The Rush for Second Place: Essays and Occasional Writings

The Rush for Second Place: Essays and Occasional Writings

by William Gaddis

William Gaddis published only four novels during his lifetime, but with those works he earned himself a reputation as one of America's greatest novelists.

Joke No. 4,'" Gaddis's first national publication and the basis for his projected history of the player piano, to the title essay about missed opportunities in America during the past fifty years, to "Old Foes with New Faces," an examination of the relationship between the writer and the problem of religion-this diverse collection displays the power of an autonomous literary intelligence in an age increasingly dominated by political and religious conservatism.

  • Language: English
  • Category: Writing
  • Rating: 3.62
  • Pages: 208
  • Publish Date: October 1st 2002 by Penguin Books
  • Isbn10: 0142002380
  • Isbn13: 9780142002384

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This is a collection of essays, speeches, reviews and "occasional" writings from 1951 to 1998 by William Gaddis, edited with notes by Joseph Tabbi. To place second in the competition is not the worst outcome for a writer, who sometimes does better by standing aside and watching the operations of power, appropriating its language, recycling its massive waste products, and reading significance in what has been left behind by the rush of progress. -in his essay on religion, Gaddis notices, with Carl Jung, that lapsed Catholics are likely to be absolute in their rejection of the faith, whereas Protestant rebellion permits variations. -the flourishing of the player piano, brought to a close by radio whose own star would be eclipsed, in turn, by video and TV, encapsulated for Gaddis the simultaneous waste and creativity within the culture of planned obsolescence. The almost impenetrable prose made me seriously doubt my ability to follow a thought, with its many quotes wrapped in references inside an allusion: "And while those millions saw where they were marching much as Mark Twain saw them "through a glass eye, darkly," the one-eyed man could now peer into Aristotle's kingdom where, "if every instrument could accomplish its own work, obeying or anticipating the will of others, like the statues of Daedalus, or the tripods of Hephaestus, which, says the poet, 'of their own accord entered the assembly of the gods'; if, in like manner, the shuttle would weave and the plectrum touch the lyre without a hand to guide them, chief workmen would not want servants, nor masters slaves." For though the tale how for art's sake Wilde had faced Leadville's bullies to a standstill continued to amuse long after he'd withdrawn to join the compost smouldering in Europe with Pater's recipe for "success in life," here, now mother of necessity, invention was eliminating the very possibility of failure as a condition for success precisely in the arts where one's best is never good enough and who, so armed, could resist the temptation to shoot the pianist if the song would play on without losing a note ?" The treatment for a Motion Picture on "Software" (early 1960s) is an example of the kind of film Gaddis scripted for various corporations. For the essay "The Rush for Second Place" from 1981 Tabbi explains: -the density of literary references in this essay reflects the syllabus of a course Gaddis had taught a few years before at Bard College on the theme of failure in American Literature: Calvinist teachings as a moral foundation for the emergence of capitalism. -Gaddis addresses "the challenge that American fiction has centered upon from its beginnings.with no long history and no class system, with the tradition of a complete freedom to do and become what one wants to, we are confronted with essential human problems of what, exactly, is worth doing." Some excerpts: "Ford was, after all, a veteran of the playing fields of Michigan, where he had been voted Most Valuable Player on a college football team that lost every conference game; but these were not the fields where winning mattered less than "how you played the game." They were closer to those of his predecessor, lately mired in Watergate while busy on the phone with strategies for the next day's victory by the Washington Redskins. He tackled the thing that couldn't be done, and couldn't do it." A nine-year-old passes in a T-shirt that proclaims, "I can't cope"; test scores drop; classrooms empty and jails fill; alcoholism gains illness status and drugs abound prescriptions for the middle class, cash for the kids and ghettos; and the day's mail brings flyers offering courses in Mid-life Crisis, Stress Management, Success Through Assertiveness, Reflexology, Shiatsu, Hypnocybernetics, and The Creative You. Books disappear overnight or are instant "best-sellers": mortifying confessionals and est, group therapy, primal screams and "making it," pious plagiaries on moral fiction and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi's TM Technique for reducing blood pressure and increasing self- esteem. Gaddis later wrote of this essay "material notes & reading as though preparing for a dissertation on Bellow's work, done I suppose as I would wish for my own work". We hear their voices pour from the pages engulfing a plot which is comparatively simple, or would be if left to itself, a possibility that this embattled narrator never entertains for a moment." "One turns the last pages of More Die of Heartbreak feeling that no image has been left unexplored by a mind not only at constant work but standing outside itself, mercilessly examining the workings, tracking the leading issues of our times and the composite man in an age of hybrids.

The Rush for Second Place is a merely slim collection of some of Gaddis's non-fiction work, ranging from a book review, a small selection from his work on the secret history of the player piano, a bit autobiographical from his time on the Panama Canal, an updated satire featuring JR before congress, a few essays on such as religion and politics, a few speeches and tributes, and even a sample of the propaganda work he did to pay for food.

Historia incompleta de la pianola Nada más terminar de leer La carrera por el segundo lugar me vino a la cabeza la idea de que Gaddis no se sentía cómodo fuera de sus obras de ficción, como si el ensayo no fuera su medio de expresión. La publicación de estos ensayos (y textos de ocasión) de manera póstuma me reafirman en la idea de que el autor no estaba demasiado convencido en vida y la introducción y notas de Joseph Tabbi para esta edición aclaran ciertas ideas interesantes al respecto: 1 Para Gaddis, la novela, en cuanto forma genérica, podía incluir cualquier cosa y, desde luego, era un buen medio para ejercer la crítica. Incluso hay guiones de cine, tratamientos y discursos escritos para ejecutivos, todo de la época en que se ganaba la vida escribiendo para pequeñas empresas y corporaciones internacionales los ensayos y textos de ocasión están hechos, en muy buena medida, de retales de citas, no todas literarias; y, al igual que las obras de ficción de Gaddis, pueden leerse (o, mejor dicho, escucharse, como una partitura de varias voces. Dichos textos, en realidad, parece como si hubieran sido las semillas que generaron sus obras de ficción, más que escritos a propósito; es importante señalar igualmente su forma de gestarlos, como un continuo de citas que se sumaban a sus pensamientos y que, posiblemente, hicieran su concepción dificultosa para el autor. Me gusta especialmente el párrafo porque desvela varias facetas del autor: su aversión a la prensa y a ser una figura pública es ya conocida, a la manera de otros autores esquivos que consideraban que lo más interesante, lo que tienen que decir, está en sus libros, de ahí su incomodidad para ir a recoger un premio o tener que agradecerlo en público; parte de esta incomodidad viene igualmente de tener que expresarse mediante un ensayo, su medio era, sin lugar a dudas, la ficción. No puedo terminar sin poner otro de los textos que más aparecerá en las reseñas/críticas que se hagan de estos ensayos y en el cuál se refiere a un crítico que comentó ciertos aspectos sobre su segunda novela: Recientemente, un grupo de críticos vanguardistas ha planteado la idea de que los libros deberían ser ilegibles.

Assorted table scraps of a great author.

Lot of introductory material, some of which helped me understand Gaddis and prepare me for tackling The Recognitions, for which, I believe, preparation is a must.

He worked for The New Yorker for a spell in the 1950s, and absorbed experiences at the bohemian parties and happenings, to be later used as material in The Recognitions. The number of printed interviews with Gaddis can be counted on one hand: he wondered why anyone should expect an author to be at all interesting, after having very likely projected the best of themselves in their work. Gaddiss first novel, The Recognitions (1955) is a 956-page saga of forgery, pretension, and desires misguided and inexpressible. Gaddis died at home in East Hampton, New York, of prostate cancer on December 16th, 1998.