negative cliche: "bizarre characters"

walk your eyes from madisonavenue to greenwich village      (stopping
off in church: "Mr. Gaddis' novel ["an overwhelming nightmare"],
shrouded in mysticism, lacks the leavening which a few sane, normal
characters would have given it" (mcalister))      take the following as a
"negative sociological hypothesis for which the rest of the novel (or
textbook as some of the critics seem to think) must supply "convincing

  Tragedy was foresworn, in ritual denial of the ripe knowledge that
we are drawing away from one another, that we share only one
thing, share the fear of belonging to another, or to others, or to
God; love or money, tender equated in advertising and the world,
where only money is currency, and under dead trees and brittle
ornaments prehensile hands exchange forgeries of what the heart
dare not surrender.
(the recognitions 103)       dawedeit says: "THIS LOFTY statement is
acted out by a large, but not really representative, cross-section"
mostly persons involved with the arts or religion      not enough "bour-
geois characters"       too much "satire of Greenwich Village eccen-
trics"       gaddis doesnt know "the wide world" well & his "brilliant
pyrotechnics may, then, cast little light on the terrain that most of us

dixon: gaddis lays bare "a world of counterfeiters and forgers"      "a
cynical work, but with one saving grace: Chances are the reader will
not see himself in these pages. The characters are strictly Greenwich

livingston: gaddis "judgment of the world today" "shockingly lacks
coverage of many positive values"       he may correctly describe "a
small percentage of society" "prototypes of Greenwich Village circa
1920"       but "as an all-encompassing view" his "devastating picture"
is inadequate to "many of the virtues of this civilization"—"he omitted
the great bulk of the American populace"

price: every "phase of modern civilization" is "cast aside with burning
contempt" by gaddis       he may be "frightfully accurate" about the
"loveless world" of his novel, many of whose people "were weaned
intellectually in Greenwich Village"       but he includes neither "the
Midwestern farmer who loves the land and his family, nor the clerk, nor
the factory worker, each attempting to meet his problems and provide
for his family with such fortitude as he may possess"      "Thus in using
only one side of the coin, perhaps Gaddis, too, is guilty of a bit of

rolo: to dramatize "the corruption of the modern world" bohemians are
inadequate       "One does not convincingly demonstrate that the world
is insane by describing life in an insane asylum"

its not the purpose of fiction to tell the truth not the purpose      but a
good novelist wont tell the same crude lies about people that are
believed all around him       each lie exposed reveals a truth & so
novelists      unlike sociologists      do do sociology, tell what people
are really like       its a byproduct & has nothing to do with whether a
novelist is "realistic"       kafka uncovered as much as zola

the novel as an effective instruments about a century old      in this
time novelists have uncovered perhaps a twentieth of the terrible truth
about people       the reason is, you cant write a novel from what you
know       you have to have felt it, & those who feel what the world is
really like are soon in madhouses—its intolerable

the surface view we have most of the time, the one that seems
obvious & everyday, of man as more or less all right, is false      to
know what kind of wars are now going to be fought, with what
weapons & how they get to be used, is to know the world      the same
contrast between the civilized 9to5 life in a government office or
laboratory & the crimes that are prepared there      between the button-
pusher & the bomb       is the contrast between the public face of the
adjusted citizen & his crimes       hes ready to take his assigned part in
destroying the enemy across the world & he rehearses with daily
mutilations of his family & himself

the voter, childtorturer & future killer in whatever cause his govern-
ment offers him is as much a biological & social misfit as any "bizarre
characters" (burnette) in the recognitions      the latter, to be sure,
arent overburdened with mates, jobs, children      with roots, dull roles
—and masks, public impersonal masks      (see the married couple in
public!      & see them alone)

the recognitions after all is far, far more interesting than real life.
more happens faster & sharper       even "Greenwich Village eccen-
trics" need lots of whittling to enter the book without slowing it down
to tedium       imagine then, if youve read the book, an irruption of mid-
western farmers who love the land, clerks & factoryworkers providing
gelt for their loved ones with the utmost fortitude      what a bore! how
could they fit in?       theyd have to be rolled in the gutter a hundred
pages just to get the mask off       by the time they belonged in the
book theyd be "bizarre" too       you might as well try to jam them into
gulliver's travels or ulysses

if novels are reserpine the characters should be pleasant folk, if not it
doesnt matter       its true if only the weird are corrupt the corruption of
recognitions characters doesnt represent the real majority world      but
thats not why 5 critics hit on the same point independently (yes, this
time!) & argued it long & strong       they did protest too much

1of a textbook, or guidebook?       the recognitions is "Baedeker's Babel" (475)
not baedekers usa       cf simak "loaded evidence" & proof "by showing only the
one side of the coin" (Back)