Agape Agape, by William Gaddis

(Maybe the title would make more sense, if I could figure out how to do accents on WordPress).

I think every writer should write at least one short book, so that I can read it and make up my mind on whether to read any of the longer books. Not that I have any great idea whether this book of Gaddis’ inclines me to read anything else of his. Its virtue is its shortness: if it was longer, I can’t imagine I’d ever get around to finishing it.

This novel is recounted in a style which we will call by the term “rant” – which of course always reminds me of Juan Goytisolo [it should remind you of Thomas Bernhard. The afterword says it’s based on Thomas Bernhard] – Thomas Bernhard, then. Gaddis makes several references to the fact that people (writers, thinkers) keep stealing his ideas before he’s written them down himself (yes, it’s annoying that: – and you have no proof that they were your ideas). – What’s this rant about? It appears to be an old man’s rant about how all art these days is useless: – that in these days of technology and democracy, any elite concept of art has been lost (everything has been reorientated around money, and skill – the pleasure of the craftsman – forgotten).. His main exhibit in this is (perhaps somewhat strangely) the history of the automated piano-player. (I forgot to mention, the narrator is writing all this, fearing that his death is imminent – i.e. in a very Beckettian manner).

It’s very much a stream-of-consciousness affair. Gaddis will quite happy break off one thought in the middle of a sentence, and constantly skips about in a jumble of recurrent ideas. Obviously this doesn’t much help in demonstrating what Gaddis’ point is – unless, of course, Gaddis’ only point is that his thoughts (the thoughts of his character) are a jumbled composite of his obsessions, which he’s never going to gather properly into coherent ideas.

Who’s this kind of thing aimed at? – I don’t know: perhaps precisely the kind of people Gaddis doesn’t really conceive of as existing any more. I guess I should like it more myself: – he references two non-fiction writers I like but whom I’d consider to be relatively (not obscure, just) specialised: E.R. Dodds and Johan Huizinga. I think probably this is a novel you should read in one go – but if, like me, you stop at any point, it’s not so easy to pick up the thread or continue enjoying it exactly as you were (also, like Goytisolo). To be honest, it just becomes tiresome, repetitive, a struggle.

Advertisement