The Contentious Legacy of William Gaddis
July 9, 2015 9:04 AM   Subscribe

He also convincingly pitches Gaddis as an exemplar of what Thoreau called “the memorable interval” between “the language heard” and “the language read,” which he describes as “a reserved and select expression” that is “too significant to be heard by the ear, which we must be born again in order to speak.” This is a beautiful reiteration of how Gaddis’ novels, which sometimes contain nothing but dialogue for pages on end, echo the idea that “America itself can be regarded as nothing more, or less, than the speech of Americans.” --Jonathon Sturgeon reviews Joseph Tabbi's new biography of William Gaddis posted by chavenet (14 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
 
Yeah that Flavorwire review of the biography inspired me to make another run at Frolic (although reading the Tabbi listicle linked here maybe The Recognitions instead?).

Gaddis' virtuosity is undeniable, but like Pynchon and Dellilo, too, I guess, appreciating it isn't often easy.
posted by notyou at 9:18 AM on July 9, 2015


Gaddis' virtuosity is undeniable, but like Pynchon and Dellilo, too, I guess, appreciating it isn't often easy.

For me at least, Delillo is the most easily accessible out of this list of authors. I have failed at Gaddis and Pynchon far too many times. I still appreciate their contributions to literature , but they are difficult to parse through.
posted by Fizz at 9:33 AM on July 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


A good review, and of the two Gaddis' I've read I definitely am convinced of his excellence, but I found it strange how focused the reviewer was on Franzen's 13-year-old dismissal of Gaddis, especially when a far more searing and intense take down of Franzen was already plotted by Ben Marcus.
posted by wyndham at 9:42 AM on July 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Everybody likes taking a swipe at Franzen. It's how literary types demonstrate street cred.
posted by notyou at 9:45 AM on July 9, 2015 [1 favorite]


Everybody likes taking a swipe at Franzen.

The literary equivalent of Godwin's Law.
Franzen's Law: As an online discussion grows longer, the probability of someone snarking on Jonathan Franzen approaches 1."*

*Also see: David Foster Wallace's Law*
posted by Fizz at 10:16 AM on July 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


Thanks for this post; I have fat paperback copies of The Recognitions and JR, and one of these days I'll get around to actually reading them. Every time I open one at random and read a few lines (something I frequently do to assuage the hurt feelings of the thousands of books that sit there on my shelves gathering dust and waiting patiently for attention) I'm struck by the prose, how it begs to be read aloud: "the speech of Americans," indeed.

> Everybody likes taking a swipe at Franzen. It's how literary types demonstrate street cred.

No, it's because Franzen begs to be swiped at. Seriously, he's the most irritating cultural presence in American literature since, I don't know, Harold Bloom, except that Bloom won't go away and just keeps getting more irritating. Feh.
posted by languagehat at 10:41 AM on July 9, 2015 [5 favorites]


The Recognitions really is the best of his novels (er, that I've read, so that doesn't include A Frolic of His Own and I have to admit that Carpenter's Gothic was a long time ago).

JR I thought was a bitter, hateful mess—I was kind of saddened to realize that in many ways I thought Franzen's negative assessment of it was correct. But it's a real drop-off from The Recognitions, and the much-vaunted dialogue was (IMO) an experiment that didn't work, since everyone has to speak in such stereotyped ways.
posted by kenko at 11:09 AM on July 9, 2015


The Recognitions is really fantastic, though. (And Agapē Agape isn't half bad either.)
posted by kenko at 11:11 AM on July 9, 2015


No, it's because Franzen begs to be swiped at

Also, in this case, because Franzen wrote an idiotic essay about Gaddis.
posted by kenko at 11:31 AM on July 9, 2015


Recently I found my framed cover of The Recognitions and hung it in my bathroom. It is this beautiful cover. I've been thinking of trying to get a shirt made. It's just about a perfect cover. It came from the first time I tried to read the novel, which did not come to fruition. I later read the whole thing, and really liked it, but was disappointed by the ending, and that we did not get to read more about dear old dad.

What I like best about the cover linked above is that it is both minimalist and maximalist. The cover is all font, but the words threaten to overtake the page and spill everywhere. It encapsulates the book just about perfectly for me.
posted by OmieWise at 12:27 PM on July 9, 2015 [4 favorites]


What I like best about the cover linked above is that it is both minimalist and maximalist. The cover is all font, but the words threaten to overtake the page and spill everywhere. It encapsulates the book just about perfectly for me.

This edition of Ulysses has the same feel for me. I also have it as a print on my wall.
posted by Fizz at 12:40 PM on July 9, 2015


Yup
posted by OmieWise at 1:39 PM on July 9, 2015


I quite liked the audio book edition of J.R., the reader has identified who is speaking for each utterance and has provided nice voices and verbal tics for the speakers. It is way easier to listen to than to read and is both very funny and very angry.

I like Gaddis when I can work my way through it, but that can be very difficult. I found A Frolic of His Own reasonably readable and enjoyable. I should probably reread The Recognitions.
posted by Death and Gravity at 1:48 PM on July 9, 2015 [2 favorites]


That Ben Marcus piece linked above is beautiful. Thank you for linking it!
posted by hototogisu at 12:51 AM on July 10, 2015


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