Friday, December 29, 2017

I Should Have Known from *The Recognitions* That the World Was Not Waiting Breathlessly for My Message

Even though I should have known from The Recognitions that the world was not waiting breathlessly for my message, that it already knew, and was quite happy to live with all these false values, I’d always been intrigued by the charade of the so-called free market, so-called free enterprise system, the stock market conceived of as what was called a “people’s capitalism” where you “owned a part of the company” and so forth. All of which is true; you own shares in a company, so you literally do own part of the assets. But if you own a hundred shares out of six or sixty or six hundred million, you’re not going to influence things very much. Also, the fact that people buy securities—the very word in this context is comic—not because they are excited by the product—often you don’t know what the company makes—but simply for profit: The stock looks good and you buy it. The moment it looks bad you sell it. What had actually happened in the company is not your concern. In many ways I thought . . . the childishness of all this. Because JR himself, which is why he is eleven years old, is motivated only by good-natured greed. JR was, in other words, to be a commentary on this free enterprise system running out of control. Looking around us now with a two-trillion-dollar federal deficit and billions of private debt and the banks, the farms, basic industry all in serious trouble, it seems to have been rather prophetic.

The traditional Egoslavian William Gaddis, born ninety-five years ago today, birthday post. Above from a 1986 interview. For boatloads of excerpts click the Gaddis tag.

Was supposed to reread JR in 2017, am supposed to reread The Recognitions in 2018, each on the every third year plan.

I love that Avon mass market paperback of The Recognitions. I wish I still had my original trade paperback of JR. Setting myself up for failure, new goal is to read both in 2018. Which first? JR is more topically relevant perhaps in shadow of recent tax bill and accelerating rate of oligarchal pillaging in our time, The Recognitions always pertinent in examining what motherfucking fakes and frauds each and every one of us are. Flipping a coin now.... it's motherfucking fakes and frauds first, assholes in The Kleptocene second! My eyes willing.

Clearly from this and similar eloquent testimony certain members of the community have been subjected to annoyance and serious inconvenience in the pursuit of private errands of some urgency, however, recalling to mind that vain and desperate effort to prevent construction of a subway kiosk in Cambridge, Massachusetts, enshrined decades ago in the news headlines PRESIDENT LOWELL FIGHTS ERECTION IN HARVARD SQUARE, by definition the interests of the general public must not be confused with that of one or even several individuals (People v. Brooklyn & Queens Transit Corp., 258 App. Div. 753, 15 N.Y.S.2d 295, 1939, affirmed 283 N.Y. 484, 28 N.E.2d 925, 1940).

- Gaddis, Frolic of His Own

Put on the lights there, now. Before we go any further here, has it ever occurred to any of you that all this is simply one grand misunderstanding? Since you're not here to learn anything, but to be taught so you can pass these tests, knowledge has to be organized so it can be taught, and it has to be reduced to information so it can be organized do you follow that? In other words this leads you to assume that organization is an inherent property of knowledge itself, and that disorder and chaos are simply irrelevant forces that threaten it from outside. In fact it's exactly the opposite. Order is simply a thin, perilous condition we try to impose on the basic reality of chaos...

- Gaddis, JR

I know you, I know you. You're the only serious person in the room, aren't you, the only one who understands, and you can prove it by the fact that you've never finished a single  thing in your life. You're the only well-educated person, because you never went to college, and you resent education, you resent social ease, you resent good manners, you resent success, you resent any kind of success, you resent God, you resent Christ, you resent thousand-dollar bills, you resent Christmas, by God, you resent happiness, you resent happiness itself, because none of that's real. What is real, then? Nothing's real to you that isn't part of your own past, real life, a swamp of failures, of social, sexual, financial, personal...spiritual failure. Real life. You poor bastard. You don't know what real life is, you've never been near it. All you have is a thousand intellectualized ideas about life. But life? Have you ever measured yourself against anything but your own lousy past? Have you ever faced anything outside yourself? Life! You poor bastard.

- Gaddis, The Recognitions


  1. chris hedges writes:

    One winter’s afternoon, as sheets of snow fell outside his office window, he [Rev. Coleman Brown, chaplain at Colgate University] read to me T.S. Eliot’s poem, “Journey of the Magi.”

    In this poem the wise men make the long and arduous journey to the infant Jesus. This is not only a physical journey. It is a spiritual journey. Eliot writes:

    A cold coming we had of it,
    Just the worst time of the year
    For a journey, and such a long journey:
    The ways deep and the weather sharp,
    The very dead of winter.

    The magi turn their backs on their old world to embrace one that is alien, obscure and perplexing. They are full of doubt. They feel pain, not joy, “with the voices singing in our ears, saying that this was all folly.” There is no sudden epiphany. There is only bewilderment. They become aliens in their own land, “with the cities hostile and the towns unfriendly.” Faith, they find—this new faith—is exhausting and even disillusioning. Eliot concludes:

    All this was a long time ago, I remember,
    And I would do it again, but set down
    This set down
    This: were we led all that way for
    Birth or Death? There was a Birth, certainly,
    We had evidence and no doubt. I had seen birth and death,
    But had thought they were different; this Birth was
    Hard and bitter agony for us, like Death, our death.
    We returned to our places, these kingdoms,
    But no longer at ease here, in the old dispensation,
    With an alien people clutching their gods.
    I should be glad of another death.

    America is in terminal decline. It is enveloped by radical evil. Its corporate systems of power and empire exploit and kill with impunity. Its perverted values champion cruelty, mendacity and greed. It bows before the idols of money and power. It is severed from the human. It, like Herod and the Roman Empire, damns the infant Jesus. There is nothing easy about faith. It demands we smash the idols that enslave us. It demands we die to the world. It demands self-sacrifice. It demands resistance. It calls us to see ourselves in the wretched of the earth. It separates us from all that is familiar. It knows that once we feel the suffering of others, we will act.

  2. 'Order is simply a thin, perilous condition we try to impose on the basic reality of chaos'.

    Boy, did he get that right.