The Recognitions: Part III

June 2, 2007

Two weeks ago, I finished Part III of The Recognitions, bringing my maddening/thrilling two month relationship with this mammoth tome to a close. Since then, I’ve been wading through some critical and supplementary texts, trying to shore up a better understanding of the novel. It’s worked so far. I anticipate it will take me another two or three weeks before I’m ready to write a (very long, I hope) “booklog” of The Recognitions. In the meantime, here are a few of my immediate reactions:

  • my wild hopes for a relatively clear, summarizing conclusion were roundly denied. I certainly didn’t expect this baggiest of monsters to achieve any neat “closure” — but the fact is that Gaddis not only wrote a book that is exceedingly difficult to rise above and come to a conclusion about, but he seems to have gone out of his way to leave strings untied at the end.
  • I almost universally failed to recognize the importance of Stanley, one of book’s army of secondary characters, for close to 800 pages. Therefore, I was more or less unprepared for his ascent to near-protagonist in Part III .
  • Gaddis clearly has next to no concern with helping his reader. Important events in The Recognitions are treated with such soft indirection that it’s very difficult to know what to focus on. It would be best, obviously, if I could have remembered everything that happened in the book — but when Gaddis connects specific happenings and phrases from page 10 with those on page 859 (this is a specific example), I feel that I can be forgiven for not picking up on it, especially considering the level of detail and sheer number of characters and references that are presented in the text. It’s masterful writing, to be sure, but it defeated me. This is most sobering.

It doesn’t appear that there has been all that much scholarship published on Gaddis, at least in comparison with other major writers of the twentieth century (and he certainly is one of these). I’ve already read the two chapters on The Recognitions from Steven Moore’s William Gaddis, and am now reading selected essays in the Harold Bloom’s Critical Views William Gaddis compilation. Most exciting is an essay detailing Gaddis’s debts to T.S. Eliot, which are myriad. It feels good to spend so much time with one text, and The Recognitions is certainly one that demands it.



  1. Interesting. I’ll know when I read this to try to remember everything (which, of course, I won’t be able to, but I can try), and I’ll know to pay attention to Stanley!

  2. Sounds like hard work, but the good kind that’s worth it. Have you read any other Gaddis, and if so, is his style the same as in the Recognitions?

  3. I have not read any other Gaddis, but I believe his style is uniform, although from what I understand, J R, his second novel, consists primarily of dialog and is almost as long as tR, and Carpenter’s Gothic, which came out in the 80s, is his most accessible work.

  4. You are an idiot. William Gaddis is amazing. The Recog is the greatest book of the past 100 years no one has ever heard of and sadly, anyone that reads your site would be so intimidated by your comments that it will end up like its final phrase. Concerning a few things you wrote: Q: why is there so little gaddis academic writing? A: Moore already did it and they don’t teach you Gaddis at school because profs might actually have to teach.
    Also, work harder when you read. Fucking “Recognize” the ridiculous number of esoteric comments whirling about within the narrative. Don’t know turkish? Go research! Don’t know french? find someone whoe does and talk to them about it. don’t know about chruch History? Here’s an avenue to begin your studies. This book will lead to so many other ideas. What’s that line about the greatest novel ever written being a text of many other texts transformed into something new and original. Oh yeah… it’s the Fucking Recog. You should go read some Matthew Arnold and find out how to at the very least stand near the shadows of a critic. You make the same mistakes as Fraser in his New Yoker article a few years back about Gaddis, and you look twice as foolish. Go read some Bukowski with the other pseudo intellectuals. Leave Gaddis alone. He is a god of diction and the all holy syntax. You want a center? Go draw a circle.

  5. A selected reponse:

    1. William Gaddis is amazing. I agree. Sometimes I think I’m an idiot, but not always.

    2. Stephen Moore’s writing on Gaddis is awesome, but it’s so little read that his book is out of print. I read the sections of his book that pertain to tR, so again I’m in agreement with you here.

    3. I think there are any number of other reasons this book isn’t taught (length, difficulty, reputation, to name three) other than that professors might have to teach. That is their job, and most of them love it.

    4. I’ve read a bit Matthew Arnold, and I love his criticism; this post isn’t a work of criticism, it’s a candid response to my feelings about the book after I had just finished it. I’m still working on an actual critic response to tR, but obviously I’m finding that it takes a long time to write.

    5. I hate Bukowski.

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