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The Recognitions (Penguin Classics) Paperback – May 1, 1993

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Editorial Reviews


The Recognitions is always spoken of as the most overlooked important work of the last several literary generations... Through the famous obscurity of The Recognitions, Mr. Gaddis has become famous for not being famous enough.

(Cynthia Ozick) --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

About the Author

WILLIAM GADDIS (1922-98) was one of the greatest writers in twentieth-century America. He wrote five novels and won two National Book Awards, for JR (1976) and for A Frolic of His Own (1995). His other landmark novels include: The Recognitions (1955) and Carpenter's Gothic (1985). Agapc Agape was published by Atlantic in 2002. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 976 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Revised edition (May 1, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140187081
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140187083
  • Product Dimensions: 5.6 x 1.7 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.8 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (68 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #965,517 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

83 of 86 people found the following review helpful By "dgillz" on August 22, 2001
Format: Paperback
Gaddis' Recognitions is a stunningly huge book, and if you have any appreciation at all for the likes of Thomas Pychon (ditto David Wallace and Kurt Vonnegut), you definitely should check this one out. It kicked off the whole mess. It's a postmodern headscratcher supreme.
The main character of the book, Wyatt Gwyon, drops out of the priesthood and eventually becomes an art forger, a practice that seems at odds with the pious life. But by the time the book is done, using the forgery of art as a symbol for all the world's forgeries and half-truths, the concepts of authorship, originality, faith, and reality itself all come into question.
The second plot, concerning a playwright named Otto, focuses on the act of artistic creation, the corruption of the publishing world, the parties and thoughts of so-called "intellectuals," and the basic moral poverty in America today.
In still another plot line, Stanley, the organ player, religious as any saint in the Bible (a slightly shorter book) is used to challenge notions of faith in every context - political, social, and religious.
Weaving these far-flung plots together is a difficult job, but Gaddis pulls it off with an effort that threatens to break through the pages. At times labored and over-dense, the book still comes off as a success. While balancing such a full plate research finds its way in, research on our collective past: Flemish art, Mithraism, early Catholicism, philosophy, protestantism, myth and folklore, stigmatics, ad absurdum, but it's also absolutely mind-boggling to behold.
This book is difficult, as complicated as any I've ever read, but the effort, though it requires an extraordinary one sometimes, pays off. If you read to rest your eyes don't let the sun set on you here; if not, challenge yourself!
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110 of 120 people found the following review helpful By Scott Snyder on May 30, 2000
Format: Paperback
The Recognitions is the extreme terminus of "The Catcher in the Rye." Both are concerned with exposing the phony, the counterfeit. Gaddis' work is far more mature, wide ranging and dispairing. His erudition is breathtaking. The work attacks the fake and counterfeit in society, art, Christianity, personal morality and business. My favorite bits are Gaddis' thrashing of Dale Carnegie's "How to Win Friends and Influence People", and the weird flashes into the pagan underpinning of Christianity. Many questions are raised and left unresolved, indeed are unresolvable. The narrative is left in fragments that bleed in all directions, blurring the line between narrative and non-narrative, the conscious and the unconscious. It is a beautiful if bitter book.
PS In my opinion The Recognitions and Gravity's Rainbow are very different and not derivative one from the other. The Recognitions is about fakes, its style jagged fragmentation, highly realistic. GR is paranoid, fragmented like an opium dream or acid trip, and it comes off like a big practical joke or comic book. Read both! Don't think if you've read one, you've got the other.
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60 of 67 people found the following review helpful By Wordsworth on June 28, 2004
Format: Paperback
In a habit I sustained in college I make it a practice to underline the most quotable lines of novels I read: The Recognitions has underlines on every page. Gaddis is a major literary talent who hasn't yet even begun to receive the following of which he is worthy. This novel concerns the discoveries, both major and minor, of what is authentic in life: The Recognitions is enlightening, almost beatific, in the way in which it focuses upon the shortcomings and moral lapses of humans in pursuit of true art. From the starving painter whose unappreciated genius leads him to forge Flemish masters to a musician whose copied work played upon a great pipe organ brings down a chapel to counterfeitors of money and plagiarists of drama, this of work of Gaddis is the real thing. It is brilliant, witty, original and his command of the language is breathtakingly stunning in its execution. One can see the influence of James Joyce throughout the writing in an experimental style that is breakthrough. It is incredibly inventive and funny and astonishingly intelligent. It's no wonder that The Recognitions went unrecognized for so tragically long -- Gaddis is, without doubt, one of the top half-dozen of American literary novelists of the 20th century ranking with Bellow, Barth, Vonnegut, Hemingway and Faulkner. The writing is work by a fellow of verifiable genius: I strongly recommend that you to discover Gaddis -- he will enrich your life and help you better understand the nature of the personal epiphanies that give meaning to life.
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42 of 47 people found the following review helpful By zashibis on May 30, 2010
Format: Paperback
Judging from the other reviews, most readers of this novel fall into two camps: fanboys bedazzled by Gaddis's writing -- even when they don't genuinely understand it -- and skeptics who generally give up after x-number of confusing pages and dismiss Gaddis as a pretentious bore.

From where I sit, neither are entirely incorrect. The Recognitions is a monumental achievement -- an acerbic, erudite, surgical dissection of modernity and the American Imperium in all its gaudy, hypocritical, cacophonous glory. It's a terrifying vision of a society adrift in a moral and spiritual vacuum, in which appearance always trumps reality, the ends always justify the means, and deception, superficiality and self-delusion are the only cultural currencies. So far from being "dated" (as one particularly boneheaded reviewer below has it) it reads as if it were written yesterday: a jeremiad against all the self-involved follies and vanities of the West that have only metastasized in the 55 years since Gaddis threw this thunderbolt.

However, the novel also undeniably is pretentious -- chock-a-block with references to obscure early 20th century treatises and tomes you haven't read, and interpolating random bits of foreign languages (Hungarian anyone? Latin? Attic Greek?) that seem more calculated to showing off than to actually conveying meaning. Yes, this is a deliberate strategy on the part of Gaddis -- to create a "canvas" as detail-rich as the Bosch and Van Eyck paintings that obsess the novel's protagonist -- but that doesn't mean it always works. Indeed, it frequently leads to profound tedium, particularly in the scenes involving Wyatt and Basil Valentine.
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