of this.
This is not a book that you can pick up and casually read; it demands work of the reader. However erudite or well read you are you will not get all the references because they
Sep 09, 2009 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2009
Probably the best part of the The Recognitions is the very beginning. The novel seems destined to unravel as an absolute masterpiece after the evocative opening in Spain and small town New England, followed by a quick stay in Paris before descending (in the Dantean sense) into New York City for the majority of the book. But then it begins to meander while taking on a new agenda, one less of allusion-heavy storytelling than of society satire sans commentary: Gaddis lets large swaths of the book u ...more
Erik F.
Jan 03, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Overlong? Probably. Grandiose? Almost certainly. Brilliant? Most definitely. This swollen, acerbic cult classic bursts with such wild imagination, vivid characterization and profound eloquence that I couldn't help but love it. Its many characters swirl in and out of each other's lives throughout the nearly thousand-page text, their paths and conversations overlapping like a most rambunctious Altman ensemble film (though with Gaddis's relentless and sometimes hallucinatory skewering of organized

Aug 28, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: infinite-books
Gaddis’s first novel is a big, ambitious thing, a juggernaut, overwhelming, a planetary body’s worth of kinetic energy packed into its 956 pages. “Planetary” is a descriptor I come back to again and again while thinking about this book- it not only reflects the geographic scope of the novel, which unfolds across oceans and continents (though for the greater part we do not leave the microcosmic nocturama of New York City), but also the attempt to put a world’s sum of knowledge and history into on ...more
Dec 02, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
What I get a kick out of is serious writers who write a book where they say money gives a false significance to art, and then they raise hell when their book doesn’t make any money.
- William Gaddis, The Recognitions

I’ve never seen novel by William Gaddis available in any library or bookstore, and the fact that he is not more widely known is something of a crime. You could compare his prose against that of any of the great writers of the last century without exception, and it would more than hold
Nov 06, 2008 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
I've been meaning to read one of Gaddis' big novels for years now, ten or so actually. I'd always been drawn more to trying my hand with JR, but after reading Franzen's essay a few years ago on Gaddis I sort of changed my mind, and decided that if the day ever came when I'd read Gaddis I'd start at the beginning of his work. Then of course at some point I realized that being the type of person I am I had to read this book because it fills out the lower rung of the trinity of difficult post-1950 ...more
Nick Craske
Is Bob Dylan Authentic?

Robert anglicised himself and veiled his roots. Zimmerman changed to Dylan...

What is Authenticity then?

The dictionary definition: true to one’s personality, spirit, or character.

The Recognitions is many things, but ultimately, it's an artist’s quest of for an authentic self, told stylistically through satire and the exploration of forgery on all levels.

Wyatt Gwyon is an artist, who after meeting a rather dubious character with a fabulously dubious name, Rektall Brown, make
“The 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.”

The first few chapters in this bogged-down book were medievally dark and delectably eldritch, as stimulating as the electricity within the Frankenstein monster’s grave
Katia N
Apr 06, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Initial reaction:

But in the words of the one of the characters:

“A man having, or about to have, or at the very least valiantly fighting off, a religious experience”

That is how i feel. “Religious” not in the sense of a certain system of beliefs, but in the sense of a mixture of exultation and awe:-).

Any comparisons are always reductive, but just for the sake of impression: it has started as a Moby Dick, but then swayed all the way to Dostoyevsky but with much more intellectual streak and such a
Chris Via
Video review:
Written Review:

- Group reading on Instagram with @therecognitionsbookclub this November-December.
- Group reading on #BookTwitter with #Gaddis2020 this November-December (thanks, @ReemK10).

Jun 04, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: the whole goddamn stinkin' world
Recommended to Jonathan by: Nathan "N.R." Gaddis

"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 positi
I started reading this book the same way I assume many others did: after a yearlong staring contest. I'd be wondering, hmmm, what should I read now, and there it'd be, the biggest book on the shelf. And I'd say....nah. Until finally I decided to stop being a bitch and actually read it.

And you know what? It's pretty good. Definitely a work of genius, extremely well put together, chock-full of symbolism and flattish characters and all sorts of other pomo English-majory stuff. Endless riffs on frau
Oct 24, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Recognitions—my favourite Gaddis, although he wrote several wonderful books—delves deeply into the theme amongst the most intriguing to me in a novel: exploration of the dichotomy between the increase in both man's material well-being and his spiritual anguish in this, the modern age of consumer capitalism and progressive democracy; an age in which even the sacred and the beautiful are debauched by being made to sell themselves in the ubiquitous marketplace.

The principal characters in Gaddis
No, I cannot review this. Yes, it took some work. No, your library doesn't have it. Yes, you should read it. Have I answered all your questions? This book has impacted me in ways which I've only provisionally understood. ...more
Sep 05, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: this is all I know
Recommended to Mariel by: I was wrong to try and free you
Is that how he meant it? Before Otto could answer she went on, lowering her eye again, - No, how did he know what he meant. When people tell a truth they do not understand what they mean, they say it by accident, it goes through them and they do not recognize it until someone accuses them of telling the truth, then they try to recover it as their own and it escapes.

I want to tell what I mean, what my truth is, without fearing what came out is not what I meant, without hoping what came out sounde
David Lentz
Jun 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
In a habit I sustained in college I make it a practice to underline the most quotable lines of novels I read: The Recognitions has underlines on every page. Gaddis is a major literary talent who hasn't yet even begun to receive the following of which he is worthy. This novel concerns the discoveries, both major and minor, of what is authentic in life: The Recognitions is enlightening, almost beatific, in the way in which it focuses upon the shortcomings and moral lapses of humans in pursuit of t ...more
I've been putting off writing this review because I didn't know how many stars to ultimately rate this novel. After much deliberation, I've settled on 4 stars if only for the simple reason that among the "must-read, difficult, long novels" that this book is usually grouped with, I enjoyed it much more than Ulysses (which I gave 3 stars), yet not quite as much as Infinite Jest (which I gave 5 stars). As far as being a difficult read, I found that it also fell between these two novels.

Reasons for
My first impulse was to just copy some old, obscure review of 'the Recognitions' and claim it as my own. Alas, even the reviewers, academics, and cult worshipers of the God of PoMo all seem at once thunderstruck AND intimidated by Gaddis' opus.

What I understood was brilliant, what I didn't understand is most likely obscene. This is not a novel for the casual beach read, although as I write this, I am on a beach...washing sand out of my ebbs and salt off my flow, so never mind.
Aug 30, 2013 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fatties
It’s always rather worrying when somebody asks you what the book you’re reading is about, and you are at a loss for an answer. “Well... there’s this guy called Wyatt... er... Gwin? Gwy-yon?” (you suddenly realize you don’t really know how to pronounce his surname) “and he forges paintings and is rather strange and...” And you give up. Not to say The Recognitions is plotless, but it definitely doesn’t have a clear direction and is a dense, highly ambitious and probably voluntarily confusing work. ...more
Lee Foust
Mar 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: favorites
Even the great William Gass in his introduction to The Recognitions has to digress and to hem and haw about reductionism and basically admit that one can’t really write about a novel such as this without diminishing its greatness rather than revealing more of it. Then he takes the ultimate cop-out—to me who thinks archetypal readings are the deadest of all dead ends—by noting the novel’s archetypal structure, which, frankly, I didn’t see at all. The Recognitions is too big, with too many charact ...more
Christopher Robinson
I can’t add anything with my review that hasn’t already been said better elsewhere by much sharper readers. But reading The Recognitions was life-changing. One of the more incredible reading experiences of my life thus far. Here are an assortment of reasons why.

- THE HUMOR. This book doesn’t get enough credit for being funny, and Gaddis doesn’t get enough credit for writing brilliant comedy, but Gaddis wrote BRILLIANT comedy and The Recognitions is no exception. It’s also dramatic, deeply sad, c
W.D. Clarke
Jun 11, 2021 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2021, fat-bastards
Il parle en l'air, a (Mind-)forged/mannacled travesty of a review, painted in stolen, broad brushstrokes, producing an (un)reasonable facsimile of his feelings, overlaid with thick varnish, concealing several unforced, schoolboy errors...errorem cum lacte nutricis sugere:
It was in fact quite a thick book. A pattern of bold elegance, the lettering on the dust wrapper stood forth in stark configurations of red and black to intimate the origin of design. (For some crotchety reason there was no p
Jun 17, 2010 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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.

Such higher machinations proved beyond me. So much was required. Too often I was found wanting. The Recognitions is a
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Goodreads Librari...: Change page count 4 16 Jan 09, 2021 11:55AM  
Reading List Comp...: The Recognitions - General Discussion 14 56 Mar 27, 2017 06:52AM  
Reading List Comp...: The Recognitions - Part III 4 15 Mar 21, 2017 04:17PM  
Reading List Comp...: The Recognitions - Part II 33 21 Mar 14, 2017 02:17PM  
Mystery/Suspense/...: Quarterly Read - Jan-March 2017 - The Recognitions 3 7 Feb 01, 2017 05:55AM  
Reading List Comp...: The Recognitions - Part I 28 35 Jan 26, 2017 06:07AM  

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William Gaddis was the author of five novels. He was born in New York December 29, 1922. The circumstances why he left Harvard in his senior year are mysterious. He worked for The New Yorker for a spell in the 1950s, and absorbed experiences at the bohemian parties and happenings, to be later used as material in The Recognitions. Travel provided further resources of experience in Mexico, in Costa ...more

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“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.” 167 likes
“If it is not beautiful for someone, it does not exist.” 72 likes
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