Friday, November 04, 2005

Gaddis: Fly

In real life, I will occasionally blather about William Gaddis. I shouldn't, because I've never finished either of his most significant novels. Five years ago I made it halfway through The Recognitions before being distracted, leaving it for a couple of weeks, losing the thread completely, and deciding that plowing onwards for the sake of being able to say I'd finished it would be cheating. JR likewise, only two years ago and not so far. One of these decades, Bill.

But The Recognitions is special, and I've recently come back to it, determined to lash myself to the mast beforehand. Fortunately, there are reader's guides and volumes of annotations to do the lashing with. But why bother? I opened the book up thinking there was a reasonable chance I was being masochistic in that status-conscious and Serious-Novel way that Tom Wolfe is always complaining about. A couple of pages in, I remembered why:
There was the cell where Fr. Eulalio, a thriving lunatic of eighty-six who was castigating himself for unchristian pride at having all the vowels in his name, and greatly revered for his continuous weeping, went blind in ecstacy of such howling proportions that his canonization was assured. He was surnamed Epiclantos, "weeping so much," and the quicklime he had been rubbing into his eyes was put back into the garden where it belonged.
That's a throwaway aside (I assume) and it gives me chills. There are enough sentence-pairs that do to actually make it seem potentially worthwhile to look up the obscure references - and God knows there are a lot - in the hope that there will be something fantastic and witty encoded underneath all the classical allusions. This is something I could never bring myself to do with Ulysses - which just seems to demand it a little too much - and I'm not convinced it's actually a good way of enjoying a book, as opposed to dissecting it. But The Recognitions is special. Although, for all I know, the ending fucking sucks.