The Recognitions

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Overview

The book Jonathan Franzen dubbed the "ur-text of postwar fiction" and the "first great cultural critique, which, even if Heller and Pynchon hadn't read it while composing Catch-22 and V., managed to anticipate the spirit of both" — The Recognitions is a masterwork about art and forgery, and the increasingly thin line between the counterfeit and the fake. Gaddis anticipates by almost half a century the crisis of reality that we currently face, where the real and the virtual are combining in alarming ways, and the ...

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Overview

The book Jonathan Franzen dubbed the "ur-text of postwar fiction" and the "first great cultural critique, which, even if Heller and Pynchon hadn't read it while composing Catch-22 and V., managed to anticipate the spirit of both" — The Recognitions is a masterwork about art and forgery, and the increasingly thin line between the counterfeit and the fake. Gaddis anticipates by almost half a century the crisis of reality that we currently face, where the real and the virtual are combining in alarming ways, and the sources of legitimacy and power are often obscure to us.

Dalkey Archive Press

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Editorial Reviews

Michiko Katukani
In The Recognitions, his monumental first novel published [in the 50s], William Gaddis used the story of a would-be priest turned master forger to explore the loss of authenticity in the modern world, and the shifting relationships between life and art, art and faith. -- The New York Times
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780140187083
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA)
  • Publication date: 5/28/1993
  • Series: Penguin Twentieth-Century Classics Series
  • Edition description: Reprint
  • Pages: 976
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.42 (h) x 1.74 (d)

Meet the Author

William Gaddis

William Gaddis (1922-98) stands among the greatest American writers of the twentieth century. The winner of two National Book Awards (for J R [1976] and A Frolic of His Own [1995]), he wrote five novels during his lifetime, including Carpenter’s Gothic (1985), Agapē Agape (published posthumously in 2002), and his early masterpiece The Recognitions (1955). He is loved and admired for his stylistic innovations, his unforgettable characters, his pervasive humor, and the breadth of his intellect and vision.

William H. Gass—essayist, novelist, literary critic—was born in Fargo,
North Dakota. He has been the recipient of the first PEN/Nabokov Award,
the PEN/Spielvogel-Diamondstein Award for the Art of the Essay, three
National Book Critic Circle Awards for Criticism, a Lannan Foundation
Lifetime Achievement Award, the Award for Fiction and the Medal of Merit for Fiction from the Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, and fellowships from the Rockefeller and Guggenheim Foundations. He lives in
St. Louis.

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)

Customer Reviews

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Sort by: Showing all of 4 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted May 7, 2006

    Recognize a Verifiable American Genius?

    In a habit I sustained in college I make it a practice to underline the most quotable lines of novels I read: The Recognitions has underlines on every page. Gaddis is a major literary talent who hasn't yet even begun to receive the following of which he is worthy. This novel concerns the discoveries, both major and minor, of what is authentic in life: The Recognitions is enlightening, almost beatific, in the way in which it focuses upon the shortcomings and moral lapses of humans in pursuit of true art. From the starving painter whose unappreciated genius leads him to forge Flemish masters to a musician whose copied work played upon a great pipe organ brings down a chapel to counterfeitors of money and plagiarists of drama, this of work of Gaddis is the real thing. It is brilliant, witty, original and his command of the language is breathtakingly stunning in its execution. One can see the influence of James Joyce throughout the writing in an experimental style that is breakthrough. It is incredibly inventive and funny and astonishingly intelligent. It's no wonder that The Recognitions went unrecognized for so tragically long -- Gaddis is, without doubt, one of the top ten American literary novelists of the 20th century ranking with Bellow, Barth, Vonnegut, Hemingway, Gass, Alexander Theroux, Bernard and Faulkner. The writing is work by a fellow of verifiable genius: I strongly recommend that you to discover Gaddis -- he will enrich your life and help you better understand the nature of the personal epiphanies that give meaning to life.

    5 out of 5 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted November 25, 2013

    I Also Recommend:

    one of the best books ever written. funny, thrilling, moving, po

    one of the best books ever written. funny, thrilling, moving, powerful, intelligent & compassionate. gaddis gets a reputation for being a misanthropic old grump, but anyone who believes that completely missed the point of his work.

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  • Posted February 4, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    been waiting a while for this one

    i found out about this book months ago and was disappointed that i couldnt buy it right away..out of print! until now thank you! frolic of his own I began and liked immediately, but i hear this one is more epic:)

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Anonymous

    Posted August 10, 2009

    No text was provided for this review.

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