The Rush for Second Place: Essays and Occasional Writings

The Rush for Second Place: Essays and Occasional Writings

by William Gaddis
     
 

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William Gaddis published only four novels during his lifetime, but with those works he earned himself a reputation as one of America's greatest novelists. Less well known is Gaddis's body of excellent critical writings. Here is a wide range of his original essays, some published for the first time. From "'Stop Player. Joke No. 4,'" Gaddis's first national

Overview

William Gaddis published only four novels during his lifetime, but with those works he earned himself a reputation as one of America's greatest novelists. Less well known is Gaddis's body of excellent critical writings. Here is a wide range of his original essays, some published for the first time. From "'Stop Player. Joke No. 4,'" Gaddis's first national publication and the basis for his projected history of the player piano, to the title essay about missed opportunities in America during the past fifty years, to "Old Foes with New Faces," an examination of the relationship between the writer and the problem of religion-this diverse collection displays the power of an autonomous literary intelligence in an age increasingly dominated by political and religious conservatism.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Author of the deeply satirical novel JR (which features an 11-year-old capitalist who trumps up his Army surplus company in a manner that seems eerily prescient today) and of The Recognitions, Gaddis (1922-1998) was a fact-checker at the New Yorker and a corporate speech-writer before coming to prominence, but published very little essay-based work. Editor Joseph Tabbi here collects 29 short and occasional pieces, some left in manuscript at the time of Gaddis's death, others admiring encomiums to Saul Bellow or Julian Schnabel, all of which, as he notes, "create a sense of the environment in which Gaddis worked." (Oct.) Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
The great novelist (Agape Agape, p. 1053, etc.) explores his fascination with machines, greed, violence, and art in odd bits of nonfiction, some appearing in print for the first time.

Gaddis (1922–98) never hesitated from targeting the nation’s economic elite in his densely packed fiction, and his essays are no different. For example, in a piece that first appeared in the New York Times Book Review in 1995, he has no trouble linking Newt Gringrich’s Contract with America to Samuel Butler’s 1872 utopian novel, Erewhon. Both Butler and Gingrich, he argues, predicate their passion for law and order on stamping out difference, and their intent resembles the function of most technology, another Gaddis obsession. In an essay written as a script for an IBM promotional film, he writes that a player piano performs its music as beautifully as a real player might, raising the question of the artist’s purpose, but it also leaves one feeling cold, because ultimately the same humans replaced by the piano are the sources of, and the ones listening to, the music. There’s a connection here between Gaddis’s criticism of the Contract with America and of the player piano; both beget an alienated and usually underserved audience. The title piece argues that this audience, the American public, has opted for second place: the good life as defined by status and three square meals a day. Instead of holding fast to the Protestant work ethic that views material success as tantamount to goodness, Gaddis would prefer Americans to work on goodness and let the material success follow. Will the business leaders of American society ever make this transformation? On that point, the author is cynical. Joseph Tabbiprovides an excellent introduction and biographical background that’s particularly helpful in a collection that spans 50 years.

Sometimes dense, but always discerning: essential for Gaddis fans and those seeking an offbeat critique of American civilization.

Product Details

ISBN-13:
9780142002384
Publisher:
Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date:
10/01/2002
Pages:
208
Product dimensions:
5.16(w) x 7.81(h) x 0.62(d)
Age Range:
18 Years

Meet the Author

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.
Joseph Tabbi was the first scholar to be given access to the Gaddis archives. He conducts research in American literature and new media writing at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Joseph Tabbi was the first scholar to be given access to the Gaddis archives. He conducts research in American literature and new media writing at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

Brief Biography

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

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