Agape Agape

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William Gaddis published four novels during his lifetime, immense and complex books that helped inaugurate a new movement in American letters. Now comes his final work of fiction, a subtle, concentrated culmination of his art and ideas. For more than fifty years Gaddis collected notes for a book about the mechanization of the arts, told by way of a social history of the player piano in America. In the years before his death in 1998, he distilled the whole mass into a fiction, a dramatic monologue by an elderly ...

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Agape Agape

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Overview

William Gaddis published four novels during his lifetime, immense and complex books that helped inaugurate a new movement in American letters. Now comes his final work of fiction, a subtle, concentrated culmination of his art and ideas. For more than fifty years Gaddis collected notes for a book about the mechanization of the arts, told by way of a social history of the player piano in America. In the years before his death in 1998, he distilled the whole mass into a fiction, a dramatic monologue by an elderly man with a terminal illness. Continuing Gaddis's career-long reflection on those aspects of corporate technological culture that are uniquely destructive of the arts, Agape Agape is a stunning achievement from one of the indisputable masters of postwar American fiction.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Published after his death in 1998, this final novel by Gaddis is a brief but noteworthy commentary on the state of creativity and the arts at the close of the 20th century. Gaddis has compressed 50 years of research on the social history of the player piano into a novel narrated by a dying elderly man who is as concerned with his own physical collapse as he is with his piano-based literary project. Gaddis's cultural jumping-off point is the late 19th and early 20th century, as he explores the coincidence between the advent of techniques of reproduction that made mass-produced art possible and the drop-off in artistic participation by hobbyists and ordinary people that soon followed. The title captures much of the essential concept, referring to the unique sense of wonder that arises during the creative process and that is now missing from our daily lives. As usual, Gaddis's avant-garde style requires patience and staying power from readers, who must parse long, elliptical sentences that wander from idea to idea while barely advancing the narrative. But his thoughts and ruminations remain fascinating and challenging, particularly when he manages to briefly focus his ramblings on such subjects as the publishing process, the nature of performing, the rise of such iconoclasts as Glenn Gould and the fractures that are beginning to appear in the fabric of cultural civilization as we currently know it. The brevity of this volume makes it relatively accessible for those new to this author (a cogent afterword by Joseph Tabbi helps too), and literary mavens who have followed Gaddis's career will mark this book as a brilliant closing effort from a groundbreaking novelist. (Oct. 14) Forecast: The publication of Agape Agape and the simultaneous release of The Rush for Second Place (Penguin), a collection of Gaddis's nonfiction, may spur reviewers to offer fresh overviews of Gaddis's career. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Gaddis was one of America's most influential, albeit not widely known, 20th-century novelists. He wrote complex, large-scale works (JR being perhaps the most recognizable) that explored the inherent struggle between the artist and modern, corporate society. Written as he lay dying, this last fiction continues the same theme but in a much more succinct form-in 96 pages, to be exact. Its succinctness, however, does not make it any less complex. Like Gaddis himself, the narrator is dying as he addresses the reader directly in one long, stream-of-consciousness monolog. And again, like Gaddis, he is sorting through a lifetime's accumulation of notes and jottings, trying to bring together the thread of his story. It is basically a rant against the negative effects of modern technological society on the artist, the invention of the player piano being a major influence, as it allowed imitation to be mistaken for creation. The fertility of Gaddis's own mind is evident as his narrator wanders through his notes, seeking to make the connections that prove his point and to make sense of it all before he dies. This work will not attract a popular audience, but it is a very important one, as it has much to say about the author as man and artist. It also contains a very useful afterword by Joseph Tabbi. As such, it belongs in all academic and most larger public libraries.-David W. Henderson, Eckerd Coll. Lib., St. Peterburg, FL
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780142437636
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 9/28/2003
  • Series: Penguin Classics Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 128
  • Product dimensions: 5.12 (w) x 7.84 (h) x 0.39 (d)

Meet the Author

William Gaddis

William Gaddis (1922-1998) was a master of the American novel who was frequently compared with Joyce, Nabokov, and Pynchon. Two of his novels, J R and A Frolic of His Own, won the National Book Award. He was a member of the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the recipient of a MacArthur Prize.

Biography

William Gaddis published only four novels in his lifetime, but those four books were influential enough that George Stade, writing in the New York Times Book Review, could dub Gaddis the "presiding genius of post-war American fiction." Though Gaddis is now celebrated as a master of experimental fiction, his work initially met with indifferent or hostile reviews.

Gaddis left Harvard University during his senior year, worked for two years as a fact-checker for the New Yorker, then spent five years traveling through Central America, North Africa and Europe. After returning to the United States in 1951, he wrote The Recognitions, a densely allusive, darkly comic novel centered on the Faustian figure of Wyatt Gwyon, an aspiring painter whose obsession with beauty and order eventually leads to a career as a forger of Flemish masterpieces.

The Recognitions bewildered book critics when it was published in 1955, but it has since come to be viewed as a pivotal work of American literature, one that marks a turning point between the great modernist authors like William Faulkner and postmodernists like Thomas Pynchon and Don DeLillo. Richard Toney described it as "a novel of stunning power, 956 pages of linguistic pyrotechnics and multi-lingual erudition unmatched by any American writer in this century -- perhaps in any century."

Following its markedly unsuccessful publication, Gaddis went to work as a corporate speechwriter, a job he hated. But Gaddis's literary reputation began to grow as fellow novelists discovered and championed The Recognitions, reissued in 1962. Eventually, Gaddis received several grants, which helped him write his second book.

JR, a 726-page novel written almost entirely in dialogue, skewers the business world through the tale of an 11-year-old boy who builds a paper empire of penny stocks from his school phone booth. It won the National Book Award for 1975, thrusting a somewhat reluctant Gaddis into the limelight. "I feel like part of the vanishing breed that thinks a writer should be read and not heard, let alone seen," he said in his acceptance speech for the award.

His next two books also garnered high critical acclaim: Cynthia Ozick, writing in the New York Times Book Review, called Carpenter's Gothic (which weighs in at a mere 262 pages) "an unholy landmark of a novel." Gaddis won a second National Book Award for A Frolic of His Own, which combined Swiftian satire of our litigious culture with deeper meditations on the nature of justice. His final book Agapé Agape, a novel about the history of the piano player, was published after his death in 1998.

Gaddis scholar Steven Moore wrote: "In Carpenter's Gothic, a character speaks of 'books that erode absolute values by asking questions to which they offer no answers.' This is very close to what Gaddis's fiction attempts, and close too to the work of two of the greatest American novelists, Hawthorne and Melville." In the current crop of novelists, writers like Jonathan Franzen and David Foster Wallace have carried out their own versions of the literary experiment that so flummoxed Gaddis's critics in 1955.

Gaddis's novels may be less widely read than those of his successors, but they remain compelling for their imaginative reach, sumptuous prose style and mordant wit. Gaddis seems to have known from the beginning that he was writing for a select audience, a recognition signaled at the end of his first book: "He was the only person caught in the collapse, and afterward, most of his work was recovered too, and it is still spoken of, when it is noted, with high regard, though seldom played."

Good To Know

After The Recognitions was panned by several critics, the independent publisher Jack Green wrote a 70-page diatribe titled "Fire the Bastards!" which excoriated the book's critics for their factual and interpretive errors. In 1962, Green wrote and paid for a full-page ad in The Village Voice, urging people to buy The Recognitions. Some readers suspected Gaddis had taken out the ad himself, and that Jack Green was a pseudonym.

When Thomas Pynchon's first novel V. was published in 1963, some readers suspected Pynchon was actually William Gaddis, a theory fueled by both writers' reclusiveness. In the mid-1980s, letters signed "Wanda Tinasky" began to appear in local California newspapers. They asserted that Pynchon, Gaddis and Jack Green were all the same person. In 1996, The Letters of Wanda Tinasky were published on the premise that Pynchon wrote them, though Pynchon denied any part in their authorship.

Don Foster, the literary sleuth who identified Joe Klein as the author of Primary Colors, started to investigate the Tinasky letters in 1996. Foster eventually identified them as the work of Thomas Hawkins, a Mendocino County writer and fanatic admirer of The Recognitions who had killed his wife and then himself in 1988.

Gaddis enrolled at Harvard College in 1941 and was editor of the famous Harvard Lampoon; but was kicked out in his senior year. According to a Salon article, he was asked to leave “after a run-in with local police.”

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    1. Date of Birth:
      December 29, 1922
    2. Place of Birth:
      New York, New York
    1. Date of Death:
      December 17, 1998
    2. Place of Death:
      East Hampton, New York
    1. Education:
      Attended Harvard University (no degree)

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Sort by: Showing 1 – 7 of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 6, 2008

    The Satisfaction of Joyce, Beckett and Pynchon in a Sitting

    Written from his death bed, the narrator delivers a powerful meditation on the importance of art, a writer's role in materializing thoughts for prosperity's sake, and, consequently, the purpose of one's life. Will resonate with intellectuals and non-intellectuals who question if one's life work can truly leave a long-standing imprint long after we are gone.

    2 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 1, 2012

    Dense and operating on its own terms

    There just seems to be something wrong about reading this book on an e-reader.

    1 out of 2 people found this review helpful.

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    Posted January 11, 2010

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