Lines of Organization
In a recent post, Bud writes about the bewildering array of literary allusions and influences compiled into Gaddis's The Recognitions. I can verify that Gaddis's book is every bit as complex and Bud indicates, and most definitely gives the impression that "Mr. Gaddis knows almost everything" (as quoted by Bud from Cynthia Ozick). I can also understand how the book's immense complexity makes it possible to find detailed allusions to books Gaddis never read (i.e. Ulysses).
So, perhaps it is a bit of a Sisyphean (or pointless . . .) task to try and find some themes around which we can cluster Gaddis's hurricane. Neverthesless, I'll start with one, which strikes me as central to any reading of The Recognitions. Page 373 features dialog discussing the historical book, Recognitions:
The Recognitions? No, it's Clement of Rome. Mostly talk, talk, talk. The young
man's deepest concern is for the immortality of his soul, he goes to Egypt to
find the magicians and learn their secrets. It's been referred to as the first
Christian novel. What? Yes, it's really the beginning of the whole Faust legend.
. . . My, your friend is writing for a rather small audience, isn't he?
Wow. The Recognitions is rarely as obviously self-referential as this. Just like the "young man" in the quote, Wyatt, our "young man," undertakes a trip (to France) to learn secrets (of art). Further, Gaddis's The Recognitions is, like the historical Recognitions discussed in the quote, a Faustian story: Recktall Brown is our devil and Wyatt is the Faustian character who is seduced and corrupted by the potential to do what he could not without the devil's help.
What's interesting are the differences: The original Faust featured a devil, Gaddis's an art dealer. The Devil gave Faust magical powers; Recktall Brown gives Wyatt the ability to forge art.
Most interesting, however, is the quote "the young man's deepest concern is for the immortality of his soul." In Faust, the young man's "concern for immortality" is that he has given up his eternal soul, that he will no longer have a place in Heaven. In The Recognitions, the "concern for immortality" is Wyatt's fear that he will amount to nothing as an artist, will have no fame, no recognition, will be forgotten.
Getting back to the hurricane of references that Bud so elegantly described, I believe that much of them cluster around these twin ideas of immortality. The Recognitions is heavy on references to the modern material culture and to ancient, even obscure, Christian religion. It seems that these illusions are in service to developing the two ideas of how our soul can be immortal--the ancient one (Heaven) and the modern one (fame).
And Gaddis, perhaps, thought he was on to something big with The Recognitions. He calls Recognitions the "first Christian novel," which only leaves us to wonder if Gaddis, seeing The Recognitions as analagous to Recognitions in many ways, considered his work the first postmodern novel?