Additional Book Information

Series: NYRB Classics
ISBN: 9781681374666
Pages: 968
Publication Date: November 24, 2020

The Recognitions

by William Gaddis, introduction by Tom McCarthy, afterword by William H. Gass

$29.95

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The Recognitions is a sweeping depiction of a world in which everything that anyone recognizes as beautiful or true or good emerges as anything but: our world. The book is a masquerade, moving from New England to New York to Madrid, from the art world to the underworld, but it centers on the story of Wyatt Gwyon, the son of a New England minister, who forsakes religion to devote himself to painting, only to despair of his inspiration. In expiation, he will paint nothing but flawless copies of his revered old masters—copies, however, that find their way into the hands of a sinister financial wizard by the name of Recktall Brown, who of course sells them as the real thing.

Dismissed uncomprehendingly by reviewers on publication in 1955 and ignored by the literary world for decades after, The Recognitions is now established as one of the great American novels, immensely ambitious and entirely unique, a book of wild, Boschian inspiration and outrageous comedy that is also profoundly serious and sad.

Praise

Just as it’s possible to read The Recognitions narrowly as a satire of midcentury bohemia, J R operates on one level as a send-up of American capitalism. . . . But the book is more profoundly a portrait of a world that has given up on transcendent values. . . . The coherence of the vision, the order that Gaddis imposes on the chaos of his material through sheer force of artistic will, offers the closest thing to redemption this world allows, and gives the book, finally, a poignant hopefulness. . . . I count my second time through [The Recognitions and J R]—like my first—among the great literary experiences of my life.
—Christopher Beha, Harper’s Magazine

The book’s themes and its fierce indictment of the modern world may seem conventional by now, but Gaddis’s treatment of them is so dazzlingly original that one never has the sense of mere recapitulation of received ideas. In all this, and in its scope, its witty-serious use of erudition, its endless exploitation of the resources available to a modern text, its brilliant use of language, and, not least, its marvelous humor and range of tone . . . The Recognitions seems to me one of the most important American novels written since the last war.
—Tony Tanner, The New York Times Book Review

I remember the bookstore, long gone now, on Forty-Second Street. I stood in the narrow aisle reading the first paragraph of The Recognitions. It was a revelation, a piece of writing with the beauty and texture of a Shakespearean monologue—or, maybe more apt, a work of Renaissance art impossibly transformed from image to words. And they were the words of a contemporary American. This, to me, was the wonder of it.
—Don DeLillo

Valued by many serious readers as the secret masterpiece of our time.
—Michael Dirda, The Washington Post

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

The Recognitions is a warning above all else—a plea, like “The Waste Land,” for Western society to recognize its mythic origins before art expires.
—John Lingan, The Quarterly Conversation