the compassion cliche

the slogan of the sonofabitch, the philistine, the enemy of art      "com-
passion"!      1 of those cult words, swollen, a monster

like "communication"       this word has a real meaning, refers to a
minor technical problem in writing       if the reader has to go to the
same laundry as the writer to know what hes talking about, the writer
has failed to communicate       or if the writer has the irritating "beat"
habit of putting his friends names in poems so they can see them-
selves in print       easy to avoid, anyway an occasional lapse in this
kind of "communication" doesnt matter1      but as overblown lately
not all writers will join them in the literary whorehouse      it means,
write mush       (chief ingredient: instant understanding)      like in the
reader's digest

or       with due regard for p395-6, 951-2 of the recognitions      "matu-
rity"      it just means growing up      i admit most of us dont do that
but       "maturity" as a cult word means a fake growingup—really a
burningout       psychopaths reform in jail at 60, they burn out & dont
have to be criminals or anything else      & you too, when youve had
enough vitality beaten out of you      can stop "behaving like a spoiled
child" without ever having grown up      a result much prized by advice-
columnists & constructors of the fake novel

"compassion"s empathy       a natural sense often replaced by some-
thing more radioactive lately       but the overblown "compassion"—
remember the old novels, last chapter the zero & zeroine "marry & live
happily ever after"       if only another chapter would try & show how
they manage it!       (their sexual incapacity       "chastity"      having been
spelled out at booklength)       in the 20thcentury version      sophisti-
cated       of fake happyending the hero burns out to "maturity"      hes
attained "compassion" by learning to project his selfpity onto others

the commercial writer turns his selfpity into "compassion"      the
reader just rewinds, 1st he "identifies with the characters"      then he
wallows in selfpity       the trouble with the trick      as with all critics
ideals & "crucial ingredients"       is that its too easy & unrewarding.
anyone can write with heartrendering compassion (see the confession-
mags) as anyone can write commercial hardcore pornography or
describe a steak so your mouth waters      good writers wont do un-
skilled labor they dont live up to the critics ideal & can be compared
unfavorably to bad writers which is what the critic had in mind all
along       like the "ambitious" cliche the compassion cliches a strong
weapon against great art

a 20thcentury novel, the recognitions isnt emotionally demonstrative,
wears no heart on sleeve       it does have a subtle, touching empathy
for love, the unspoken hopeless loves of esme or recktall brown for
wyatt, hannah for stanley, inononu for valentine      it has none of the
sickening compassion/sympathy of the clichemongers:

It is immensely long and immensely erudite, and for the first few
hundred pages continuously disturbing, rather than interesting. 2(new yorker)
whats disturbings always interesting       but oh for a nice little novel
about nice little people!—
One reads on, hoping to have one's sympathies engaged, but they
never are; little by little, it turns out that disturbingness is all. Mr.
Gaddis appears to know every last thing about his characters
except how to make them touch our hearts. To conceal the lack of
this crucial ingredient of any novel, or perhaps to show his con-
tempt for it, he dazzles us with words, words, words (new yorker)
drop the cold heartless recognitions & try a typical sympathyengaging
new yorker story       the plot: an executive is young, happilymarried
with 2 cleareyed kids, semiaristocratically handsome, kempt, makes
$14000 a year       1 morning on his way to the office something fright-
fully embarrassing happens to him

célines proof having "one's sympathies engaged" (cf geismar) is no
crucial ingredient       cant phrases like this & "touch our hearts" touch
rather my vomiting center       whether used to damn, or to praise in
high criticstyle:

A novel of many and obvious flaws, always difficult of meaning,
often confused in structure and style, it yet plagues the mind,
impresses the memory, and touches the heart. (hayes)
price like the new yorker ties uncompassion to gaddis "contempt":
  If the author has anything above utter contempt for mankind, I
have failed to detect it; if he has a sense of compassion, he has
succeeded in concealing it.

His wit, everywhere apparent, somehow has little pleasantry; rather
it is often of a texture so hard and merciless as to resemble a
curious sort of cruelty.

my guess is he thinks the caricatured characters are all the characters
      & that the caricature sections, with their blistering judgments usual
to satire, are a sociology treatise on "what people are really like."
would he make the same judgment of molière?
  The author, whose creations these characters are, has no more
sypmathy [sic] for them than they have for each other, so by the
end of the book he contrives to have them killed off one by one,
some more or less credibly. For others he conveniently arranges
cataclysms, which have no artistic validity because their fate has
been made to seem of no importance. Take the attitude of Mrs.
Deigh, the foolish rich American type, theatrically religious, who
lives in Rome and who has installed stained-glass windows in her
Daimler. She says to Stanley, "The newspaper never tells us nice
things. Sometimes it just pipes in more blood than we think we can
endure. And when you mentioned our daughter, didn't you. We
know there was something, and now we remember. I was sure I'd
read in the newspaper that she's been hung for murder. Murdering
her husband! And that is a little too much to endure, even for one's
own flesh and blood."3(yeiser)
its not her daughter but another woman with a similar name (p294
915)       mrs deigh does think its her daughter but theres no law
gaddis has to make mrs deigh give a shit about her daughters death.
if she doesnt thats no fault of the recognitions

the many deaths toward the end of the book      at this point i should
retire for a pinchhitter who thinks shakespeare did more than write a
few perfect lines when he felt like it—every few years      the pinch-
hitter could set up a defense behind the deathlists in king lear &

many coincidences in the recognitions      if a character walks a block
hes sure to run into 3 others      sometimes coincidence for comedy
(otto meeting sinisterra)      sometimes for the books closeknitness,
gives another inevitability to its "world" by tying the characters up
close to the exclusion of the actual world      the coincidences work
well: the literally unbelievable makes the books world more believable,
more there

I think the multiple deaths have somewhat the same justification as
the coincidences (& express the thematic "no" of the last part)      the
usually presents death as comic, without empathy      the
deaths work on the pp where they happen but personally i dont think
they work well in relation to the book as a whole 5      for this yeiser
gives exactly the wrong reason: the comic deaths would work if the
characters' fate had "been made to seem of no importance" & if they
dont work its because the characters' fate has taken on too much
importance (esther, sinisterra, stanley)

yeisers "sympathy for" the characters is the usual 1-dimensional
cliche       why always sympathy, why not love, hate, fear, laugh at
them      or be judged by them (wyatt & esme)      why only one
response & such a tepid stereotype6      do lovers look at each other
with "compassion"?       should you feel "sympathy" for myshkin?
what presumption!

per hartman, gaddis fails because hes not like joyce who "remains
always human or compassionate, even when he is enraged"      but per
o'hearn, g fails because he "lacks the malignant spark which sustained
the Irishman"       & per corrington, g succeeds because he simply drips
with compassion:

has managed from the beginning to underscore the tragedy of his
time with an immense compassion for the pathetic human beings
who are smashed in the complex machinery of their own devising.
  It is a controlled and mature compassion but it lends to "The
Recognitions" the tone of humanity that must be present if a work
is to be truly great.
an unfortunate concession to a false standard
1no, the recognitions is not "strictly personal, often incomprehensible to others"
(desbarats, whose reviews so vague & general i wonder if he read the book) (Back)

2the same whopping judgment boner geismar made (Back)

3the recognitions 914-5      misquoted (Back)

4of main characters: 7 in 10, 6 in 7 (Back)

5& in general the last part is just noticeably weaker, less lit (Back)

6"compassion" means no passion (Back)