Brain Pain discussion

The Recognitions
This topic is about The Recognitions
The Recognitions - Spine 2012 > Discussion - Week Nine - The Recognitions - Conclusions/Book as a Whole

Comments Showing 1-10 of 10 (10 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Jim (new) - rated it 4 stars

Jim | 3055 comments Mod
This discussion covers our Conclusions and the Book as a Whole.

William Gaddis has given us a broad perspective on topics of truth, faith, appearance, counterfeiting, creativity, and more. The broad, overriding questions might be:

“What is authentic?”

“Would we recognize the true and authentic if we encountered it?”

“How important is authenticity and why do we place value in the idea?”

"Where does faith come into play concerning what is real or fake?"

These are a few starting points for considering The Recognitions. What other conclusions have you reached?

Ellie (elliearcher) I think (maybe in an upside down kind of way) this is a quest novel-both for Wyatt and for Gaddis. Wyatt is searching for a way to become authentic, falls into despair and ultimately pulls out. Gaddis is searching through his various characters for the same authenticity-in art or in life, I think.

And while searching finds that many of the supposed paths to authenticity are unsafe and untrue-religion, social connection ("only connect"), even love.

Of course, religion is the most skewered false path. I think Gaddis is hilariously bitter at the failure of religion to provide truth, especially in light of its often smug pretensions to being "the way."

Whitney | 326 comments I did it! I finished! Hello? Hello? Oh, dangit, has everyone gone home?

Anyway, slightly off-topic, but initial thoughts on completion. I mentioned I read The Recognitions before, long ago. Since it was the pre-internet days, and there was no way I was going to scour a library to track down all the references, I pretty much just blew by them and followed the characters and plot. Have to say, I enjoyed that read more than this time around, which I found to be a bit of a slog.

It was great having the online source with the references laid out, as well as the interwebs for quick research, but in most cases I didn't find that knowing the references in detail really added much to the book. In many cases, I think that what Franzen called the “sheer cliffs of erudition” got in the way of my appreciation. As Jim said, it is a very “dense” book, which I think is its most defining characteristic. Did it need to be, or was Gaddis daring the hoi polloi to like his work? Given his disdain for any sort of popular culture or dilettantism, I would guess there was at least some element of this in place.

Other things besides erudition that contributed to density were things like the multiple overlapping conversations with the speakers not being identified, or being identified only by manner of speech or reference to something that occurred 400 pages ago. This I actually liked a lot. I loved the multiple intersections of people and places and the necessity of paying close attention to detail to have any hope of following the threads (having an e-reader made this a little easier than I venture Mr. Gaddis would have liked).

Ultimately, it’s the story and the humor that I love about this book. I’m still trying to decide if digging through the boulders made finding the gold that much sweeter, or just made the journey that much longer. I would love to hear other people’s opinions on this, especially if there were places where you thought an in-depth knowledge of the more obscure references actually enhanced the material.

P.S. I’ll hop into the debate about authenticity and faith after I’ve had an opportunity to recover a little.

Whitney | 326 comments Okay, it’s pretty obvious everyone left for the party over at Pynchon’s place before I got here. I guess it’s up to me to refute my own post. I was tempted to remove it entirely as I think I said some stupid things.

It’s pretty obvious (now) that what I found to be a drag in this reading of TR wasn’t Gaddis’ prose, but my self-imposed task to understand all the references in detail. An example would be the reverend Gwyon’s breakdown. Knowing that he was conducting a Mithraic ritual, and that it’s one of the rituals usurped by Christianity was enough to make the point (and the humor). What I found to be a slog was interrupting the text to read too many pages about Mithraism, most of which didn’t stick anyway.

I think there are many examples of this in the book. Another one: it’s probably enough to know that Wyatt agonizes over details of pigments and techniques, and trust that Gaddis did his research so we don’t have to.

Obviously, a little extra effort is required to appreciate everything that’s going on in this book, but the trick may be knowing when to stop.

message 5: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye | 67 comments My mission in reading and reviewing TR was to encourage others to read and enjoy it.

I wrote about the reading process here:

If we don't write about our reading experience, right or wrong, others will remain intimidated by the heft of this amazing book.

Whitney | 326 comments I read your review and extras, Ian. I agree, but still figuring out what I'm going to write, since you and a couple other reviewers have me intimidated about posting my own opinion :-)

I'll probably go with short and sweet to contrast your exhaustive dissection with extras, which was pretty much a work of art in its own right.

Thanks for the encouragement.

message 7: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye | 67 comments Please, please, please don't be intimidated. My review is very personal and possibly very wrong. There is so much in the novel that remains to be dissected and enjoyed.

Ellie (elliearcher) What I find most discouraging while simultaneously exciting is that reading The Recognitions is like opening the door to a lifetime project!

message 9: by Ian (new) - rated it 5 stars

Ian "Marvin" Graye | 67 comments People say the same thing about other holy books.

Ellie (elliearcher) I like that.

back to top