William Gaddis American Literature Analysis
In “The Rush for Second Place,” an April, 1981, essay for Harper’s magazine, Gaddis spelled out the central concern of his fictions. “The real marvel of our complex technological world,” he writes, is “that anything goes right at all.” Events seem to follow a law of entropy: The more complex the system or message, the greater the chance for disorganization or error. Thus, in a United States grown hugely complex, there is “failure so massive,” Gaddis argued, that no one is accountable, and few things seem “worth doing well” any more. From these convictions spring some of the main difficulties in reading Gaddis’s works. The initial difficulties are of style, and they chiefly involve the complex allusions woven into the fabric of his dialogues and brief descriptive passages. They also involve Gaddis’s experiments with dialogue.
The allusiveness of Gaddis’s writing was a notable trait from the beginning. The Recognitions quotes and makes other forms of indirect reference to a wide range of texts: Snippets of T. S. Eliot’s poetry appear alongside other literary allusions, but the principal field of reference is that of religious myth and mysticism. Gaddis draws from secondary works of scholarship such as Robert Graves’s The White Goddess (1948) and James Fraser’s massive The Golden Bough (1890-1915), as well as from an impressive range of primary texts by the Catholic Church fathers (Saints...
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