In a letter, William Gaddis summed up his page novel The Recognitions in a single word. "The book," he wrote, "is a novel about. The recognitions by William Gaddis, , Avon edition. ➀ #NEW# The Recognitions by William Gaddis download book in text format online pc mac android ebook format txt pdf.
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William Gaddis. The Recognitions. PART I. THE FIRST TURN OF THE SCREW. MEPHISTOPHELES (leiser): Was gibt es denn? WAGNER (leiser): Es wird ein. William Gaddis's Reinterpretation of Flemish Art. by Ted Morrissey. An abridged version of this paper was presented at the Twentieth-Century Literature. William Gaddis's The Recognitions is a highly praised contemporary American novel. Yet, relatively little has been written about the lengthy and complex.
Gibbs works on his manuscript in a cluttered fire hazard of an apartment, a disorderly place always on the verge of slipping into chaos. The rooms are stacked high with boxes and littered with mops, cookie tins, an inoperable stove, and the unopened mail of previous tenants. Nobody can find the radio, though many try. And yet somehow Gibbs lays out his argument as best he can, sentence by painfully wrought sentence: that the effects of automation on the arts have been deleterious; that technology, over the years, has removed the artist from the art and eliminated the elements of labor, revision, and failure necessary elements, Gibbs and Gaddis would say ; and that the player piano is a perfect case in point. The interruptions are finally too many and too distracting for Gibbs to persevere.
This time, readers were better prepared for his achievement — his reputation had grown, the culture had caught up with the grandeur of his literary vision — and J R won the National Book Award; its author finally gained the recognition he and his fans always thought he deserved.
His legacy has been a point of discussion — and bitter contention — among important contemporary writers like Jonathan Franzen, Rick Moody, and Ben Marcus. That Penguin should fail to serve the legacy of a writer as important as Gaddis, that his estate should feel it necessary to switch in the first place, is frankly an indictment of how publishing works today.
From a financial perspective, most new books are unambiguous flops, but the logic of the marketplace leads publishers to take increasingly pricy risks, to pay huge advances for books that may or — more likely — may not pan out. Publishers subsequently spend most of their marketing money on books that have already garnered outsized advances, recklessly doubling down on enormous bets.
In certain key respects, then, big publishing has come to resemble the highly leveraged world of Wall Street. Both have subordinated their alleged functions — rationally allocating capital; optimally connecting readers and writers — to reckless speculation.
Con men and gamblers rise, while the sensible and the serious are crushed. It deserves the buzz and marketing budget typically reserved for writers who receive seven-figure advances. It deserves an army of dedicated readers who will, with near-religious devotion, take the time to unlock the wonders and mysteries of this hilarious, brilliant, and punishing satire of American capitalism.
More than almost anything being published by young or established writers today, J R is the novel of our age. Often, the reader encounters only one half of a conversation. Paragraphs can run for pages.
There are no chapter breaks, no section breaks, no breaks of any sort — just pages of continuous text. Conventions of punctuation and typography are not, let us admit, strictly respected. Transitions between scenes happen without warning. Half way through a sentence, days may suddenly pass.
This is a tough, amazing book. There are so many plots — plots atop plots; plots hidden inside plots; plots involving closed-circuit educational schemes; the fight to control a company that makes player piano rolls; a documentary film about zebras; divorces; suicides; the cynical manipulation of Congress; African civil wars — that any summary threatens to become as long as the book itself. It challenges its reader to create a hierarchy among a maze of characters, plots, and voices.
Instead the prose is choppy and interrupted, almost the antithesis of Ulysses. Sentences are sometimes cut-off even before the verb appears. Long stretches of dialogue are presented with few or no contextual clues. One of the great challenges in reading Gaddis, especially in his second novel JR , is trying to figure out who is saying what.
Where Joyce aims to probe the inner workings of the consciousness behind the speaker, Gaddis deliberately leaves us guessing. Time and again, characters in The Recognitions, do strange things that are simply left unexplained.
If Joyce wants to draw us inside the psyche, Gaddis is determined to keep us locked out, to turn the mind into a metaphysical mystery, all the grander for its impenetrability. But the story itself is far from impenetrable. In The Recognitions, Gaddis presents a conventional narrative, at least on the surface level.
The kinds of guessing games a reader of Joyce must play in figuring out the basic elements of the plot are not required in this book. We may wonder why painter Wyatt Gwyon makes such unusual career choices, abandoning his own works while turning his considerable talents to forgery.
Or why his father, a minister, decides to preach about Mithraism rather than Christianity.
Or why Gwyon's friend Otto walks around with his arm in a sling, even though it is perfectly functional and uninjured. Motivation is constantly a speculative exercise in this novel, but the basic storyline unfolds with the utmost clarity. But if the motivation of these strange actors is puzzling, the reader will soon start noticing patterns in their behavior. The characters in this book are clearly plagued with what the aforementioned Mr. Bloom once aptly described as "the anxiety of influence.
Gaddis in his book on the subject, but he could very well have turned to The Recognitions as the preeminent case study of what this anxiety looks like in modern life.
Almost every character in this book struggles with a sense of inauthenticity, of phoniness the word preferred by Gaddis's contemporary J. Salinger , of both the need for originality and its ultimate impossibility. The Recognitions is a great novel, but not without its bumps in the road. Gaddis has trouble maintaining a consistency of tone, probably due to the massive scope of the book and the many years he spent writing it. In both of these mediums, words are disengaged from their speaker by some mechanical device; the speaker remains hidden, as it were, even if identified.
The author's vision lies here, in that world where words come at us from every side, engulf us, inundate our attempts to be anything except a conduit for language; and yet at the same time, Gaddis recognizes that words create something, even when they seem to subvert meaning. If they can become part of an arrangement, they are the stuff of art. We may be damned by words, but we may also be saved by them.
Not a small child, but Bast "enough"? Is the telephone, then, the work of the devil? Why the persistence of telephones? The need for booths, making change, placing calls, finding a suitable language, and then gathering information without appearing? The telephone makes invisibility viable; it also makes for counterfeiting, since voices can be raised or lowered, disguised, misidentified. A whole range of strategies is made possible by the telephone, even more effectively than with the mails, since with the latter a return address gives away identity.
Only the radio can compete, and it is a brilliant stroke that in that critical 96th Street apartment a radio lies buried under the detritus so that its incessant sound cannot be turned off. Added to this is another very important factor, and that is that when J R does appear, it is as a voice, with an outpouring of American colloquial speech.
The strategy is clear: J R cannot appear too often, since as a sixth-grader he will neither inspire confidence as a high-flying businessman nor prove intellectually stimulating. He must remain a disembodied, disguised voice, or else a signature on a printed form requesting free goods. His is a prophetic voice of American finance, concealed, buried, a high-roller in low-roller form. The telphone plays its role: While it may seem to damn him to deceptiveness, it also gives shape to his aspirations, optimism, and energies; and for Bast, also damned by the telephone, he learns what he must rebel against to validate himself.
Another form of damnation is linked to Gaddis's sense of "recycling. The basis of J R's fortune is a shipment of about a million navy forks.
Originally ordered by the navy, the forks were then dumped as detritus, only to be picked up by J R through the mails and started through the system again, becoming the basis for further deals, all of which involve recycled materials, contracts, penny stocks a prophetic view of the s' indulgence in junk bonds , goods that, having become unfashionable and dysfunctional, are then returned into fashion.
J R— A young Michael Milken prototype—is the new generation of entrepreneurs, and his fortune will result from his intuition that goods shuffling through the system become themselves the touchstones of wealth. Movement, not production, not increase, is all. Without money or visible goods—without anything produced—the J R Family of Companies becomes worth millions.
It is a house of cards, all made possible by the telephone and mails no fax as yet. From the novel's very first word, Gaddis stresses the depersonalization of money-making as part of the wasteland in which people operate and thrive. The oral shorthand of the method, so to speak, the interrupted dialogue, the discontinuities are all integral elements of the depersonalization, a distinct part of the vision.
As in The Recognitions, where identification is often difficult, Gaddis has tried to do for the oral American tradition what Joyce did for written English: rediscover it as a literary voice and defamiliarize it so it seems fresh. His is the poetry, flow, rhythm of routine speech, as much code as communication, as much gesture as word; in fact, a kind of code that has settled in as our major form of communication.
Well see what just happened was this underwriter Mister Decker what he did was when he set it up all it had was these claims to explore for these virgin minerals see so to bring the stock up he found this here Alberta and Western Power Company to merge them by exchanging their stock but see this Alberta and Western was already losing like ten thousand dollars a month so he hires this shit Mister Wall see for … No but he is because listen, they give him this big expense allowance and like this twenty-five percent sales commission to handle their financing so like remember I got those debentures which I was getting this interest on the Series B right after they put out the Series C?
Well see like what he did was first he put out this Series A which then when the interest on it was due he put out this here Series B and used that money to pay it see, see then when the interest on the Series B was due he just put out this … No but so what if he goes to jail, I mean I'm the one that… No like Piscator [a fly-bynight lawyer] just said maybe we have this lousy bunch of mineral rights and like drilling rights or something on these old Alberta right of ways so wait have you got a map there hey…?
This is the language of politics Reagan and Bush without syntax, Clinton without grammar, Perot with neither , television anchors, sports announcers, interviewers , finance, advertisements and publicity, and our popular musical forms. That the sound of voices has engulfed the meaning of the novel suggests more than the bombardment of the senses or the disorientation of expectations.
There is a loving sense of language rolling in like surf. The incomplete sounds are like the visual images in a stock market tape— part of an abbreviated, truncated language that, nevertheless, contains very large meanings; and in the same way, J R's periodic appearances— As if from some Wagnerian underworld—Are forms of a coded world that has replaced human communication. Although we hear voices, we do not hear humanity; although we see words, they are not words that shape up to orderliness; and although we recognize that the code must be penetrated, we are denied firm decoding.
Gaddis has created something of a hologram: a three-dimensional photograph created by a reflection or an illumination; and he has done it not visually, but auditorily. Words take on not only their printed, sequential look, but a chaotic, disoriented sound, the buzz that lies just beyond us. In one respect, as readers we overhear; and Gaddis's novel is an act of "auditory voyeurism," if we can coin such a phrase. However much depersonalization is one of the thematic presences of the novel, it is not for Gaddis the end of the matter.
He insists on tensions, with the latter deriving from counterpointing depersonalized voices with their futile effort to communicate. These are virtually all desperately lonely voices reaching out to express themselves but coming away frustrated and baffled.
Language fails them when they attempt to communicate, whether J R with Bast, or Jack Gibbs, another failed teacher at the school, or Mrs. Joubert, or even the people, like the lawyer Coen, who seem to call the financial tune. They all retreat before the bafflement of language, which somehow fails to connect. Yet the novel indicates they do not succumb; voices and language keep coming even if they miss their target, even if they have no differentiated target at all.
Ultimately, a novel in which language abounds and yet fails is a novel about how feeling, emotion, mutual response no longer function. Education, finance, acquisition, materiality, each of them neutral when separate, become highly inflammable when intermixed.
The school is concerned with finance; J R is himself "educated" into catalog marketing, amassing goods, drawn to nonproductivity. The world of finance is itself bogus, based on counterfeit offers, legal scams, and unthinking responses, on surplus goods being invisibly circulated through the system; with the accumulation of materials based not on their usefulness but on their availability. On the contrary, Gaddis reveals the energy, the push, the optimism involved even in deals that might turn sour.
JR returns us to the archetypal American boy, Huck Finn, and his—Gaddis's—use of colloquial language winds back to Twain and his effort to forge an American lingo. And in that 96th Street apartment, we have something of Melville's "white whale," something mysterious and unsinkable, with J R himself an indomitable Ahab slowly succumbing to watery depths.
By recapitulating American literature, Gaddis has provided continuity with the grand themes of our major fictions, and by re-energizing the language in its most colloquial forms he has revealed something unique, in a sense a language within a language. At its best, the incomplete and interrupted passages rise to the intensity we associate with poetic expression; at their usual, they create their own terms and force the reader to reposition his or her expectations.
The silent movement of goods from J R's telephone orders to the apartment on 96th Street takes on qualities of a magical process. The myth of capitalism is being re-defined.
If J R for a time has the "Midas touch," it is a touch that nobody really feels. It does not involve contact, physicality, anything tangibly occurring. Like the Tristero language in Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49, Gaddis's has transformed the mailing system into a broader sense of the country's business; so that whatever creates wealth, or destroys creativity, or makes for achievement does so without leaving any real trace of itself.
In this secretive, conspiratorial process, a serious man like Bast cannot flourish. He must either give way to its strange modes, one of which is to compose "zebra music" for a documentary, or distance himself, finally, from J R and his enterprises.
Because so much of the activity occurs on public telephones, or else in casual conversations against a background of competing sounds, the mainstream material, such as it is, leaves virtually no record; and the competing noise from television and radio at the school or in the apartment interacts with other forms of communication to create a confusion of realms.
This is clearly Gaddis's point, part of his deconstruction of communication: to intermix noise and silence, to cross over various sounds so as to create misinformation, not fact, and to use the telephone as the instrument of unrecorded interchange so that once words float through wires they vanish.
This is the making of a capitalistic myth of invisible and conspiratorial power. Amidst this, almost the sole sustained figure, is J R himself, the sixthgrader, a corporate manager and financial plunger once he gets his enterprises going. After he has studied the market, and mastered futures, pork bellies, and margins, he decides to go for it. Joubert, his sympathetic teacher who supposedly knows something of the market, cannot respond to his queries about "hedged commodities" or hedging in "futures" and the like.
Yet while J R is obsessed with the ideology of money-making—pointing to water-fountain millionaires and light-bulb millionaires, even locker millionaires—she tries to divert him with images of the evening, the sky, the moon. Health, she suggests, lies outside, whereas he is linked to insider deals, financial coups, turning nothing into something—All interiors, mysterious and secretive presences.
She wants to lure him to "left field," but his is the world of indoor sports, not baseball. In one respect, his education is a success, for he has assimilated the lessons of Whiteback, principal as well as bank owner. The course of this part of JR recalls Dickens's Hard Times, in which the schoolmaster, Gradgrind, has worked his magic on his student, Bitzer, who has absorbed all the worst features of the former's "choking" philosophy. In JR, with school and bank indistinguishable, the good student considers his education marketable.
Despite the energy, the verve, the refusal to quit, the reinvention of the language, despite all this, we return to the novel's major thrust, a terrible indictment of what we have become in the postwar years. Typical is a passage that describes "Frigcom," an example of technological development gone crazy: … Dateline New York, Frigcom, comma, a process now being developed to solve the noise pollution problem comma may one day take the place of records comma books comma even personal letters in our daily lives comma, according to a report released jointly today by the Department of Defense and Ray hyphen X Corporation comma a member of the caps J R Family of Companies period new paragraph.
The still secret Frigcom process is attracting the attention of our major cities as the latest scientific breakthrough promising noise elimination by the placement of absorbent screens at what are called quote shard intervals unquote in noise polluted areas period operating at faster hyphen than hyphen sound speeds comma a complex process employing liquid nitrogen will be used to convert the noise shards comma as they are known comma at temperatures so low they may be handled with comparative ease by trained personnel immediately upon emission before the noise element is released into the atmosphere period.
All institutions and practices having become sources of parody, only art, Bast's dim prospect, holds any hope of redemption, any chance of balancing venality and corruption. One of the major conflicts in the novel is between the forces of order—those elements reviled above, in education, the media, finance—And those that create extreme disorder. What is compelling is that they are usually the same forces.
Despite all the efforts to contain it, disorder always breaks through; it is systemic. The theme is the assault of disorder on order; the method, flow, stream, inundation. We catch glimpses of this early on, well before J R is clear in our mind.
In the character of Jack Gibbs, we have someone who assimilated all the tensions of order and disorder. Gibbs is a kind of Panurge, a man of supreme disarray who is trying to find order in history in a book he is writing.
Yet the book is itself part of Gibbs's disorder, inasmuch as after ten years of sporadic work on it, it exists only fragmentarily. In his efforts to complete this treatise on "a social history of mechanization and the arts"—A kind of parallel idea to what J R represents—he allows himself to be distracted, interrupted as he is by telephone calls and the chaos of his own life.
Nevertheless, his insights into disorder are clearly those that govern many parts of JR, since Gibbs understands that everything we consider order—information, knowledge, fact, detail—is itself an arbitrary imposition on a disorderly, rather different process. Since disorder is so threatening, he reasons, we have created an "orderly" version of things—the most orderly being mechanization—And thus we can come away assured that the world out there is reachable through a schematic imagination.
Gibbs, then, is working against the grain, and of course in Gaddis's messy world he must fail, as does anyone who attempts either to tell the truth or to run up against received opinion. The best Gibbs can do is to read aloud from early passages, or relate his ideas, to Mrs. Joubert; for when he finds his notes in one of the hundreds of cartons littering the 96th Street apartment—Milton's Pandemonium redefined—he is incapable of ordering them into his thesis of disorder.
He falls victim, as he must, to the very forces he is attempting to explain. He is part of Gaddis's grand plan of "American failure," which permeates all three of his novels and was, indeed, the subject of a course he taught at Bard College. Its thesis is straightforward: The American failure projects some inchoate ideal but is incapable of finding his or her way out of the morass, which can be accomplished only rarely through some form of art.
All else is counterfeit. The failure screams "fake," while the successful ones deny that disorder has won. The implications for this are large, and they have attracted an entire generation of the more innovative writers: those novelists willing to forgo more traditional narrative and more conventional forms of language.
Joining the author of J R in these respects are Thomas Pynchon, whose novels seem to work in and out of Gaddis's, in a kind of give and take; Donald Barthelme, whose most successful short stories are obsessed with the disorder that lies beneath every aspect of our civilization; a little earlier, John Hawkes, an experimenter in jagged, often nonsequential language, a subverter of narrative process.
To these we should add John Barth, a steady experimenter in the s, and Joseph McElroy, the maker of arbitrary imaginary worlds. Behind and around them all is Borges, whose short fictions lie as a presence over nearly all innovative postwar American writing. Although each writer has a different agenda, there is considerable overlap; for besides their commitment to an experimental strain in American fiction, they are concerned with the social and political residue lying in the interstices of order and disorder.
Their verbal constructs are not solely self-reflexive, not merely bodies of words circling back upon themselves. They touch upon information and the way knowledge is transmitted; and how transmission affects our senses, our impressions, inevitably our experience of the realities around us. Of this group, Hawkes and McElroy may appear to be moving us further inward, without regard for larger reverberations; but all of the others, and even these two, are social critics as well as impressionists.
An example: Published within a year of each other, J R and Pynchon's Gravity's Rainbow show a remarkable overlapping of concerns. In the first, America is a corporate empire; in the latter, it is part of a multinational cartel. Their barrage of words creates not a wall but a centrifugal force, thrusting us into the world, not away from it. For both, corporate empires embody tremendous energies, rocketry in Pynchon, but an equal burst in the rocket-like J R, a pint-sized phenomenon who touches on several important elements: art, the natural life, the question of information, the ways in which people arrange their experiences.
He is like the bottled fuel that burns up to drive the rocket; his telephone calls, so essential to his empire, are made from inside the rocket, an uncanny image; and interrupted spurts of language are like the other forms of energy driving the engine. Junk may be the ultimate product, but along the way the body politic is infected. Parallel to these matters, there are other entanglements, reverberations, and modes of disorder in J R, one of them connected to inheritance.
Taking hints from Dickens's Bleak House and its Jarndyce case languishing in Chancery, Gaddis has also integrated such legal complications into his novel. JR opens with a scene that involves an inheritance of shares of stock, and an attempt by a lawyer Coen to unravel the details so that the heirs can ultimately be cheated out of their due.
Playing through is the entire question of what inheritance means when the heirs are diffused about the country, are unable to respond to what is theirs, are indeed unable to find out what is theirs. The point of the inheritance is not only money, but discovery, the detective element, sleuthing, conspiracy, deception. Disentangling the heirs means disentangling questions of authenticity and counterfeit.
As in The Recognitions, with similar qualities at stake, Gaddis is interested in the chase because it creates not only confusion but unpredictability, uncertainty, indeterminancy. The heirs, such as they are, heave into sight, then vanish, or else become absorbed into other activities; the legal system, such as it is—And a preoccupation with Gaddis because of its potential for doubletalk—breaks down because it depends on complicity and mutuality.
Clearly, the disarray of the inheritance theme is part of the more general disarray characterizing all other elements of the novel. Along these lines, in the apartment, Gibbs and Eigen discuss a new board game called "Split," about divorce. Struggling against his own divorce and losing control of his child, Gibbs lays it out, in typical Gad- disese: Wait wait listen Tom listen, idea make a million dollars God damn it listen. Invent a God damned parlor game where's the bottle listen, game about divorce sweep the God damned country parlor game call it Divorce how's that.
Every God damned married couple young and old alike sublimate their God damned can't stand each other can't afford to split download the God damned game for ten dollars sublimate their God damned divorce game call it Split make a million dollars how's that. This passage and the following seem casual, throwaways, but are really integral parts of how the conflict between order and disorder falls prey to randomness.
Happenstance is destiny. With the throw of the dice and the movement around a fateful series of circumstances, the board game is the arrangement JR in its largest sense presents.
You land on strange squares, randomly, and that circumstantial event leads to a sequence of steps that can undermine the individual. In the throw of the dice, one is abandoned not only to chance but to consequences that are a form of doom. In the background of all this is a complicated point of view that controls J R. There is a Calvinist sense of predetermination, of eternal damnation unless—by chance—one is among the elect.
The game "Split" suggests that one enters the world of indeterminancy which, withal its uncertainty, has as a definite end financial and emotional distress.
The "game " superficially involves the play between an uncertain throw and the destiny lying on the board's squares; or in more magisterial terms, between life as we move from one stage to another and the fate or doom awaiting us once we make our move. It is both an ironical and a paradoxical metaphor. Among other things, we can never know where we may end up, however optimistic the toss; just as in Calvinism, despite hopeful signs to the contrary, we may end up doomed and damned.
Gaddis's Congregationalist background, with its overtones of Calvinism, rumbles through not only "Split" but the whole "play" of the novel.
Whether one chooses, stumbles, or tosses the dice, the Protestant spirit of playing the game for all it is worth is constantly balanced out by the penalties waiting in the shadows. In one of its ironies, the title would seem to indicate the world of the child. But J R or Junior is also a kind of pop title, a form of shorthand for the larger world, a metonymy.
The title reflects the way Gaddis works, starting with seemingly minor details of an inheritance and then building slowly and conspiratorily into the making of an empire. After the "junior" quality of JR is validated, the sixth-grader takes on the legendary qualities of a Ford or Rockefeller or Carnegie, except that in his case he produces nothing but a paper trail and a warehouse of surplus goods.
The pop title is suitable for the toy-like quality of the enterprises: whatever is excess or surplus becomes part of J R's toy shop; and the "pop" element further derives not only from the popular game of finance but from the fact J R has plenty of pop and also seems to lack a pop or father.
In the American mode, he recreates himself so as to emerge not as a junior but as someone larger than life, like those images in pop art that have been with us so long we ignore them until they call attention to themselves by being portrayed in places we do not expect. So, too, J R—A boy who is ordinarily overlooked, "just another sixthgrader," a preteen with the usual juices—suddenly becomes visible in other ways once he begins to reshape junk.
The title, finally, throws us into a crazy-quilt world in which younger and older crisscross and no longer have any conventional hold on us. Part of the disorder the novel communicates derives from J R's precocity in baffling an adult world, an inversion of expectations. He is not victim, but victimizer; not conquered, but conqueror. Pop has triumphed over tradition. Another area, not so much of pop culture, but of a parallel youthful world, concerns physicality, chiefly the way in which bodies and limbs are arranged and rearranged, as though in some Picasso-like reorientation of physical elements.
Although there is little overt sexual play in J R, there is a good deal of rearrangement of bodies, touching, limbs intertwining, running into each other, twisting and becoming indistinguishable. The sixth-grader is awkward in his movements, so that his hands, knees, legs, elbows are constantly brushing others' limbs. He is, as the saying goes, "all arms and legs"; and this youthful awkwardness—particularly noticeable when he tries to get at the telephone— extends to other members of the cast.
Jerky physical contact becomes part of the financial world, as though skewed body parts have replaced any emotional involvement. Early on, Bast's elbow catches Mrs. Joubert "a reeling blow in the breast" and she drops the sack of coins intended for a student field trip.
The sack breaks—the sexual intimation is clear but goes no further until later, when Gibbs, not Bast, and Amy Joubert spend a weekend together.
When Bast attempts to gather the coins on the ground, she tramples on his hand; further contact is then made, but through "reeling," "trampling," "blows. What does it all mean, this repetition of awkwardness? It would seem, at first, to be keyed in to the type of disorder that characterizes every other facet of the novel. Limbs are not graceful or symmetrical but, as part of the physical landscape, they reinforce how angular and out of shape everything is.
In another respect, the difficulty with limbs suggests how feeling, love, romance have eluded these characters; so that for the most part, their physicality extends only to elbowing, brushing, grazing. In still another way, the difficulty in finding space for limbs, or for using limbs gracefully, is part of the artificiality of the entire enterprise. The body, which is supposed to be a fluid arrangement of tasteful parts, becomes like the cogs and gears, the pistons and rods of a machine; a robotic object rather than human, lacking softness or give.
In such a scene, the body functions not as something that bends to another and seeks or gives pleasure, but as an element that falls outside human feeling. In a final respect, the entanglement of limbs suggests a jigsaw puzzle in which the parts have not yet been fitted together; or a puzzle in which they do not fit because they do not or cannot connect.
Limbs fly free of the body they belong to. Elbows and knees, even hands, are disengaged parts. The fragmentation of the body is not only the collapse of a normalized world but the subverting of possibility, the undermining of meaningful human relationships. What Gaddis is after is very big game, nothing less than capturing America in its most destructive postwar poses.
He is, of course, presenting a metaphor of what we have become, but he is also prophesying where we are going and suggesting that a cultural hell— now and later—is the destiny of the players. A high moral sense lies in this: not the moral sense that is only condemnatory, but one that is outraged at the waste of human resources. People of considerable achievement and potentiality pass through the novel: Bast of course, but Jack Gibbs, platoons of legal experts and financial whizzes, the wizard J R himself, the humanitarian Amy Joubert.
All of them, even the hypocrites and masters of scams, Whiteback, Crawley, and their ilk, have wasted their goods. All have been pre-empted, needless to say, by systems, ideas, attitudes, traditions, and conventions that subvert behavior, abort abilities, undermine human capacity, destroy potential. In their interaction, they have proven that social intercourse breeds contempt, that a narrowly focussed desire for achievement leads to waste.
Only Bast may be salvageable, because he retains the face of humanity: the starving artist who hopes to practice his art but who, throughout the novel, is addled by everything calculated to suborn his craft. In matters of form, that there are no chapters, no breaks, no interruption of the continuity of text all suggest that these voices emanating from undescribed presences are part of a particular temporal sequencing.
While this may imply a kind of order, it is precisely the opposite.
Time in J R is not only elusive but imaginatively created; so that present and past are caught up in a relentless, disorderly flow.