Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Recognitions by William Gaddis ( intro )

Jan Van Eyck "Portrait of a Man with red turban" (autoportret ? )

I finished the first part, ( consisting of 7 chapters) of Gaddis’ Recognitions yesterday. 

Like with other challenging books, the start was rather difficult and underscores the appropriateness of Umberto Eco’s quote :

"Entering a novel is like going on a climb in the moutains: you have to learn the rhythm of respiration, acquire the pace; otherwise you stop right away."

Gaddis’writing is elaborate, the sentences craftely chisseled, the meaning of the phrases coming slowly, emerging in two or three layers. I have to reread whole passages two or three times and reach for the dictionary every so many words. While the first chapters were normally descriptif, the last 3 or 4 chapters consist largely of unattribuated dialogue.

The first seven chapters are not all titled, (the reason why, I still need to discover) but there are quotes however at each division. ( Goethe, Dostoyevski )

We follow the doings of a Wyatt Gwyon, a genius painter battling his own demons. Mann’s novel doctor Faustus, with the artistic genius theme, has come to mind on various occassions. Chapter 7 is an echo of Adrian Leverkuhn’s and Ivan Karamazov earlier meetings with the devil – all props spilling out on the pages : black poodle, smoke, excessive heat, the Valentin character and so on.

The large number of personnages could be a first challenge for a decent comprehension of what’s going on on the pages, so I need to do some rereading before I proceed. There is a chapter four for instance, which I have given the title “Greenwich village late night party” where a lot of individuals are presented as Gaddis pulls us through a crowd of drunk party-goers. It is a very dynamic chapter, with a whirlwind of chunks of conversation, pops of short observations and hinted themes.

What is rather pleasant boon for fast comprehension is my familiarity with the high brow artistic theme of the painters Van der Goes, Van Eyck etc. I live after all-in Ghent where these Flemish masters are part of our heritage and our daily lives. ( Van Eyck’s famous tryptic, the adoration of the lamb, is housed a mere 3 km from where I live )