|This was Gaddis’s first novel published
when he was 32 and more than 40 years on it is at the very heart of his
enviable literary reputation. It has now come to be seen as a Janus-faced
text that looks back in its complexity to the great Modernists of the
inter-war years such as Joyce and Faulkner and forward to the post-war
American writers such as Barth, Coover, Pynchon, De Lillo and Gass in
its taste for black humor, literary play and absurdity. It has established
itself as a unique and influential novel, a pivotal work that makes connections
between Modernism and what has come to be called Postmodernism, both as
a literary style and as a philosophical position.
Gaddis’s first novel takes the form of a quest.
In a carefully wrought and densely-woven series of plots involving upwards
of fifty characters across three continents, we follow the adventures
of Wyatt Gwyon, son of a clergyman who rejects the ministry in favor
of the call of the artist. His quest is to make sense of contemporary
reality, to find significance and some form of order in the world.
Through the pursuit of art he hopes to find truth.
His initial “failure” as an artist leads him not to copy but
to paint in the style of the past masters, those who had found in their
own time and in their own style the kind of order and beauty for which
Wyatt is looking. His talent
for forgery is exploited by a group of unscrupulous art critics and
businessmen who hope to profit by passing his works off as original
old masters. As the novel
develops, these art forgeries become a profound metaphor for all kinds
of other frauds, counterfeits and fakery: the aesthetic, scientific,
religious, sexual and personal. Towards the end, Wyatt wrenches
something authentic from what Eliot called “the immense panorama of
futility and anarchy which is contemporary history.”
The nature of his revelation, however is highly ambiguous and
is hedged about by images of madness and hallucination, which disturbs
simple distinctions between real and authentic, between faiths and fakes.
from William Gaddis: Life & Work by Peter Dempsey
(to complete essay)
Time Magazine review/notice in 1955
About Hieronymus Bosch's Seven Deadly Sins Table
William Gaddis's friend Martin S. Dworkin:
"the self who could do more"
A Crisis of Fakes: the Getty Forgeries
Sheri Martinelli: a model for Esme
The 81 Recognitions: appearances of the word "recognition" in the novel.
Fire the Bastards! Jack Green on The Recognitions critical reception