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The Recognitions

4.22  ·  Rating details ·  3,902 Ratings  ·  437 Reviews
Wyatt Gwyon forges not from larceny but from love. Exactingly faithful to the spirit and letter of the Flemish masters, he produces uncannily accurate "originals" - pictures the painters themselves might have envied. In an age of counterfeit emotion and taste, the real and the fake have become indestinguishable; yet Gwyon'sforgeries reflect a truth that others cannot touch ...more
Paperback, 956 pages
Published 1993 by Penguin Books (first published 1955)
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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…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
Stephen Blower Depends on your age. If you are under 25, Infinite Jest. 25-45, the Pynchon, 45+ The Recognitions. Of course I'm joking, but kind of not really. This…moreDepends on your age. If you are under 25, Infinite Jest. 25-45, the Pynchon, 45+ The Recognitions. Of course I'm joking, but kind of not really. This answer will likely only make sense to those who first read the Recognitions after age 45 (like me), and know that Pynchon's style is 'muscular' that seems to appeal to a certain demographic age-group. The Recognitions was written first (1955?) so if you are looking for a trajectory of literary debt there is that. These are strictly my biased opinions. You could just as easily prioritize them by time commitment. The Recognitions is for many a steep climb at first because it encompasses so much esoteric material all at once. Some people can't get by the style of TP, and begin to wonder if it's worth the effort to, DFW has a unique fan club of his own which belongs to clearly the youngest of the highly motivated earnest readers. (less)
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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,
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 no
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
Apr 08, 2011 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: gaddis
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
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

Paul Bryant
Oct 03, 2012 marked it as to-not-read-ever  ·  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 it
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
Sep 09, 2009 rated it liked it
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
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
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
Shelves: the-top-ten

"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
Vit Babenco
Apr 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
“He'd only to smile, to yawn, or frankly raise his upper lip and he could show more gold than any of them could wear, even in their most offensive aspirations to taste: jewels by the pound-weight, rings so heavy that they looked like weapons.”
Reading The Recognitions is as looking for one’s way in the thickest jungle but it pays manyfold – the novel is like a crock of gold found at the end of the rainbow.
“What greater comfort does time afford, than the objects of terror re-encountered, and their
Franco  Santos
Gaddis, en su última obra antes de morir, Ágape se paga: "... a fin de cuentas de eso se trata, de eso trata mi obra, del derrumbe absoluto de todo, del sentido, del lenguaje, de los valores, del arte, del desorden y de la dislocación que se ve en donde sea que mires, la entropía engullendo todo a su alrededor". Y eso mismo es lo que encierra entre sus páginas Los reconocimientos, el colapso de los ideales, del ser, de la búsqueda verdadera de sentido, todo aquello con una narrativa que junta mú ...more
Nick Craske
Jul 24, 2012 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
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
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
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.
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 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
There are so many good reviews of this on Goodreads already that I'm not sure if I can come up with something interesting or at least original. I'll save this as a project of its own, to be accompanied with organ music on some Italian vacation. Instead I'll offer up a quotation direct from the book itself. Not my words, but his.

And then they silenced, each bending forth, closer and closer, to
fix the book the other was carrying with a look of myopic recognition.
—You reading that? both asked at o
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
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
Jun 17, 2010 rated it really liked it
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
Mar 01, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: dalkey-archive
Given that The Recognitions ends on Easter Sunday, this would seem to be the perfect day to review a book which is suffused with references to the bible and to manifestations of religious impulses, delusions and repudiations. Somewhere in the rites and wrongs; the tribulations and transubstantiations there is a story about the impossibility of being who we want to be; a profound and, however bizarrely presented, convincing examination of the ontological turmoil which is our lot.

More important t
Eddie Watkins
May 01, 2008 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: american-fiction
I'm actually not finished reading this yet. I'm saving the last hundred pages or so, just to savor them. I did the same thing when I read through all of Proust. Sometimes I just don't want to finish a book.

This thing sat on my shelf for almost 20 years before I read it. I was intimidated by it, but I also wasn't too turned on by sections I would occassionally read. So it took me 20 years to recognize how wonderful it is. And what's strange is that it was a Recognition.

I read somewhere that Haro
Sarah Anne
I originally wanted some extra time before my comments because I wanted to review the annotations. This is an incredibly confusing book and to be honest, the annotations didn't actually enlighten me. I feel like this is a book that would be impossible to get the most out of without repeated readings. I do believe that I need to reread it at least twice. In ten years or so. It was crazy confusing.

I listened to the audio, which was one of the most amazing audios I've listened to. The guy had to na
First things first: let's get the size out of the way. Yes, it is a long book, 956 pages plus a fifteen page introduction. It takes a long time to read, but really it's only the size of three averagely sized novels put together. Its heft will not strain your pectoralis major nor cause any other physical distress... it's a book, not an exercise regimen, so there is no further need to talk about its physical enormity or the pain it simply cannot inflict upon your corporeal self.

The noncorporeal he
Nov 10, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars

I finished this a few days ago and have been trying to figure out what I want to say about it. I am not an able enough reviewer to really do this book any kind of justice. So I'm just going to say that I loved the experience of reading this. I had both a physical copy and an audiobook. The audio is fantastic. It is narrated by Nick Sullivan and he made the parts of dialog much more understandable but I'm also really glad I had the book because I ended up either reading along with or re
Jun 09, 2013 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
To attempt to summarize this amazing book is an exercise in futility. Its nearly 1000 pages are replete with multiple plots, innumerable memorable characters, humor and anguish, clarity and obscurity. Controversial from the time of its publication in 1955, it was initially criticized and dismissed as incomprehensible and valueless, but the passing of time has revealed it to be in the eyes of critics, scholars, and many readers one of the most influential and finely-wrought novels of the 20th cen ...more
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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.” 133 likes
“If it is not beautiful for someone, it does not exist.” 63 likes
More quotes…