1984 Inducted into the American Academy and Institute of
Arts and Letters.
1985 Carpenter'sGothic published 22 July along with reissues
of first two novels. Chapter One
1986 Carpenter'sGothic published in England.
1987 Begins contributing more regularly to periodicals and
A Vision of Order
works on a fourth novel.
The misjudgment of one generation is always a source of amazement
ro the next. It is hard to believe now that Melville was ignored by his
generation of critics, that Samuel Butler was a literary pariah ro his,
and that Malcolm Cowley had to reintroduce Faulkner to his. William
Gaddis's first novel, The Recognitions,was published in 1955, remain-
dered a few years later, and largely ignored for a generation. Only after
the publication of his second novel,) R, in 1975 did critics begin to
realize that The Recognitionspioneered (among other things) the black
humor of the fifties and sixties and the Menippean satire of the sev-
enties; only then was Gaddis recognized as "a presiding genius, as it
turns out, of post-war American fiction. "I Even though Gaddis's third
novel, Carpenter'sGothic(1985), consolidated his place in the front rank
of contemporary novelists, Gaddis remains one of the least read of ma-
jor American writers. New critical studies of contemporary American
fiction still appear that make no mention of his work, and a survey of
any college's literature staff would probably reveal that many professors
have not even heard of Gaddis, much less read him. Yet one professor
who has, Frank D. McConnell, goes so far to say "that The Recognitions
is the indispensable novel of the last thirty years in America, and that
contemporary fiction makes no real sense without the presence of this
strange, perverse, confusing, and ultimately sane book. "2
This discrepancycan be accountedfor in severalways. TheRecogni-
tions, for example, was cursed with inadequate reviews and an indiffer-
ent publisher who kept it only intermittently in print. The sheer size
of TheRecognitions and) R has scaredoffmany, and although theseand
Carpenter'sGothic are now available in Penguin paperbacks, their rep-
utation for difficulty intimidates many more. Nor has Gaddis made
much effort to promote his work; until recently (and even then, grudg-
ingly), Gaddis gave no interviews, avoided the literary limelight, and
kept even interested critics at arm's length by insisting that the work
must speak for itself.

[. and France). Haunting all three novels. Meeting him for the first time.and eventually became ac- quainted with most of the emerging writers of the time. -Mirrors? isolated winters. yes of course. Gaddis contracted the ill- the past 20 years has created a context in which it is possible to recognize ness that kept him out of World War II a few years later. Valentine went on. .The problem was not simply that the novel was toO long and dren to grapple with. . a situation that can be extrapolated to include intricate or its vision of experience toO outrageous. articles. The Recognitionsappeared in 1955 as the leading controversial literary Gaddis too works from mirrors. . Rereading it with the knowledge of all that this movement has on and later edited the Harvard Lampoonuntil circumstances required taught us about modern experience and the opening of new possibilities for him to leave in 1945 without a degree. the novel. but that even the sophis- Gaddis's vision of a world abandoned by God (deus absconditus)and ticated reading public of the mid-Fifties was not yet accustomed to the kind plunged into disorder. who nonetheless "looks like a Kwa-ker" to one gargantuan novel by an unknown writer. Looking back in 1975. he was reared in Massapequa. his mother's Gaddis with a cult following. he stayed ican fiction. drawing extensively on his own back- title on Harcourt. then set off in 1947 for five years of on my mind for some time. much to his Gaddis's novel as having helped inaugurate a whole new movement in Amer- disappointment. a job he later "I have generally shied from parading personal details partly for their recalled as "terribly good training. 6 . the writ- ers who became the leaders of the Black Humor movement had either not for the New England chapters of The Recognitions. I still feel this pressure of trying to make sure that I've got it avoids showings of his work. Like Otto in The Recognitionsand Jack Gibbs in) R. [. Already enrolled at Harvard by that time. without success. Recognitions.J Their work over Island to attend Farmingdale High School.Returning to Long been heard from in 1955 or remained undiscovered. returning to America in 1952 to revise it through two -But now. I wondered then if you used a model when you worked. Europe (mostly Spain Bouts. He laughed. in the house that century earlier. 4 the middle section of The Recognitions. but most reviewers were put off by this people were Quakers. one can see that The Recognitionsoccupies a strikingly unique and Moving to Horatio Street in Greenwich Village-the street on primary place in contemporary literature. it was a small Dierick wandering through Mexico and Central America. is the spirit of a passage of time before an audience could begin to be educated to accept The dead or absent father who leaves a ruinous state of affairs for his chil. there had to be a certain Gaddis was three. you know. a constricted sound. of fiction it represented. nodding at the picture between them. Connecticut. a kind of post-graduate school for a being just that. and perhaps partly for the same writer. whether they were stories or profiles or reason painter Wyatt Gwyon. Like the Basts. Long Island. though he himself was raised in a Calvinist tra- dition. A few readers recognized its significance and provided was the mode) for the Bast home in) R. and North Africa. . He worked on his first novel during -Well I . as was the case with Moby-Dick a in 1922. and lit a to mingle in the Greenwich Village milieu so mercilessly re-created in cigarette. and the novel of fabulation and in Berlin. John Aldridge. From Long Island he occasionally came into the city -Yes.J The most authoritative mode in the serious His fifth through thirteenth years were spent at a boarding school fiction of the Fifties was primarily realistic. but the ground for the characters and settings in his novels. "3 he once explained. Born in Manhattan novel had little immediate success. an early champion. the art right.2 WILLIAM GADDIS 3 A Vision of Order The Man Inside which Wyatt lives while painting his forgeries-Gaddis worked as a fact checker at the New Yorker for little over a year. Gaddis grew up without his father. Brace's spring list (or so they treated it). who divorced his mother when As is usually the case with abrasively original work. as is Wyatt. And it was very much that two years at the New Yorker. A lot of the complications of high finance and so forth in) R- critic Basil Valentine tells Wyatt: I tried very hard to get them all right. which not only furnished Jack Gibbs with the Black Humor-of which The Recognitionswas later to be identified as a distin- bleak memories recalled in) R but also provided the unnamed setting guished pioneering example--had not yet come into vogue. In fact. . gave this explanation: observer (585)."5He quit the job to try his hand at commercial -Seeing you now. it's answered one of the questions I've had short stories. checking everything. it's quite obvious isn't it. the protagonist of The Recognitions. in fact. The first rhing I saw. these travels. mirrors. .

.R. grey mine-I don't know. Yet even though it won the National Book Award for the best fiction of the year." Gaddis has warned. Carpenter'sGothic abounds in autobiographical body you'd want to know. for tricks and all! / Really. dissertations proliferated. the desolate loss in his eyes belying. calm of his eyes belying. sinewed hands and his. . but as it went on he became very unpleasant. rust spotted. belying?"8 Belying Gaddis. speech habits. drained of colour that might once have poetry that Gaddis once copied into a 1983 issue of Conjunctionsthat been a heavy tan[. he wrote his crumbled featUresdulled and worn as the bill collector he might have been mistaken for. in Gaddis's case. Karl's complaint that) R remains "perhaps the great unread novel of and that despite the encouraging fact that McCandless shares Gaddis's the postwar era. Gaddis was elected to the American Academy and In. usually in creative writing. 11 . 1975) R was published to much stronger reviews than his first novel (95) had received. Gibbs. and she later takes the process one step further away from around New York City." which would later become the opening pages of his second so that it opened full on the line she sought. With the appearance in 1970 of "] . all culminating in the bad luck. pets. Gaddis broke his fifteen-year literary silence. Gaddis illustrated this point with reference to nonfiction pieces. I gave up identifying lowship (the so-calledgenius award). and his various self-portraits do the same garage-converted locked room that excites Liz's curiosity. sort of getting my own around his two novels: essays began appearing with some regularity in back."9and sometimes even literature. or the Boy it for the rag of a book its cover gone. really was who the man was. is not our business. coming down with the pen- novel. But the impulse probably owes another mirror image of Gaddis: "His face appeared drained. the geologist McCandless. legs planted wide broached as does Thomas Eigen in) R. critical commentary began forming Thomas Eigen: "I started him out as being. hard kind of success he had envisioned. not life. I want to light up my own mind. the cool. Inside. But I saw this work appeared. Not only does it take place in the same Victorian house This autobiographical impulse can likewise be found in the work of Gaddis owns in Piermont. . perhaps. and is at work on a fourth its original by completing her description from a book: novel. . . the best of his few Malcolm Bradbury." Perhaps the the second half of this quotation is Liz's fictionalization of McCandless's rest. he is no more to be strictly identified with his author than is formed brief teaching stints. the cool disinterested calm of his eyes and a bare moment's industry that would later provide some raw material for his second pause bearing down with the pencil on his hands. travels widely. there are grounds. Roth's but the house's absentee landlord. political outlook. as Eliot says. "characters all draw lege he developed a course on the theme of failure in American on some contradictory level of their author's life. he was not just a man who had had bad stitute of Arts and Letters. but his embittered state had turned him into a really. cause this is the way he developed in the novel. luck. and a MacArthur Foundation fel. who has likewise published an important by scissors wielded murderously on the {television] screen where she dug past but neglected novel. novel. hard." 10 elements. . The towel film scripts for the army and later speeches for corporate executives- went to the floor in a heap and she was up naked. Gaddis began a series of jobs in irregular featUres. Meanwhile. a special Gaddis issue the end of the novel. and Barth's playfulness. Otto. be- of the Reviewof ContemporaryPiction. he was thoroughly unpleasant. "7 appearance. even his Through the seventies Gaddis continued free-lance writing and per. disjointed. to the sense in some lines of Robert Browning's the hand he held out to her. marital history. a sense that he was still a part of all that he could have been. featured an interview with his friend William H. unfortunately. At Bard Col. can't be sure / But there was something in it. After working in publicity for a pharmaceutical firm. not any- Like its predecessors. Gass: "This trade of irregular features bearing the memory of distant suns. a central theme in his own fiction and the subject of his change in the course of composition. He starts out being quite a good fellow who has had scholarly journals. and finally by summer of 1982 with the first book on his work. for Frederick The obvious lesson here is that we are dealing with fiction. thoroughly. In 1984. offers yet defensiveness. and in the fall of cil on belying. and he finished his third novel. New York-where his papers are stored in a number of Gaddis's contemporaries. Kerouac's self-absorption. or Eigen. . "No. . In a television interview with brilliant essay "The Rush for Second Place" (1981).J his still. Gaddis continues to live in and appearance. have elements of Mailer's egotism. so did more. a second book on his with him. as it were. sinewed hands. . and started to hold him at arm's length. belying. the first twenty odd pages gone in fact.4 WILLIAM GADDIS A Vision of Order 5 After it became apparent the novel was not going to supply him the she seized the pencil to draw it heavily through his still.

"16 as the first novel. and Sweeney Matthiessen's lectures on Greek drama. all sufficiently assimilated so that they can be regurgitated was being circulated for salacious rather than literary merirs. No I did not for parodic purposes. all of which will probably sleeve in his first novel. especially by reviewers and critics eager Joyce has been named most often. "he knows a lot more about sleep- read Portrait of an Artist but also think I may not have finished it. ten by Dostoyevski (with additional dialogue by Ronald Firbank). Tony Tanner confidently states. It was much more. multiple current novels. Gaddis knows almost day the influence ofJoyce is routinely assumed by many critics. Yes I read a play called Exiles which at the time I found highly unsuccessful. attended F. I kinds of artistic. large amount of speculation. Latin works. toevski. church Joyce's 30 years ago. All I read of Ulysseswas Molly Bloom at the end which theologians. Not only do Gaddis's novels contain doz- and so forth. and conversation-seems warranted. all the things ens of "whole lines lifted bodily from Eliot. & believe with a good deal more absorbtion. we read Dryden many of them harped upon. Gaddis has read gave this emphatic answer to Joyce scholar Grace Eckley in 1975: Joyce (what hasn't he read?). Waugh. I'm very glad of. despite everything" 11echoes critics who assume he has read everything. he studied under Albert Guerard. ] R is not as Eliotic always have been very happy about that. Dos- well-read man who researches his books thoroughly. Forster. lectures. letters. so important to . I also read. "15This is not not read commentary on Joyce's work & absorb details without reading the to denigrate Gaddis's undeniable learning: he is obviously an extremely original. why bother to go on. yet it too contains several quotations from "The Love Among others. all done in different voices. the same kinds of fire and water 'classic' education. bur imagery drawn from religion and myth. it was before the days of writing workshops. quotations. Cynthia Ozick's front-page cry "Mr. I can't call it perspective."17To this tions." The WasteLand. church fathers and historians." but The Recognitions can that a good education in that area gives you." Gaddis later joked. For several published denials by Gaddis. finds Joyce even if both Joyce & the victim found the item in Shakespear. No I did ing pills than about the Church. and religious sensibilities. and both call for the same it was more old fashioned. but Gaddis majored in English literature at Harvard and remembers the that would be a more accuratedescription than the Ulyssesparallelso program as solid and traditional: "we read Chaucer. with] R he clearly became his own man and go on so long as Joyce remains an academic cottage industry. "I was doubt- of knowledge displayed in the novels. despite the allusions. and the encyclopedic range "established in such minute detail. anyone seeking Joyce ical claims for his extensive knowledge are testimony to his artistry. and so forth. 19 "influences" all but disappear into the vast machinery of his work." "Hysteria. Gaddis looked at Spencer's edition of Joyce's Stephen Hero (1944) but was not impressed. Song of J. Eliot and Dostoyevski are the most significant names here. especially in The Recogni. Alfred Prufrock. be read as an epic sermon using The WasteLand as its text.18 Yes I read some of Dublinersbut don't recall Delmore Schwartz was closer to the mark when he wrote to Gaddis's how many & remember only a story called "Counterparts". which I'm delighted. Because of the allusions. and contrasting voices. And very little current. "Clearly. The novel I mean. Four Quartets. and he did not look at much more The nature and extent of Gaddis's reading has elicited an unusually of Joyce's work. because that was much more Greek and Latin. The first academic essay on The to establish "influences" with which they can then damn or praise his Recognitionswas a detailed demonstration of the novel's debt to Ulysses."13but Joyce is the most glaring example of an author whom Gaddis has not read. and was tutored in Chaucer by Agonistes. and discussing employs the same techniques of reference. work. . he example. none of leading ways that a brief survey of Gaddis's reading-compiled from Gaddis's reviewersdescribed TheRecognitions asTheWasteLand rewrit- his books. Gaddis wears his influences most plainly on his right past whole lines lifted bodily from Eliot &c. Eliot. Restoration comedy. I appreciateyour interestin TheRecognitions & have to tell you I've about Frederick Karl praises Gaddis's "extensive reading in and knowledge of reached the end of the line on questions about what I did or didn't read of religious literature."14 although nearly all of the religious references read FinnegansWake though I think a phrase about "psychoanaloosing" one's in The Recognitionscan be traced to a half dozen rather mundane sources. O. . Elizabethan drama. With justifiable impatience. moral. much less imitated. Yet of all the alleged influences on Gaddis's work. self from it is in The Recognitions. read Like most writers. Similarly. 1 6 7 WILLIAM GADDIS A Vision of Order Influences Theodore Spencer. ful of my own firm recollection of never having read Ulysses. collage. allusion. and these uncrit. Rolfe. Yes I believe I friend and editor Catharine Carver. But the nagging question of influences has been answered in so many mis.

" but read Montherlant's Bachelorsand ascent of some overhang of which can scarcely be made safely without apparently The Girls tetralogy. stitute for Lost Horizon. Gaddis to use).Silone's And He Hid Tennyson. Gorky. but logically Wilde and Kipling. among Third World authors. Gass re. Goethe's Faust. Tur. . and Sillicoe's Sade'sJustine." from Langland's PiersPlowman and the medieval passion play Harrow. some Huxley and Maugham. lous creation. in Hell. William H. ( . Rilke's Duino Elegies.8 WILLIAM GADDIS A Vision of Order 9 the religious aura of The Recognitions that Gaddis at an early stage ing of Hell through most of Shakespeare (As You Like It is his favorite) planned to weave every one of its lines into his text. Forster and despairing one of Carpenter'sGothic." he told David Markson. some tinctive trait of Russian fiction. "How are mordant social criticism and use of foreign locales. Life proved terrible enough by the 1950s to produce in The Recognitions haughty elitism.23But Lowry read Kafka then. and Gaddis once admitted that when he first read Kafka in his The Recognitions-Malcolm Lowry's Under the Volcano. to trace our the extreme.Hesse's Steppenwolf. and that he was at. of both Tenzing and Aleister Crowley. one feels. relevant works include bia. which James Hilton's estate would not allow dis pursues what Edward Wasiolek has called "perhaps the most dis. you know the mountain I mean anyhow. has spoken highly of What I can say is that it is probably all you claim for it. and in his few lectures. Lawrence's classic books on Ara- Among western European writers. "22 He also read Gide's Counterfeiterswhen young. other masters of the novel in dialogue-especially early Waugh and ported a talk of Gaddis's in Lithuania where Gaddis insisted "he and late Henry Green-but Firbank's example is the most apparent. but Gaddis's novel at Markson's suggestion and. praised The Recognitionsas "a veritable read Robbe-Grillet (though parallels have been noted).) Other c: the earlier Russian writers had the same target. Waugh. S. Gad. where references are made co the on his first novel. to a number of twentieth-century writers. outrageous novels Gaddis may major works of Dostoyevski. He keeps up with many middle Euro. in Carpenter'sGothic. and Yeats are the most often quoted after Eliot. A more obvious influence is the work of Ronald Firbank. Despite his background in British and continental literature. a Super Byzantine Gazebo and secret missile of the soul quotes V. in a letter to Markson doubts it influenced his own novel about counterfeiters." written about the time Gaddis was born. (Gaddis may have learned from humor. though I thought of it as good thought I was trying to do. C. much Conrad. From these witty. Dostoyevski's importance is paramount. and likewise extraordinarily funny: much funnier than Burton['s Anat- The range of relevant British writers is much greater.] pean authors and. Goncharov. British writers alluded co in Gaddis's writings include Charlotte Bronte 'V tempting co save his version of an acceptable country as they were (whose Jane Eyre made it into Carpenter'sGothic as a last minute sub- endeavoring to redeem theirs. Browning. a ttuly fabu- Amos Tutuola's The Palm-Wine Drinkard and. unexampled novels were enjoying a revival when Gaddis was at work his letters. having earlier early twenties he was so stunned by what Kafka could do that he "sat "found it coming both toO close co home and too far from what I down and wrote some very bad Kafka.Rimbaud's A Season The Lonelinessof the Long DistanceRunner. Himself. the vast novel beyond its "overture. E. how- . Among the poets. and outlandish erudition so prevalent in The Recogni- the most "Russian" novel in American literature. "20In each of his novels. much Robert Graves. is conspicuous in and other Elizabethan dramatists. Tolstoy (especially the plays). and Chekhov. he seems co have we to write / The Russian novel in America / As long as life goes so read and relished the bulk of these novelists' work. Gogol. styled Baron Corvo can be found anticipations of the virulent satire. George Borrow's possible. Gaddis's love for tions. whose nineteenth-century Russian literature in general crops up in his novels. but their nationalistic impulses as well. Donne. the assistance. Kafka's The Castle is alluded to in Gaddis only recently read the British novel that most resembles J R. and Dante. M. but in the unique writings of the self- poem "New Hampshire. reaches of a human characteristic. . moreover. Restoration and Augustan its absence in the profane world of J R and nearly invisible in the satirists. nor Proust's Katchenjunga. extending omy of Melancholy]though Burton is a good parallel. "21 nonfiction. Rolfe's name is as unterribly?" Robert Frost asked with uncharacteristic obtuseness in his surprising as it is little known. have learned how to use elliptical dialogue-especially for effects usu- genev. Doughty and T. Butler's The Way of All Flesh. briefly. some Ibsen. are discernible in Gaddis's Among novelists. ally achieved only in traditional exposition-and perhaps how to have thors not only their metaphysical concerns and often bizarre sense of campy fun at Catholicism's expense. of a book. mentioned in the letter to Eckley. Broch's Sleepwalkers. He has never written shortly before his death. Gaddis shares with these au. Naipaul's The Mimic Men. Norman Douglas's South Wind.

" Gaddis never finished The Confidence-Man). and More Die most important themes in j R (both spelled out in the novel's final of Heartbreakelicited from Gaddis his first book review since his Lam- paragraph by J R himself as "success and like free enterprise") and is a poon days. feels not & who's to know if he'd ever read mine before V? Always a equalities and abuses.Hofstadter's ron's first novels in his work. he is most often associated: John Barth. Riesman's The LonelyCrowd. but the state is the public's fiction. Sue Kaufman's Diary of a Mad Housewife. But to conclude the question of influences. sisted of such works as Bellamy's LookingBackward. "26Satire intended to be as edifying as it is caustic is an American staple going back to the first big novel The question of intentions is as dangerous a course to pursue as that in our literature. rie and An American Tragedy. the theme of failure. Don DeLillo. and Alexander Theroux-all of whom apparently know his work. "Bartleby the Scrivener. "going back well over a century. and tury. Faulkner (only The Sound and the Fury and a few stories. Lawrence facetiously novelists. hypocrisies and patent frauds. he seems to prefer more traditional works over the kind of novels Catcherin the Rye. to the tradition of vitriolic satire hand). Cummings (especially ers named earlier to the great Augustan satirists of the eighteenth cen- 1 X 1)." and Billy Budd. a theme so prevalent that it can be overlooked. and more recent novels such as Joan Didion's Play It he himself writes-perhaps because he considers his work more tradi- As It Lays. He never finished either Lolita or The Sot- Exley's A Fan'sNotes. not necessarily Lawrence's grouches. Gaddis probably of influences.10 11 WILLIAM GADDIS A Vision of Order ever. Gilbert Sorrentino." 27 titudes and self defeating policies. Lewis's Babbitt. which is whether they prefer subject matter that they rejoice in or Melville (Moby-Dick. by indignation. Thoreau's Walden. Dreiser's SisterCar. Two in particular stand our: the first is Gaddis has read include Djuna Barnes (her stories as well as Nightwood). and such novelists as Joy Williams (specifically State of Grace)and James John Holt's How ChildrenFail. WeedFactor(both on stylistic grounds) but alludes to Capote's and Sty- matism. Ben Jonson. but he subject matter they deplore and wish to savage with ironies. he confesses). Sinclair's The jungle. early Burroughs. a good deal of Mark Twain fueled by moral indignation that goes back through the American writ- (both fiction and nonfiction). but not A Marble Faun. but Gaddis's intentions have likewise been too often mis- doesn't know this work. Crane's Maggie. as has been suggested). H. Nathanael West. and Frederick tional than his critics do. this is often coupled with and even springs from the been 'influenced' (perilous word) by mine." Gaddis ing Gaddis's response to the query whether he thought Pynchon's work declared in a 1986 address. but he does know the work of a good many judged to leave them unexamined. Curi. c: McInerney's Bright Lights. Saul Bellow's novels are apparently old favorites. Big City (which he found "very funny") than "I" The vehicle Gaddis uses to convey this theme aligns him with an.some Emerson (mostly at second clearly belongs in the second camp. . and he has recommended the work of SocialDarwinism in AmericanThought. Provide. these will be promptly corrected by a grateful public. John Hawkes. and. "25 "Much of our fiction. back through Voltaire. Shakespeare of Troilusand Cressidaand Timonof Athens (even King Lear). Carnegie's How to Win Friendsand InfluencePeople. what D. "24His reading list at Bard con. (Among the nonfiction he used are James's Prag. and gratitude is Intentions not its most prominent attribute. Joseph McElroy. that traditional American themes. dangerous course. Gaddis is first and foremost an American writer working with Other American writers. he writes. In one of his essays Edward Hoag- later moral satirists: Hawthorne (he's read The Scarlet Letter and The land suggests "writers can be categorized by many criteria. Hemingway. In- Frost's "Provide. though I've understood he writer's perennially naive notion that through calling attention to in. self deceiving at. and the bitterly satirical later Elkin. novels as challenging as his own. "only by overlooking the main body of American literature and like every writer of his generation. Robert Coover." Miller's Death of a Salesman. Brackenridge's Modern Chivalry. Salinger's The stead.) The theme of failure is one of the two Salter. at the least. it is worth quot- calls "the great American grouch. a common tendency among many other American literary tradition. Thomas Pynchon. enough to have an opinion either of his work or whether it might have ously enough. one of Blithedale Romance. He seems to have and the novelists who have been struggling with the bitter truths of little interest in the works of those contemporary novelists with whom conflict and failure in American life. has been might have been influenced by his own: "I haven't read Pynchon increasingly fueled by outrage or. Heller. In general he seems more likely to pick up a novel like Jay thematic common denominator for all of Gaddis's work. among his contemporaries.

but he is a very talented painter. really. say about happy people?31 couraging the reader to laugh away the pretensions of all those he holds up to ridicule. who at the beginning has these fantasies of com. The comic element in Gaddis's work. If you expose the faults of his society so that the necessary corrections could get that one positive thread it is all one can hope for. even though Gaddis's alleged negativity. rial-success-junk aspect of America. but I didn't see it that way at all. the artist is devoured by the seems identical to that of McCandless. he has gone through the egy. artistic strat. But he comes out and at the end he is tual. Many people have no inner demand. At the end. intellec. But what do you "11 Like all satirists. and the same idealistic motivation spurred the Russian nov. moral.###BOT_TEXT### "from a certain hopelessness of remedying excessive and organic ill. make money. as the narrator of Melville's "Bartleby the Scrivener" puts it. against fundamentalism. en. destroyed. you know. Gaddis relies on humor to achieve his goals. A couple of reviews said about the opposite to what the work portrays. "33But Gaddis's own outlook } R that everything in it is so negative. We live in a world of negative new-fangled pedagogy. sees that he has to modify his demands.Asked shortly after the publication dis replied: of this novel. in J R. fallen from humanity and sense." So he has in a way been purified. what one has to deal with. he is still ready to go again proceed. because the world isn't be made. forces. as crusades: in The Recognitions. A positive message is conspicuously absent here. religious. and the farcical notion of corporate "democ. I saw it in a much takes down from his shelf (Naipaul's Mimic Men): "A man. "Obviously quite You mean looking to a bad end? I don't know. liest novel by those who feel his work is not based "on any but a narrow He spends 700 pages colliding with this world. ready to start again. and in Carpenter'sGothic. while what the artist does is from the inner demand.whenhehasa visionof order. it's enough to look around: bad things are there. now I'm going its ruin. the life which is going on. and now he says: "I've had it. sensationalist lives. what would you want it to be?" Gaddis answered.29 and all three of his novels not a genius. In both books this community does very much represent fights onlywhenhehopes. and every form of stupidity. Gaddis belongs to the company of "salutory In The Recognitionsyou have a similar theme. more positive light. 12 WILLIAM GADDIS A Vision of Order 13 back finally to such classical satirists as Juvenal and Persius. But he has had a bad start with can be read. against the abusesof capitalism. This is the outer thereis someconnexion betweentheearthonwhichhewalksand himself But demand. the composer. ".that collision therewasmy visionof a disorderwhichit wasbeyondanyone man to put of the outer and inner demand is what it's all about. He hasn't learned anything. one that has as its quixotic goal the rejuvenation of society. and is looking for some new way to do it. 'Tve been making other people's mistakes. a projection of private discontent. and so on. the critics and. but the message in both books is for me a very positive one. elists Gaddis admires. disappointed. with the material-money-junk world. one that seems to though he has been put out of business. colliding with reality. . He is eleven years old. Pope. political. with the mate- charges of nihilism and pessimism have dogged Gaddis from his ear. but Carpenter'sGothic projects a vision of which are: get ahead." Whereas Bast. felt the satirist had a moral obligation to to do what I want to do!" That to me isn't a negative message at all. like J R. that friendly a place. Gaddis's three novels constitute one of the most searching . When Wyatt stares out he is assassins. and jaundiced views have been aired by those apparently unaware that and finally there he is trying to write a solo piece for cello. ete. He once (to quote again from Aldridge) Gaddis's "awareness of what is human addressed this charge in an interview with an answer that deserves to and sensible is always present behind his depiction of how far we have be quoted in full. he turns to forgery. But as he says at satire is primarily a constructive. Yet posing a grand opera at twenty.). the end. asked ifhe considered his novels "apocalyptic." Gad. Together. "28Such narrow grand opera to a cantata. now I'm going to make my own mistakes. A visionof order apparentlysustainedGaddis through his nothing inside. Instead. for example. So. c: journalism. succeed. in one sense at least. This eludes many readers who say that they've never read anything so depressing in their -( racy". Peo. rather than destructive.whenhefeelsstrongly reality. Well. then he takes out the voices so he can write a suite. however. why don't I write nice books about happy people. and his ambitions go from a and jaundiced view. much to the novels' disadvantage." as Gilbert Sorrentino puts it. then. The only values he knows are the ones he sees around him. so bad. I suppose. he has got right" (150). ple ask. has been Only with Carpenter'sGothic do the charges of pessimism have some consistently underrated. not purgatOry of material craziness. who reads his fate in a book he business community. "If your work could have a positive social/political effect. he is undeveloped. even disorder as bleak as Pope's at the end of his Dunciad. first two catalogs of disorder. which is to say involvement against fraudulence and fakery at all levels (artistic. That is not negative at all. undue weight has been placed on validity.

14 WILLIAM GADDIS critiques of "what America is all about. To do so. who insists "the artist comes among us not as the bearer of ideesrefus embracing art as deco. the one we all look through now and call it realism. "34The. hagiography. much less to entertain." a writer "whose duty is to say 'Nay!'. and even in a small painting you can't include it all in your single vision. "There isn't any single perspective." as a character in) R would say. Similarly. and to expose the black- ness of life most men try deliberately to ignore. your one miserable pair of eyes" (251). sentiment is even more forcibly expressed by Gaddis's most recent pro- and Metaphor tagonist/spokesman. anthropology. it is narrated from not one but several points of view and in as many styles. and metaphysics. Ranging across three continents and three decades. social structures. a pilgrim's progress. who may be tempted to cry out with Wyatt. like Hawthorne and Melville before him. but to disturb by telling a truth which is always unwelcome. an anatomy of for- sentiments but rather in the aesthetic equivalent of one who comes on gery. and its art forms. Ontogeny recapitulates phylogeny. The length of three or four average novels. and it was Gad- dis's ambition in this first novel to do no less than to excavate the very foundations of Western civilization. both a bildungsroman and kunsderroman-not to mention a ro- earth 'not to send peace. like the camera eye. the detail. astronomy. epistemologies. . to deny Chapter Two the easy affirmations by which most men live. it's just. witchcraft. sometimes the accumulation is too much to bear" (114). . art history. sex- ual ideologies. The first-time reader of The Recognitionsfaces a similar challenge. . to expose to the harsh light of satire the origins of its religions. mythology. . and in Wyatt Gwyon's indecisions and diffi- culties we have a microcosm of the macrocosmic conflicts throughout 15 . the learned Judge Crease. The Recognitionsthreatens to overwhelm the hapless reader. '''35 man a clef-a philosophicalromance. The Recognitionsis many ration or of the comfort of churchly beliefs enshrined in greeting-card novels in one: a social satire. For tragic Humanists. Wyatt could be speaking for Gaddis when he boasts of his latest "< forgery. the Flemish painter took twenty perspectives if he wished. "But the disci- pline. even a mysterystory. I take five C: "'I or six or ten. but a sword. TheRecognitions: Myth. "How ambitious you are!" his wife Esther responds. he created a protagonist whose difficulty assimilating his cultural/religious heritage and achiev- ing a state of psychic wholeness would parallel the rocky road civili- zation itself has traveled tOward that illusory goal. and drawing upon fields of reference as diverse as alchemy. mummification. . . is the leading modern exemplar in American literature of what Leslie Fiedler would call a "tragic Humanist. Magic. evoking four thousand years of cultural history. medical history. speaking half a dozen languages. there. it is the function of art not to console or sustain. Gaddis.