Book Discussion: The Recognitions

Pages pp. 824-956

Given that Gaddis seemingly could not bring himself to finish writing the The Recognitions, punctuating it in the end with a fifty-page epilogue that culminates with Stanley’s dream-church crashing down on him while he finally plays his epic Mass on their ancient pipe organ. It is an easy parallel to identify, that between Stanley and Gaddis, alike overwhelmed by their interminable works of art. Indeed, for Adam, this parallel might be one of the only ways, and even then, probably not adequately enough, to justify the tedious amount of time Gaddis pours into telling Stanley’s story. Surely, or at least I should hope, there is more to him than a token jab at religious piety; not least because of his place amongst the men in Esme’s life, each of whom she comes to despise, albeit one [Wyatt] in that deep sort of way that only speaks of a certain kind of love. A masculine Triumvirate that leads to her “marriage” to Christ, as a nun. (Incidentally … Gaddis is pretty vicious to his female characters, isn’t he?) Continue reading “Book Discussion: The Recognitions

Book Discussion: The Recognitions

Pages 723-823

He had escaped, where, he did not know, he did not think, he had not thought since Christmas Eve, and when thought or memory intruded he forced it off with calculations drawn to one purpose: to keep moving, with money no object to spend his way through it, to keep moving and live it through, without looking back.  (pp. 728-29)

This passage is talking about Otto, who has found himself living out his lie about being caught in the middle of a Central American revolution, but it just as well anticipates Wyatt’s strangely comedic drama in Spain with Sinisterra/”Mr. Yak”. Like Otto, Wyatt’s object, upon attacking Valentine and losing Esme, is simply to keep moving. Away from his crime(s), foremost; away from being used, in the service of criminals even greater than he; etc. That he ends up in league with yet another criminal, another counterfeiter no less, is of course the kind of circumstances we at this point in the novel have come to expect. That he is in Spain, Wyatt has learned from his father, is fitting, for “Spain is a land to flee across” (p. 769)

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Book Discussion: The Recognitions

Another week, another party. Do people actually have Christmas parties on Christmas Eve? I wish I knew such people. The only thing I ever manage to do the day before Christmas is catch a movie. It always seems as though friends have other plans, typically with family. Ah, but we should know better than that bit of sentimentality, whether it be borne of “disciplined nostalgia” (p. 672) or intemperant familial bondage, having an enduring role in The Recognitions.

Indeed, it seems that in this week’s reading, amidst the operatic backdrop of Wyatt’s formal severing of ties with his counterfeit operation there is a more subtle dissolution of family. By the end of part II, Wyatt is completely alone. He is already estranged from his father, but this estrangement is solidified by Rev. Gwyon’s institutionalization and death. His surrogate family, Brown & Valentine, are (respectively) dead and mortally wounded. And Esme, Wyatt’s Stabat Mater, is both physically and mentally missing.

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Book Discussion: The Recognitions

It’s been a very long time coming, but now that we’re more or less in the homestretch, starting this week we’ll get back on a schedule for reading The Recognitions.

Today’s post comes to us from our own “poseur prophet” (not sure if he wants me to put his real name or not). He obviously has a personal connection to a large chunk of this reading, so I was very pleased he agreed to explain why. He is doing God’s work with some Canadian anarchists today, so I’m posting this for him. Take it away, Mr. Prophet.

Pages 542-646

by: Poseur Prophet

In my opinion, this chapter is the climax of the novel. It marks a significant turning point in terms of the plot development – things will not be the same from this point on and, for many, there is not much else that can happen apart from what does happen. Benny foreshadows this more than once: first with his mention of an idea regarding “stark human drama” and a fellow doing something from a church steeple (573), then when Mr. Feddle mentions Tolstoy’s play to him, and again when Benny states that “[t]his only happens once… You make one show, and when it’s finished you throw it out” (607). So, here, at Esther’s Christmas party, we have everybody gathered together one last time, and the madness, at least as it relates to the living, reaches something of a climax in more than one petite mort. This is the show and, in the remaining three hundred pages of the novel, Gaddis will do the throwing out.

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Book Discussion: The Recognitions

(Ed. note: Sorry this post is so late. Been a pretty stressful week, and things just mounted as Friday approached. Then there was a Breaking Bad marathon Saturday, and the next thing I knew it was Sunday afternoon.)

Pages: 446-541

So, let’s talk about Esme. She really took centerstage in this week’s reading, I felt. Chapter II.4 begins with her withering evisceration of Otto, in which she concludes, “You had me all filled in before you met me, Otto. There was no room for me at all” (p. 449). Now, for me, this raises an important question: what would it mean really to know Esme?

In her letter to Wyatt later in the chapter, in which she laments that she exists only as a painting to him, she insists that there is in fact a part of her, a remainder, that the paintings for which she models cannot depict (or, she continues, devour).

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Book Discussion: The Recognitions

Pages: 343-445

Well, it’s finally happened. Long in the making, of course, but now we can officially say that Wyatt, who, as we’ve noticed, long ago lost his name, has now basically lost his mind. And, we should note, a very poor drunk. He is one of those people for whom one drink of brandy means the entire bottle. And, well, one need only visit your local downtown library to see what becomes of mentally unstable drunks. I.e., they become either the homeless men surfing for porn on the free internet connection, or they become the librarian who logs them into the network.  We should, I think, along with the Use-Me Ladies, pray for poor Wyatt.

What did everybody think of the following passage?

Above, another blue day, (upstairs) the room papered with green-capped pink-faced dogs, and the button drawer, only apparations move to perfection, there! Pray the Lord to keep you from lying, there, O spectral stabat mater may I go out and play the violin outside to the town wearing its sinside inside and not a soul in sight. Church  bells inspissated the air, dropping it in sharp fragments. He sat down in his place at table, excused by the falling weights of the bells, and motionless when they had done. There, old vicary, congratulate my refuge, the saneside outside sheltering the insane inside: to present the static sane side outside to another outside saneside, to be esteemed for that outsane side while all the while the insaneside attacks your outsane side as though we weren’t both playing the same game, and gone down Summer Street (singing unchristian songs) the inane sinside, pocketing a cool million wearing the shoutside outside and the doubtside inside, the vileside inside and the violinside outside skipping dancing and foretelling things too come all ye faithful, of thine own give we back to thee. (p. 399)

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Book Discussion Administrative Update: The Recognitions

Figured I should check in quickly regarding our discussion of The Recognitions. Apologies for not posting any open threads over the past two weeks of holidays. If you wish, please consider this post an open thread for any comments or questions you have, as well as an administrative note.

I was thinking we might re-commence our discussion on Friday, shooting for page 442. If most of us are already past p. 442, I do not object to bumping it up to the end of II.4 either (p. 486). Just let me know. In the absence of anybody letting me know, I’ll assume p. 442 is good for everybody.

Book Discussion: The Recognitions

I mentioned a jaw-dropping section from The Recognitions in my last post, and promised to upload it when I had a chance. As luck would have it, I’m basically the only person in my office today and the scanner is completely unencumbered by petty corporate matters. So . . . here you are (read to the section break on p. 293). Enjoy.

I cannot recommend this enough, even if you’ve not read (or have no intention of ever reading) a word of the novel. I would even venture so far as to say it could’ve been a part of our recent Theology of Money book event.

Book Discussion — The Recognitions

Reading: pp. 281-342

Time prevents me from expanding too much on my thoughts about this week’s reading. Hopefully, though, the ensuing conversation will give me occasion to do so later tonight and over the weekend.

First things first: The writing on pages 281-93 just blew me away. Even if you’re not a part of the discussion group, you should do yourself a favor and read those pages alone. In fact, if I have time today I’m going to scan and upload them. Just some ridiculously good moments there.

An example:

Over and under the ground he hurried toward the place where he lived. No fragment of time nor space anywhere was wasted, every instant and every cubic centimeter crowded crushing outward upon the next with the concentrated activity of a continent spending itself upon a rock island, made a world to itself where no present existed. Each minute and each cubic inch was hurled against that which would follow, measured in terms of it, dictating a future as inevitable as the past, coined upon eight million counterfeits who moved with the plumbing weight of lead coated with the frenzied hope of quicksilver, protecting at every pass the cherished falsity of their milled edges against the threat of hardness in their neighbors as they were rung together, fallen from the Hand they feared but could no longer name, upon the pitiless table stretching all about them, tumbling there in all the desperate variety of which counterfeit is capable, from the perfect alloy recast under weight to the thudding heaviness of lead, and the thinly coated brittle terror of glass. (pp. 282-83)

Good God, that’s breathtakingly good.

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