The Critics’ Critic

Dalkey Archive, which has acquired William Gaddis’ major books, is also publishing Fire the Bastards! a famous screed against the critics who failed to appreciate The Recognitions’ greatness upon its release.

The Paris Review discusses:

The text to which green refers, Fire the Bastards!, an excoriation of the Recognitions’ original reviewers, came out in the pages of a paper called newspaper, typewritten, mimeographed, and stapled on beige, legal-size paper beginning in 1957. At the beginning of February Fire the Bastards! will be reissued in book form by Dalkey Archive Press, which first collected it (against green’s express wishes) in 1992. As interesting as it is on its own merits, as both a kind of literary performance art and as a commentary on Gaddis’s work and the state of literary reviewing in general, this strange document is eclipsed by the even stranger events that followed its mysterious publication. It spurred several decades of lively literary conspiracy theories—theories so rich with questions of mistaken identity that they could have emerged from Gaddis’s own pen.

Fire the Bastards! contains no punctuation, capital letters, or formatting. Its analysis reads like a stream-of-consciousness screed: “only 5 or 6 of 55 reviewers of the recognitions didn’t read it the other 90% either got through it or theyre too smart for me […] FIRE the louiville courier-journal hack for taking every bit of his ‘review’ from the jacket […] im biased for reviewers who favored the recognitions except some who write like cold oatmeal & this weird one who couldn’t possibly have read the book stars. . . and embraces. . .”

Green’s essay caused a stir in New York’s literary community, not least by giving rise to speculation that Gaddis had either paid for it or that “jack green” was his pseudonym . . .

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