The Recognitions: Part I

March 14, 2007

On Monday evening I finished Part I (277 of 956 pages) of William Gaddis’ The Recognitions, and decided it would be wise to post a few reactions at this point to make my booklogging end-task a little easier.

In short, I love it: I think The Recognitions is the best novel I’ve read in over a year. It certainly has the feel and heft of an epic masterpiece of fiction — similar to reading something like Ulysses, Ellison’s Invisible Man, or The Adventures of Augie March.

In an earlier post I praised Gaddis’ masterful dialog. Gaddis is renowned for his ability to record speech; his novel J R, which won the National Book Award in 1976, is written almost entirely in dialog. Gaddis’ characters speak very realistically: there are few long speeches that seem unlikely and “bookish,” and lots of revealing shorter conversations which unfold the minds of his characters. The narrative voice in The Recognitions is a little spotty, and often verbose — but when it’s on, it’s magical.

Reading The Recognitions demands the utmost attention and a singular focus, for the text is one that needs to be entered into, and not just casually. As I read, I find that my attempts to pull out of the text and determine its meaning by relating passages or description to my own experience (a tactic I often fall into) is not in the least bit fruitful. The text must be read as is in order to be realized, or even grasped on a basic level. At the same time, it is deeply absorbing and arresting. I’m familiar with the feeling of being carried along by a book — it’s one of the best things one can experience as a reader — but I’ve rarely before been carried along at such a great depth. To concoct a comparison: the familiar feeling of movement and absorption I’m used it from a text is like riding down a river in a small boat — you’re being carried along but you’re above water and can feel the breeze. Being absorbed in The Recognitions is like being carried down the Amazon with your head six-feet underwater: you can’t see above you and you can’t see what’s ahead of you — but in this case you don’t mind in the least; it’s exactly where you want to be, where the best discoveries are made. The pervasive feeling that The Recognitions is chiseling its way into the heart of personhood and the relationship between beauty, truth, and the human mind propels the text. It’s simply magnificent.



  1. Wow — this sounds like quite the experience. I’m glad you are enjoying it.

  2. […] have not been reading The Recognitions with any sort of regularity or speed. It’s certainly not surprising that I am having trouble […]

  3. Sorry to seem self-serving, but I thought you might like to see my posts on Gaddis from when I read The Recognitions:

    There’s also a Gaddis discussion group. If you’re interested drop me a line and I’ll look up the info. The members of that group are as good as it gets, as in Steven Moore who wrote the book “William Gaddis.”

    Good – luck and hang in there to the last: You will be rewarded.

  4. […] Recognitions: Part II May 11th, 2007 — Ted Nearly two months after completing Part I of The Recognitions, I am finally finished with Part II (440 pages) and a few dozen pages into the […]

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