96 Percent Stupid

Dalkey is getting some great coverage for their Gaddis re-releases. The New Yorker picks out a gem anecdote:

William Gaddis, in the closing pages of his colossal 1955 novel “The Recognitions,” inserts a brief scene that manages to be at once rancorously funny, brazenly self-referential, and spookily prescient about the critical fate that lay in store for his work. A book reviewer and a poet meet in a tailor’s shop; both are sitting pantsless while they wait for their respective garments to be adjusted. The poet notices an unusually thick book under the critic’s arm and asks him if he’s reading it. No, says the critic, he’s not reading it, “just reviewing it.” He complains that he’s getting paid “a lousy twenty-five bucks for the job” and that “it’ll take me the whole evening tonight.” He then tells his acquaintance that he hopes he hasn’t gone and bought the book. “Christ,” he says, “I could have given it to you, all I need is the jacket blurb to write the review.”

Though the name of the book is never mentioned, it’s fairly obviously “The Recognitions.” It’s as though Gaddis was already convinced, before he even completed his nine hundred and fifty-six-page début, that the novel was going to be treated with contempt or indifference by the literary press, and had decided to work in this gag as a sort of futile, preëmptive revenge on the critics who would never get far enough into the text to notice. His apparent pessimism was borne out: the book was reviewed quite widely, but the overwhelming majority of reviews were either dismissive of its blatant ambition or frustrated by its length and frequent impenetrability. As the novelist William H. Gass put it in his introduction to the 1993 edition of the book, “Its arrival was duly newsed in fifty-five papers and periodicals. Only fifty-three of these notices were stupid.”

More from Conversational Reading:

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  3. The Anxiety of Influence William Gaddis edition: I recall a most ingenious piece in a Wisconsin quarterly some years ago in which The Recognitions’ debt to Ulysses was established...
  4. Stupid Praise Mark Lotto, i.e. the voice of sanity. Book reviewers, on the other hand, have had no trouble making up their minds about Indecision. The Gray...
  5. Some of it is just plain stupid I’d say that the Richard Posner article on media in The New York Times is about 50/50. Fifty percent of it says intelligent things that...

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I returned the new Dalkey edition as the type size was too small and the printing was not high quality.

However, they have just released the book for Kindle (I have an iPad) and it is perfect…

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