Tuesday, December 06, 2005

"I almost think that if I'd gotten the Nobel Prize when The Recognitions was published I wouldn't have been terribly surprised," Gaddis told The Paris Review in 1986, adding that the book's reception had been "sobering" and "humbling." Maybe if the novel had met with greater acclaim Gaddis would have relaxed a little; maybe Wyatt's "what is it they want" tirade, like his other puritanisms, would have been revealed as a skinny-young-man attitude to be outgrown. I doubt it, though. The book is about the everyday world's indifference to the superior reality of art. Its last line ("with high regard, though seldom played") unmistakably prefigure its own reception. Nurturing the hope that your marginal novel will be celebrated by the mainstream - the Cassandra-like wish that people will thank you for telling them unwelcome truths - is a ritual way of ensuring disappointment, of reaffirming your own world-denying status, of mortifying the flesh, of remaining, at heart, an angry young man. In the four decades following the publication of The Recognitions, Gaddis's work grew angrier and angrier. It's a signature paradox of literary postmodernism: the writer whose least angry work was written first.

--- Jonathan Franzen, "Mr Difficult" in How To Be Alone

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