William Gaddis Quotes

On Thomas Pynchon:

I haven’t read Pynchon enough to have an opinion either of his work or whether it might have been “influenced” (perilous word) by mine, though I’ve understood he feels not & who’s to know if he’d ever read mine before V?

(August 1982 postcard to Steven Moore)

I think both Pynchon and I—and I don’t know him—are simply involved with different aspects of the same problems. I would doubt that my work has influenced him; his has certainly not influenced mine in any way at all.

(November 1986 interview with Zoltán Abádi-Nagy)

On James Joyce:

I recall a most ingenious piece in a Wisconsin quarterly some years ago in which The Recognitions’ debt to Ulysses was established in such minute detail I was doubtful of my own firm recollection of never having read Ulysses.

(March 1972 letter to Jean [?] Howes)

I’ve about reached the end of the line on questions about what I did or didn’t read of Joyce’s 30 years ago. All I read of Ulysses was Molly Bloom at the end which was being circulated for salacious rather than literary merits; No I did not read Finnegans Wake though I think a phrase about “psychoanaloosing” one’s self from it is in The Recognitions; Yes I read some of Dubliners but don’t recall how many & remember only a story called “Counterparts”; Yes I read a play called Exiles which at the time I found highly unsuccessful; Yes I believe I read Portrait of an Artist but also think I may not have finished it; No I did not read commentary on Joyce’s work & absorb details without reading the original. I also read, & believe with a good deal more absorbtion [sic], Eliot, Dostoevski, Forster, Rolfe, Waugh, why bother to go on, anyone seeking Joyce finds Joyce even if both Joyce & the victim found the item in Shakespear, read right past whole lines lifted bodily from Eliot &c, all of which will probably go on so long as Joyce remains an academic cottage industry.

(June 1975 letter to Grace Eckley)

On Malcolm Lowry (specifically, why he avoided reading Under the Volcano for so long):

[I] found it coming both too close to home and too far from what I thought I was trying to do

(February 1961 letter to David Markson)

On Alan Ansen’s encouragement:

It was Ansen’s unrestrained enthusiasm at sharing his own rather marvelous store, languages, literature, Bellini, the works, his hunger for work well done or the hope of it, and it was terribly infectious.

(conversation with Steven Moore, recounted in Moore’s Introduction to Ansen’s Contact Highs: selected poems 1957-1987)

On influences in general:

Speaking of influences, I think mine are more likely to be found going from Eliot back rather than forward to my contemporaries.

(November 1986 interview with Zoltán Abádi-Nagy)

On T. S. Eliot:

[Eliot] was very formative in my life and thinking when I was in college and even later, when Four Quartets came out. I even wanted to include the whole of it in The Recognitions. I think Eliot still has very much to do with my thinking, with my attempts to use language, and so forth.

(1984 interview with Marie-Rose Logan and Tomasz Mirkowicz)

On capitalism:

I’m frequently seen in the conservative press as being out there on the barricades shouting “down with capitalism!” I do see it in the end as really the most workable system we’ve produced. So what we’re talking about is not the system itself, but its abuses, I don’t mean criminal but the abundant abuses just within the letter of the law.

(November 1986 interview with Zoltán Abádi-Nagy)

On his studies at Harvard:

we read Chaucer, we read Dryden and so forth, Elizabethan drama, Restoration comedy, all the things that a good education in that area gives you. And very little current. I mean, it was before the days of writing workshops, and discussing current novels, and so forth. It was much more . . . I can’t call it ‘classic’ education, because that was much more Greek and Latin, but it was more old fashioned, which I’m delighted, I’m very glad of. I always have been very happy about that.

(June 1985 interview with Miriam Berkley)

On attention paid to the author rather than the works:

I feel like part of the vanishing breed that thinks a writer should be read and not heard, let alone seen. I think this is because there seems so often today to be a tendency to put the person in the place of his or her work, to turn the creative artist into a performing one, to find what a writer says about writing somehow more valid, or more real, than the writing itself.

(acceptance speech for the National Book Award in Fiction for J R, April 1976)

I have generally shied from parading personal details partly for their being just that, partly from the sense that one thing said leaves others equally significant unsaid, and the sense in those lines to the effect that we are never as unlike others as we can be unlike ourselves.

(Contemporary Authors: A Bio-Bibliographical Guide to Current Authors and Their Works, 1968)

On his preference for long passages of uninterrupted dialogue:

It’s alive, it’s alive, whereas expository writing is the writer writing.

(June 1985 interview with Miriam Berkley)

On his works in progress circa 1962:

a novel on business begun and dropped in about ’57 [J R]; a novel begun, rebuilt into an impossibly long play (very rear guard, Socrates in the US Civil War), shelved 1960 [Once at Antietam]; current obsession with expanding prospects of programmed society & automation in the arts which may bring an advance, a commitment, even an escape from the tomb of the 9-to-5 [the original nonfiction Agapë Agape, which, he later wrote, eventually became “a casualty of overresearch” that “will never be realized but in massive notes & marked margins in the hands of some beleaguered doctoral candidate”—AW].

(1962 letter, recipient unidentified)

On sacrilege:

Then, what is sacrelige [sic]? If it is nothing more than a rebellion against dogma, it is eventually as meaningless as the dogma it defies, and they are both become hounds ranting in the high grass, never see the boar in the thicket. Only a religious person can perpetrate sacrelige: and if its blasphemy reaches the heart of the question; if it investigates deeply enough to unfold, not the pattern, but the materials of the pattern, and the necessity of a pattern; if it questions so deeply that the doubt it arouses is frightening and cannot be dismissed; then it has done its true sacreligious [sic] work, in the service of its adversary: the only service that nihilism can ever perform.

(unused 1949 prefatory note to The Recognitions)

On alchemy in The Recognitions:

My early impression was that the alchemists were simply trying to turn base metals into gold. Later I came to the more involved reading and better understanding of it all—that it was something between religion and magic and that it did not necessarily mean literally lead and gold. So the gold in many of the symbolic senses in alchemy is the perfection, is the sun, is a kind of redemption. When at some despairing moment Wyatt says—when he realizes that the table of the Seven Deadly Sins is the original and not his copy—“Thank God there was the gold to forge,” that is very much the key line to the whole book.

(November 1986 interview with Zoltán Abádi-Nagy)

On the genesis of The Recognitions:

[The Recognitions was born in 1945 as a short story about a collapsing marriage, which eventually became Chapter 3 of the novel. By 1947, Gaddis was expanding the piece, in part by incorporating elements of the Faust story.—AW]

It began with the Otto-Wyatt-Esther triangle, and progressed openly as it does here, in the first part; though the original intention, closely following the FAUST, was Wyatt-Esme as Faust-Gretchen, and Esme’s damnation through Wyatt’s negation of her (as a model in forgeries; and his refusal to love her)

When I started this thing [ . . . ] it was to be a good deal shorter, and quite explicitly a parody on the FAUST story, except the artist taking the place of the learned doctor.

(unpublished notes for The Recognitions, 1945-51)

[In 1948 Gaddis traveled to Spain, and around this time he began incorporating elements from Sir James Frazer’s The Golden Bough, Robert Graves’s The White Goddess, and the third-century Recognitions, falsely attributed to the martyred Pope St. Clement. The novel’s size and scope grew; the version submitted to the publisher was substantially longer than the published version and even included footnotes.—AW]
We come back to the Faust story and to the original Clementine Recognitions, which has been called the first Christian novel (I remember thinking mine was going to be the last one), about his search for salvation, redemption and so forth. And I had these notions of basing The Recognitions on the constant presence of the past and and of its imposition of myth in different forms which eventually come down to the same stories in any culture.

(November 1986 interview with Zoltán Abádi-Nagy)

[Robert Graves] was such a fine and generous man that we had numerous talks and, in fact, he was to become somewhat the physical model for Rev Gwyon.

(July 1982 letter to Steven Moore)

Once one gets a theme in one’s mind it becomes obsessive. If it happens to be forgery, then everywhere you look all you see is forgery, falsification—of religious values, of art—plagiarism, stealing. Gradually this panorama emerged. I thought, ‘I’ve got to get it all in here.’

(June 1985 interview with Miriam Berkley)

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