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The Recognitions by William Gaddis

The Recognitions (1955)

by William Gaddis

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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1,622206,673 (4.35)1 / 150

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English (18)  German (1)  All (1)  All languages (20)
Showing 1-5 of 18 (next | show all)
There may be something to see here, but it will take you more time than it's worth to figure out what you're looking at.

The literary critic jack green is probably best known for insisting that his pseudonym be written, like adidas, without capital letters. He's arguably less well known for lambasting those critics who dismissed The Recognitions on its publication, saying that they had failed to recognise "the greatness of the book" and failed "to convey to the reader what the book is like, what its essential qualities are." Well, despite me not recognising "the greatness of the book" let me at least attempt to convey to the reader what the book is like and what its essential qualities are.

This book is like attempting a full day's work which, after about ten minutes, you kind of get in the rhythm of. You know you've got some way to go before you complete everything you have to do but, you feel pretty optimistic. An hour in, you take a break, putting your fatigue down to the fact that you didn't quite have enough caffeine that morning. In the struggle through to lunch, you begin to dread the afternoon's grind. Lunch is like a lying on a sun-drenched beach watching a storm approach from the horizon. The afternoon is best not described and, just before you think you've finished, the boss drops an extra stack of files on your desk which sentence you to three hours' overtime. As you open the files, you realise that the work you're now chained to is exactly the same work that you thought you'd completed before lunchtime.

That's what this book is like.

Now for its essential qualities. If I'm right, Gaddis was trying to to get across the idea that people and their products aren't always what they seem. The fact that he needed nearly a thousand pages to get that idea across seems to me to be either a lack of skill or some purposeful form of sadism on the part of the writer. Perhaps it's the very embodiment of what the novel is attempting to convey. Whatever it is, anyone beyond childhood is already aware that we're fakes and that life is, for the most part, an elaborate cover up. Tell us something we don't know Gaddis.

The characters are essentially hard to grasp. They kind of slipped through my fingers as I attempted to make sense of who they were, what they were called, why they were created and what they were supposed to be doing there. There's no plot to speak of, at least none that can be expanded by contained by more than a brief paragraph (or two if you cheat), and the structure is fragmented and literally repetitive.

All this creates, in essence, a piece of writing that is almost impossible to describe and, more importantly, hardly worth the effort you'll expend anyway. It's quintessentially post-modern in that the artist isn't going to tell you what it means and, having spent time with it, you realise that life's too short to discover what it means for yourself. Move along people. There may be something to see here, but it will take you more time than it's worth to figure out what you're looking at. I'm not sure if this is the guy who is responsible for Pynchon, but if it is, we owe him nothing. ( )
2 vote arukiyomi | Jun 28, 2017 |
This book is like walking into a cocktail party full of strangers, all wearing identical masks, who all turn out to be jerks and would just be terribly, terribly amused if one told them so. The first section is actually good; I would read more about Gwyon's odd father and great-aunt. I would read more about Gwyon's time in Paris, too. But once he gets to New York, not only can I not tell who's saying what but I don't care. I just want them to shut the hell up. ( )
  KateSherrod | Aug 1, 2016 |
170) The Recognitions William Gaddis
★★ for enjoyment ★★★★ for the moments of linguistic genius

The 1001 books to read before you die say this is a book about defining what is true by looking at the way that everything can be faked, published in 1955 it covers forgery, plagarism, counterfeiting and plain old lying there is also a lot of heavy religious overtones.

In its way it is a circular novel we start with a priest who has decided to cover all religions and science in his sermons and eventually his quest to understand leads to the physical destruction of his church and his removal from his post. It ends with Stanley who has always wanted to play the organ in a famous church in Italy he writes his own mass however as he begins to play the church collapses crushing him.

The novel centres around the lives of several (and I can think of no better word for them) pretentious Americans living in New York who believe they know everything about everything and when they dont they pretend they do. The main character (according to 1001) is Wyatt a gifted artist who has now turned his talents to forgery, he doesn't copy the old masters he creates new masterpieces in their names which art dealer Brown then gets authenticated and sold.

At 1100 pages the point about fake and real is certainly banged home however I lost interest in the characters and found it hard to keep track of them especially as in different sections they are given different names to allow the storyline to progress and you are left identifying them by physical attributes a man with black sling (for fake injury) the tall woman etc also the womens names include Esme, Esther and Edna try keeping them secret when they are hundred of pages between each appearance.

The story came to what I felt was a natural conclusion about 80% of the way through the book by no Gaddis decided to carry on with a religious pilgrimage to Spain aboard a ship which lead to suicide possible murder and possession to be honest I was so bored by now I just couldnt keep up with what had happened and to who.

As if the boredom wasn't bad enough you need to know Latin, Spanish, Italian and German as some sections switch language in the middle and Gaddis does not provide the translations at all so you either look it up or miss out on what could be great observations (must confess I went down the miss our route although some Spanish and German I could make out)

Now you know how much I hated most of the book let me share some moments of genius

"her search for Reason was always interrupted by reasons"

"An accident! He ties a rope around his neck and climbs out a window, but the rope breaks and he falls forty-six stories, so its an accident?"

"stopping every ten or twelve yards to open the huge maw at its back and masticate the immense portions left out to appease it with gnashings of reckless proportions, glass smashed and wood splintered between its bloodless gums" to describe a garbage truck

So as you can see at points the humour made me laugh, I loved the poetical treatment of the everyday but it just wasnt enough to rescue the novel overall. ( )
  BookWormM | Jan 15, 2016 |
I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race . . . and for what . . . meaningless a chasing after the wind. ( )
  DavidCLDriedger | Apr 22, 2015 |
Confessional! What do you get when you combine these factors: a reading list still over 4,000 titles long, Book Challenge rules which address when to not read a book, and a book 956 pages long with a plot no one can explain? Me, quitting this book! I read plenty of other reviews urging me to "stick with it" and to "keep reading despite the nonsense." Can't do it. Not one of the reviews really told me what the book was about except in some obscure and round-about way involving art, religion and the postmodern condition, all the (many) characters are seemingly adrift with endless and pointless dialogues, and there never seemed to be an end to the literacy allusions and absurdity. There. I said it. Hated it with two thumbs down. Maybe, when I'm feeling a bit more scholarly and have all the time in the world, I'll pick it up again. ( )
  SeriousGrace | Dec 8, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 18 (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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Nihil cavum neque sine signo apud Deum.
Irenaeus, Adversus haereses

{Nothing is empty or lacking significance to God.}
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.)
Disambiguation notice
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A novel of forgery, emotional and spiritual, as well as actual, with background ranging from New York and New England to a monastery outside Madrid.

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