The Recognitions by William Gaddis
The Recognitions by William Gaddis
"Everybody has that feeling when they look at a work of art and it's right, that sudden familiarity, a sort of ...recognition, as though they were creating it themselves, as though it were being created through them while they look at it and or listen to it and, it shouldn't be sinful to want to have created beauty?"
By this point in our climb to the top, we are comfortably able to read closely, to discern plot, character, theme, and allusion, to identify and discuss genre elements, and to have formed ideas of taste, both ours and that of the world at large. Here, as the slope grows ever steeper, we are invested in our quest and nearing the point of no return. To complete this phase, we look to a well-known, but seldom-read writer.
William Gaddis described his first novel, "The Recognitions," as “not reader-friendly.” Like Wallace, he went on to say that he believes “the reader gets satisfaction out of … collaborating with the author.”
Drawing on Faust for his master plot, Gaddis brings much of early Christian thought onto the pages of a novel set in early-mid 20th C. New York City. Condensed from the 480,000 word original manuscript, the printed book nears 1000 pages, with dozens of characters, each of whom has a story independent of the central plot.
Themes of the search for identity, creating an authentic life, and finding meaning in a world of such vast, differing, and shifting values play out in the life of the central character, Wyatt Gwyon, progeny of a Calvinist minister from the backwoods of New England.
In addition to Faust, Gaddis attributed much of his inspiration for the novel, and indeed the source of the title, to Sir James Frazer’s masterwork on mythology, “The Golden Bough,” a work that we will take with us as a guide to the difficulties of collaborating with our author at this stage of our climb.
This course is the third in a series we call The Himalayas of Literature.
Many years ago, deep in the heart of Texas, Stephen fell in love with long, dense novels that most of his friends and family found better suited for pressing flowers or propping up a broken table leg than as something to crack open and read. He found these books opened his mind to rich experiences with an immediacy that simply didn't exist in day-to-day life.
Graduate level courses in Faulkner and Milton at Trinity University in San Antonio, along with continuing obsessions with Shakespeare, World Mythology, and the life changing discovery of Aristotle's "Poetics" led him to consume much of the literary canon, participate in workshops on the craft of writing, and help organize and lead discussions in a book club of serious authors, academics, and journalists studying literary craft for nearly ten years.
Stephen worked in retail sales and management for over forty years, the last fourteen as a bookstore manager, before retiring to his great passions of learning through reading great literature, writing, and sharing his experience with other bibliophiles.
He is also continuing his mythology and self-discovery studies as a student of Dr. David Frawley, studying the Vedic sciences and philosophy. His personal philosophy comes from from the great Zen teacher, Shrunyu Suzuki:
"The goal of practice is always to keep our beginner's mind...in the beginner's mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert's there are few."
StartIntroduction to The Recognitions - PDF, AUDIO, and Web Formats
StartWeek One -- The Recognitions -- Lesson and Guide
StartWeek Two -- The Recognitions -- Lesson and Guide
StartWeek Three -- The Recognitions -- Lesson and Guide
StartWeek Four -- The Recognitions -- Lesson and Guide
StartWeek Five -- The Recognitions -- Lesson and Guide
StartWeek Six -- The Recognitions -- Lesson and Guide
StartWeek Seven -- The Recognitions -- Lesson and Guide
StartWeek Eight -- The Recognitions -- Lesson and Guide
StartWeek Nine -- The Recognitions -- Lesson and Guide
StartWeek Ten -- The Recognitions -- Lesson and Guide
StartWeek Eleven -- The Recognitions -- Lesson and Guide