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Agape Agape (Penguin Classics) Paperback – September 30, 2003

3.8 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

William Gaddis's final work, Agape Agape, is an effective distillation of his philosophy and a powerful personal statement regarding the state of modern culture. The book is written in the form of a disjointed, stream-of-consciousness monologue delivered by a dying elderly man, himself attempting to complete his final work, a social history of the player piano in America. Desperate to complete his work before the onset of madness or death and fighting the effects of medication, the frantic narrator offers a meandering discussion of his work, which explores technology's artistically stifling influence. The narrator has isolated a particularly profound example of this in the player piano, an artistic invention that alternately replaced the artist. Technology, the narrator argues, has heightened the value of passivity, entertainment, and mediocrity, leading to the impending "collapse of everything, of meaning, of language, of values, of art, disorder and dislocation wherever you look." The narrator fervently claims that only through artistic courage can we achieve understanding, transcendence, and discover the uniting spirit of creativity, a brotherly "agape" love.

As Joseph Tabbi explains in his informative afterword, Agape Agape is the result of years of research and consideration by Gaddis, and the novella explores technological advancement and the response to this advancement, both actual and hypothetical, by such figures as Nietzsche, Walter Benjamin, and Tolstoy. While an impressive work of scholarship, Agape Agape is foremost an emotional decree, Gaddis's final statement of outrage and sadness at our cultural direction and a plea for change. At less than 100 sparsely punctuated pages, the book is an efficient combustion of energy and an affecting depiction of personal and cultural disintegration. At once a condemnation, warning, and affirmation, it reflects Gaddis's apprehensions but also his enduring faith in the power of creation. A worthwhile starting point for newcomers to Gaddis's work, Agape Agape is a memorable end to the career of a gifted thinker. --Ross Doll --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Publishers Weekly

Published after his death in 1998, this final novel by Gaddis is a brief but noteworthy commentary on the state of creativity and the arts at the close of the 20th century. Gaddis has compressed 50 years of research on the social history of the player piano into a novel narrated by a dying elderly man who is as concerned with his own physical collapse as he is with his piano-based literary project. Gaddis's cultural jumping-off point is the late 19th and early 20th century, as he explores the coincidence between the advent of techniques of reproduction that made mass-produced art possible and the drop-off in artistic participation by hobbyists and ordinary people that soon followed. The title captures much of the essential concept, referring to the unique sense of wonder that arises during the creative process and that is now missing from our daily lives. As usual, Gaddis's avant-garde style requires patience and staying power from readers, who must parse long, elliptical sentences that wander from idea to idea while barely advancing the narrative. But his thoughts and ruminations remain fascinating and challenging, particularly when he manages to briefly focus his ramblings on such subjects as the publishing process, the nature of performing, the rise of such iconoclasts as Glenn Gould and the fractures that are beginning to appear in the fabric of cultural civilization as we currently know it. The brevity of this volume makes it relatively accessible for those new to this author (a cogent afterword by Joseph Tabbi helps too), and literary mavens who have followed Gaddis's career will mark this book as a brilliant closing effort from a groundbreaking novelist.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Series: Penguin Classics
  • Paperback: 144 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classics; Reprint edition (September 30, 2003)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0142437638
  • ISBN-13: 978-0142437636
  • Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.4 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 0.3 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #710,920 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Elizabeth Hendry VINE VOICE on June 12, 2003
Format: Hardcover
William Gaddis' Agape Agape is a brilliant, philisophical rumination on the nature of contemporary society and its relationship to art and the artist. It's not really a novel, but rather a 100 page diatribe of a dying man trying to get his affairs in order before the end. He is in a bed somewhere, spilling water, bleeding slightly on his notes, his books. He talks to us about everything from the mundane (the blood) to the deeply philisophical (Plato and many, many others). I read this one one sitting in about an hour because it's that compelling and enjoyable. The conversation seamlessly moves from real estate matters to artistic matters. His commentary will make you chuckle, will make you shake your head in agreement. This is an interesting work and if you are looking from a step up from your average novel. Enjoy.
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Format: Hardcover
I have seldom if ever revised my opinion of an author based on a posthumous work-until now. I confess to having found the late William Gaddis' other (and in some circles, classic) novels (J.R., Frolic of His Own, The Recognitions, and Carpenter's Gothic) theoretically interesting and probably brilliant, but always far too long, very self-indulgent, difficult for its own sake and almost unreadable-in other words, they bored me, what I could get through of them.
This prejudice of mine is coupled with a general dislike for posthumous works in general-the kind where a Major Author left a work unfinished at death, and which is years after released and edited with an introduction or forward by some noted Scholar: ("This really IS a great book, all of Fitzgerald's/Hemingway's/Duras'/McGowin's major Themes are here," etc., etc.). Well, they very seldom are great works, and just as the act of Revision seems contrived to some (your Kerouac wannabes, perhaps), I, conversely, find the act of posthumous publication to itself be contrived-again, in general. Glenn Gould, the great pianist, once expressed his intense dislike of "live" recordings being released on record labels with the surrounding hoopla, and said he planned to do a "fake" live album, recorded in the studio, complete with mistakes and overdubbed with audience coughing, etc. Sony of course wouldn't go for it, but I've often wanted to write a "fake" posthumous novel, the Final (unfinished) Work of a Great American Novelist-I'll make it about 100 de-contextualized pages, with 200 pages of forwards, introductions, afterwards, and footnotes. Now that Dave Eggars is a Publisher, he should get in touch.
But in the case of Agape Agape, the Afterward is totally superfluous.
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Format: Paperback
This is the best place to start with William Gaddis, and yet, it's not.

On the odd chance that I'm writing this to someone who has wandered onto this page by accident and has no clue who Gaddis is (it's okay if you weren't aware of him previously, he's a tad obscure . . . but I'm still impressed you made it here somehow), he was a man known for writing lengthy, complex and erudite novels, so lengthy and complex that he only managed to write about five in his lifetime, of which this is one. Most of the others have something that would scare off the casual reader, whether it's because it's nine hundred pages ("The Recognitions"), completely comprised of dialogue ("JR" - probably my favorite and the best primer for writing dialogue as cacophony that still advances the narrative . . . just like real life) or uses mounds of legalese ("A Frolic of His Own") it's not that he intentionally made things difficult, it's just that he was going to do it his way and he really didn't care about waiting around to see if you were going to catch up.

He passed away in 1998, and this was published several years later. Its genesis lies in extensive notes that were taken over the years for a history of the player piano but have now been folded into an extended shifting stream of consciousness monologue from a dying writer who is sorting through the disposition of his property and boxes of information about player pianos that he's gathered over the years. There's no dialogue and only one paragraph so once it starts there's no stopping it, not unlike the raspy old man at the bar that twenty minutes into his long, rambling story you realize that everyone else has moved away and left you alone, it's just you and him. And honestly, he doesn't even really need you.
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By A Customer on October 20, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
An old man's Beckett-like disjointed rant is a forum for satisfyingly inconclusive and erudite musings on art, music, and individual inspiration in our "age of mechanical reproduction" and mass-market pandering. This small book is full of a wealth of crisscrossing themes. Unlike Gaddis's larger tomes, this is simply structured, has blistering forward momentum and can be read in a few hours. In prose alternately profound and profane, Gaddis has contrived a perfect device to exercise his lifelong preoccupations, creating an impassioned but infirm narrator whose very disorganization engagingly mocks the author and his sprawling subject. Parts are excruciatingly funny. This is a must-read if you're a Gaddis or Beckett or Thomas Bernhard or David Markson fan, or if you ponder the nature of art in this--or any other--age.
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