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Some notes on “The Recognitions” while it’s fresh

  • I started out intent to finish it in one go, without putting it aside and starting over, mostly because Gass suggested I probably wouldn’t (and I loved that Introduction).  But, even though there were long sections where I missed 2/3 of the references or understood neither the text nor the subtext, I found it pretty readable.
  • WRT the above, this may be one of the few things I’ve ever read where the subtext was readily apparent in many places even when the text was impenetrable.
  • Yes, I’ll probably go back and read it again, after a bit, so I really should make better notes than these to remind myself of themes I didn’t figure out until I was seven or eight hundred pages in.
  • While the formal, plotted explorations of forgery and counterfeit were useful for the whole, I found the related moments where people acknowledged how willing they were to be fooled (or to intimate that they weren’t fooled, but didn’t really care) much more compelling.  I mean, willing suspension of disbelief is kind of implicit in visual art, but it when it gets all muddled up with Beauty and Truth you’re sent down this path that Wyatt tries to explain with ‘recognitions’, or maybe the contemporary trope of ‘I can’t necessarily define it, but I know it when I see it’, and you wind up with a problem that’s more of a spectrum than a continuum because degrees of consciousness and subconsciousness and formality and informality and formalism and not-formalism are all in there somewhere depending on the consumer and the medium.  Even when the medium is a huckster.
  • Speaking of formalism, the set pieces in “The Recognitions” are fantastic.  The party scenes are like Greek choruses, interludes for atmospherics but also character development, both personal and of the scene.  The stage-setting descriptions of place and weather and atmosphere are astonishing, and are so easily I separated from the rest of the text that they read like stage directions.  This also has the effect of making it seem as though Gaddis is showing off- he can write perfectly crafted formal exposition, thank you, but chooses to make you work for it and doesn’t see any reason not to have that out in the open.
  • I can see where Wallace got some of his more reader-hostile tendencies, which he lampoons (self referentially, I think) with the concept of viewer hostility in Infinite Jest.
  • Otto is devastating.  All of your self-consciousness about being self-conscious and your lack of honesty about your presentation and originality is exposed because his anxiety about his own authenticity goes from hilariously absent to all consuming, and you can feel yourself being dragged down with him.  The 21st century Otto would be carefully curating his image on a variety of social media platforms (probably mostly Instagram).
  • I can’t begin to process the Catholicism theme yet.  Maybe that’ll be the next reading.