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The Recognitions (1955)

by William Gaddis

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,761266,852 (4.33)1 / 156
The book Jonathan Franzen dubbed the "ur-text of postwar fiction" and the "first great cultural critique, which, even if Heller and Pynchon hadn't read it while composing Catch-22 and V, managed to anticipate the spirit of both" The Recognitions is a masterwork about art and forgery, and the increasingly thin line between the counterfeit and the fake. Gaddis anticipates by almost half a century the crisis of reality that we currently face, where the real and the virtual are combining in alarming ways, and the sources of legitimacy and power are often obscure to us.… (more)
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» See also 156 mentions

English (24)  German (1)  All (1)  All languages (26)
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)
Together with his JR, they make Gaddis, for me, the greatest American fiction writer of the second half of the Twentieth c.

Currently re-reading. Slowly, immersed.

For those new to this, hang on for every hundred pages; it changes, new scenes and characters. Keep going. I'm currently in the six hundreds and at a party in the Village. Written in the 1950s, yet it is today. ( )
  tmph | Sep 13, 2020 |
A book belonging to a different category. ( )
  MccMichaelR | Jul 23, 2020 |
A Book With More Than 500 Pages

My edition of William Gaddis' The Recognitions is 1,021 pages long. Dense pages of small type, often with only one break between paragraphs. And unfortunately (or perhaps appropriately) was mildly infested with book mites (which a couple days in a zip-lock bag in the freezer took care of) and the musty smell of an attic (which nothing cured) that left my eyes watering on occasion like the effect of bad allergies.

I want to hate this book but am unable to. There are incredibly well-written scenes that are almost poetic in their word choices, and in spite of its unusual writing style in which characters commit dialogue demarcated only by em dashes it is rarely difficult to determine who is speaking (what they're talking about is a different issue). I want to like this book but am equally unable to. It contains so many references to obscure books and songs and works of art, often in languages other than English, along with a wealth of Latin and German phrases, that a reader could spend as much time googling as it takes to read this book and probably still not appreciate what Gaddis intended by including the reference. Mainly I want to understand this book, but seriously doubt anyone is able to because The Recognitions is populated with so many certifiable characters it should have a copy of the DSM-5 appended as a bibliography.

I would love to provide a plot summary but there are too many narratives and no clear protagonist. The man my dust jacket refers to as the "central quester" disappears for the middle third (or more) of the story, and when he reappears he is either described but unnamed (as many of the characters are in various parts of the novel) or called by the name of a man on a forged passport. I would love to explain why he is called that name but it would take as long to explain as for you to read, and like me you probably still wouldn't be able to say why, exactly.

If you enjoyed Finnegans Wake, this is a book for you. If you liked Naked Lunch, this is a book for you. If you can read about a Christmas Eve party given by either the wife or ex-wife (it is never made clear) of that same central quester, a woman who has either just had an abortion directly before the party or has been pretending to be pregnant and had a pretend abortion (again, never made clear), where a child appears repeatedly, asking for and receiving sleeping pills for her mother, where one guest has left another guest's six-year-old daughter either at a movie theater or a church (again, never made clear) and Hemingway may or may not make an appearance (we are never provided clear evidence it is Hemingway, although it is clear regarding his earlier appearances in the novel) and the hostess winds up in bed with a man who may or may not be the one who may or may not have impregnated her and either has sex with him or is forced to watch him masturbate (ibid), and not worry that you didn't really understand the point of this scene, this is a book for you. If you aren't up for 1,021 pages of that don't feel bad - you aren't missing a masterpiece but rather a book that will leave you asking yourself how many people can attempt suicide in one book (particularly people who all know each other). ( )
  skavlanj | May 15, 2020 |
I really don't know how to rate this book. Parts of it I thought were wonderful & others dull and/or confusing. So I settled on 3* which is midway between the high of 4 and the low of 2 that I would give to the various parts.

I loved the satire of 1940s Greenwich Village/New York City - the talk at cocktail parties, the pretentiousness of the 'art scene', radio advertising and television producers - it often had me chuckling. In particular, I liked the sections with Otto as narrator; his wish to appear interesting to others & his poses were both pathetic and amusing. However, the religious aspects & (possibly insane) ravings of Wyatt, his father and Stanley were generally not understandable to me (perhaps not to anyone?) and therefore boring. There were quite a lot of foreign language quotes or comments that were incomprehensible to me as well, though sometimes I could get the gist. Nick Sullivan, the narrator, did an excellent job with those (as well as the NY accents of several of the characters).

Also, maybe because I was listening to this audiobook edition rather than reading it, I was often unclear on who was speaking. Eventually I learned to identify certain voices & habits of speech which helped; until then I ended up rewinding & relistening a lot to try to find out when the speaker had changed.

While I could recognize certain themes in the book, such as the human desire for recognition (which showed up in many guises in the course of the book) and the difficulty for creativity to ever be completely new (& where is the line between being influenced by others and plagarism), I found myself unsure what to think about the plot involving Wyatt & Brown - if, as I have read somewhere, this is something of a Faust story then Brown is representing the devil. What does it mean that Brown is killed then? {And what in the heck went on there anyway - why did Brown get into that suit of armor???} Is Wyatt supposed to have regained his soul with Brown's death? But that doesn't seem to be what is happening in Spain - rather, it seems like Wyatt (now called Stephen) has become involved with another 'devil' (Frank Sinisterra under another name I assume). So what is the point here? As a reader who likes plot-driven books more than character studies, I found myself wishing that some parts of the story had been 'finished' for me - like what happened to Esther, Wyatt's wife? ( )
  leslie.98 | Apr 3, 2020 |
Months of bed time reading and I have finally completed The Recognitions. At the end, I don't know what to think of it. Reading it in such a manner, it was hard to follow although I think it would have been hard to follow regardless.
  rehpii | Dec 28, 2019 |
Showing 1-5 of 24 (next | show all)

» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Gaddis, Williamprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Gass, William H.Introductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Halverson, JanetCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
Nihil cavum neque sine signo apud Deum.
Irenaeus, Adversus haereses

{Nothing is empty or lacking significance to God.}
Dedication
For Sarah

The awakened, lips parted, the hope, the new ships
First words
Even Camilla had enjoyed masquerades, of the safe sort where the mask may be dropped at the critical moment it presumes itself as reality.
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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The book Jonathan Franzen dubbed the "ur-text of postwar fiction" and the "first great cultural critique, which, even if Heller and Pynchon hadn't read it while composing Catch-22 and V, managed to anticipate the spirit of both" The Recognitions is a masterwork about art and forgery, and the increasingly thin line between the counterfeit and the fake. Gaddis anticipates by almost half a century the crisis of reality that we currently face, where the real and the virtual are combining in alarming ways, and the sources of legitimacy and power are often obscure to us.

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