negative cliche: hartman

"negative"s the main cliche prof carl hartman used in the western
      FIRE him—or me if his parody of quarterly criticism was on

his 5p padded review starts with a complaint about the length of the
      he signals a talent for projection & refusal to let
imagination be confined by reality:

And we are not allowed to overlook this otherwise mundane matter
of length, for the book seems almost passionately to assert some
obscure tenet which holds that concentrated prolificness ought
somehow to be associated with profundity and quality, and the
implication would appear to be that there is a cause-and-effect
the implications all hartmans, part of his struggle with his conscience
(he wins) which tells him he knows the book is of the highest quality &
he has no business attacking it       the book is intense, wordy, bitter,
experimental, obscure as to place, carefully confused as to person, he
And all of this is in a subtle way involved in the very fact of the
book's length, its special kind of bulk.
he doesnt name the "subtle way" for the good reason that it doesnt
exist      then the "ambitious" smear:
there is every indication that the author expects this work to fling
itself directly into a class with, say, Ulysses—if not somewhat past
that point.
gaddis is "skillful, talented, prolific, inexhaustible, brilliant" etc.
"Why then does the novel fail?"
I am going to go out on a limb and say that the failure is very
simple in nature: it is a failure of heart, a lack of what used to be
called "love".
most best 20thcentury writing (including joyce) lacks it      if you
require every work of art to have every quality you can attack them all
the courageous "I am going to go out on a limb" starts a chain of buf-
  Let me say at once that I do not presume to condemn Mr. Gaddis
simply on the grounds of his negations, or merely because his style
seems to convey a sense of eternal and deep-rooted hatred for the
human race
. I would in fact join with him in a vast displeasure with
. I too am fond of Herbert Marshall McLuhan's The Mech-
anical Bride
, and I am fondest of Huxley when he is being most
(my italics except for booktitle)       he satirizes the insidedope school
of academic criticism:
I will go along with a good deal of "G. Legman's" Love and Death
("G. Legman"s real name is G. Legman)      he objects not to malcolm
lowry, mailer, dreiser, arthur miller—except the last 2 arent negative
      (this leaves him no room to attack the recognitions as "too
negative"       hes going to attack it as "entirely negative")      suddenly
hes writing about a stocking ad he saw in life magazine      he lingers
over it for a whole page       (gaddis in spite of his "just plain wordi-
ness" would have managed in a sentence)      both he & gaddis would
"feel scorn" for life ads & drivein churches but
I think that what Mr. Gaddis has forgotten is that before Joyce
wrote Finnegan's Wake1 he wrote Ulysses, and before Ulysses
he wrote Portrait, and before Portrait he wrote Dubliners. This is
important not because the "simpler" stories of Dubliners help us
straighten out mechanical details in Finnegan's Wake, 1 but because
such stories as "Clay" or "The Dead" are first of all Joyce's essential
affirmation of his philosophical-emotional stand toward this uni-
verse, the positive kind of stand which must underlie any meaning-
ful negations
a truism not worth using       & gaddis novel does have this underlayer
and which we must be aware of if we are going to be able to place
the later Joyce in any really intelligible philosophical frame of
& on the reference shelf of the college library      hartmans implica-
tions false, all joyces work       the savagely bitter "clay"      "the dead,"
essentially not affirmative but regretful (cf the recognitions 14)      &
even finnegans wake       is about as "negative" as gaddis work
Whether it is because of the existence of these early stories that
Joyce remains always human or compassionate, even when he is
enraged, is a question I cannot answer; but it is beside the point,
which is that Joyce does always remain so. And I think that the
same is true of Flaubert, of Huxley, of Dreiser, of Swift, or anybody
who has vented his fury upon mankind in such a way that mankind
is not forced to lose its basic respect for the writer.
as you lose respect in a mutualadmiration society (ltd) when the con-
tract is broken       those names are as "negative" as gaddis—swift
I am aware that I am in danger of sounding like early reviews of the
works of all of the above, especially Joyce.
im aware a possibility can be admitted & still be true      hartman
would have attacked ulysses at 1st publication, it would have upset
him much the same as the recognitions does
I must hold, however, that we are not talking here about "obscenity"
or some other absurd social viewpoint; and we have the great ad-
vantage of hindsight, which we may use to look at this present
& make false comparisons to it (see céline below)
we have no right to transmute phenomena of the past into rules for
the present, and it could possibly be argued that Mr. Gaddis has
simply transcended the stupid old humanitarian limitations of the
past and thus produced a work which is deliberately and tri-
umphantly entirely negative in its philosophical outlook;
so he sneaks in his Big Lie       of course the books not "entirely nega-
tive" what about gwyon wyatt esme stanley what about section i what
about every page      but the strawmans set up:
and it could be argued further that this is only right and proper. We
have to admit that in theory this argument has to be ruled valid: we
must never be given the right to tell an author what he can and
cannot say.
especially when he didnt say it       strawman attacked:
if Mr. Gaddis' only indication that people are worth looking at as
people is his tremendous expenditure of energy to tell them that
they are not, what can the book really have to say to us? Even
Céline, with all of his destructive force, does not approach Mr. Gaddis'
insatiable desire for a statement of absolute and complete nega-
tion.2 I do not for a moment question the morality of Mr. Gaddis'
view, but I am forced to question the wisdom of perfectly unqualified
condemnation: Is its philosophical level any higher than that of
perfectly unqualified praise?
strawman demolished3      now hartman descends from philosophic
clouds for an amazing spite session:
  A small example: Mr. Gaddis does not like doctors, or the medical
profession in general, and he takes great delight in telling us about
how these fellows go about keeping alive people who would be
better off dead, or otherwise mistreating mankind. I do not quarrel
with this thesis, up to a certain point, and my favorite passages in
Proust are those in which we are told various means of confusing
addleheaded physicians. But then Mr. Gaddis gets hold of a char-
acter who suffers from diabetes, and who must therefore give him-
self insulin shots. I admit from the start that there is something
absurd about the procedure of giving oneself shots of anything at
all; but does this furnish sufficient reason to embark on a tirade
against all of Science, which has foolishly provided this obstacle to
a disease? Or, does it provide a genuine cause for us to despise
this particular man? Would Mr. Gaddis really prefer that the char-
acter we are speaking of just go into a state of shock, so as to
avoid any compromise with Society, or Science? And if the charac-
ter did act that way, would Mr. Gaddis then consider him heroic?
But that would appear to be impossible, to judge from the tone of
the book, for Mr. Gaddis first of all would never permit a hero. You
can see what a philosophical tangle we have gotten into already,
without half trying. [!] But one further question: Would Mr. Gaddis
himself really suffer the state of shock rather than surrender? If so,
I say more power to him, though I am given no cause to think that
he would.
(i swear im not making this up!)
However, the important thing here is the fact that the real ambiguity
of his position—whatever it is—has not been fully stated.
there seems to be some confusion here      hartman has it wrong that
the recognitions is a "polemic" & not "a true novel"      the double
value      to be sure, not "fully stated" as in a polemic      is a main
nonrealistic value (it works very well) in the book      its that some
characters attract "accident" while others are immune      wyatt is in
general immune, while otto &      tho he has "substance" like wyatt
     stanley arent      the caricatured characters are confronted with
every variety of "accident"       mr pivner is diabetic—does hartman
even know pivners a comic character?—but its impossible in the terms
of the book that wyatt could get diabetes      thus in the recognitions
"giving oneself shots" of insulin isnt absurd per se but because only
absurd characters would have to

pivner suffers a totally absurd false arrest, wyatt evades arrest as a
matter of course:

  —I don't know, I don't know, I don't know where the police are. I
know that two of them were taking me somewhere afterwards and I
got away from them...and came here. How should I know where
the police are? Why should where the police are.
(p685)       pivners twisted & turned by whatever anyone says to him,
wyatts unaffected by esthers constantly trying to get at him, he doesnt
defend himself or answer but goes on with what he way saying      hart-
mans false premise is that in the novel, as in real life, almost anyone
could have an accident, get diabetes, slip on a banana peel      he
might as well attack kafkas metamorphosis because a man cant turn
into a bug       "—I said to him, if you really believed what you wrote
there, you'd be morally obliged to blow your brains out" (an absurd
person in the recognitions, 614)       "Surely it is disturbing to find a
book which is potentially so very fine but whose method of attitude is
calculated deliberately to exclude us" (hartman)

youre in it, buddy!

a 2d ambiguity is that doing the opposite is no remedy for being
absurd      (ie pivner giving up shots for shock)      its what the comic
characters in the book are always trying, but their way of being the
opposite partakes of their absurd nature & backfires      otto counter-
acts what he thinks is his uninteresting nothingness with romantic lies
about himself      no one listens      when pivner uses dale carnegies
methods it only makes it more obvious that he cant win friends or
influence people       it wouldnt be in character for him to refuse insu-
lin, but if a more rebellious caricature did hed still be a caricature

1sic, professor! (Back)

2obviously célines more "negative" than gaddis      the central attitude in célines
2 best novels is (1) all eloquence idealism love & the "positive" are selfserving
lies (2) people are disgusting       (& more honest attitude than say faulkners
silly nobelprize speech) (Back)

3not quite!       every condemnation does imply a positive value & this makes it
seem an "entirely negative" novel cant be written      but go from algebra-logic to
calculus       imagine a novel whose each positive value is exposed as false &
hypocritical, producing another implied positive value in turn exposed as false &
...       the last implied positive value would never be reached but the novel
would approach "complete negation" as a limit      it would be completely nega-
tive in effect       in fact, this is the method used by pirandello to prove an
"illogical" proposition: 'all explanations of an event are false' (Back)