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Gaddis at 'et alia'

et alia has posted an introduction to William Gaddis and I just wanted to add my two cents.

I had intended to write my own a few months ago but never got around to it. So until I write my own appreciation I'll let et alia speak for me, just adding a few words of mine in the meantime.

The Holy Grail of serious Murkan writers is to write the "Great American Novel." Gaddis has done that. Want to understand Murka? Read JR. Read Carpenter's Gothic. Read all four of his incredible novels. (Well, actually five — I haven't read Agape Agape yet.)

He was not only prescient about where Murka was heading, he was a prophet. He saw and captured the ways in which consumer capitalism ruined not only society but our capacity for humanity. He saw the ways in which we are mere cogs amongst conspiracies. He saw the ways in which our souls are submerged amongst capitalism's detritus of thingness. His writing breathes with passion, empathy, wisdom, rage and sadness — and humor! He is frequently laugh-out-loud funny. He may well be America's most important writer of the late 20th Century. He is certainly one of the great satirists of all-time, right up there with Juvenal, Rabelais, Hogarth and Swift.

His writing may seem daunting at first. But once you abandon the expectations of traditional narrative structure and allow yourself to play on his terms it's smooth sailing to the point where you can't put it down. His novels are unique reading experiences. And no one writes dialogue like he does! (I would also argue that his descriptive skills are unrivalled as well!)

Gaddis is a major and terrifically influential author. He's also terrifically unread. This is a great pity. But, on the other hand, those who make the effort — and there aren't many of us left nowadays, are there? — will be terrifically rewarded. After all, the finest scotch or port can only be appreciated by the most discerning palate, and would be wasted on the majority of people as so much undrinkable swill.

Which doesn't mean his writing is elitist. It just means that it takes a certain sophistication and maturity to appreciate it.

I am unusual in my regard for Gaddis in that my favorite of his novels is Carpenter's Gothic. Most Gaddis fans would put JR or The Recognitions above CG. CG is considered his most accessible novel, and for good reason. But it is also irremediably bleak, dark, despairing, and hopeless — but with a savage smirk. Which is part of what I like most about it since I have a penchant for black humor. In CG Gaddis gave full expression to his anger and bitterness at his society, and did it entirely through the mechanics of storytelling.

So a quick Thanks! to et alia for his appreciation to Gaddis — perhaps the greatest, most influential, most undeservedly unread writer of our time.