…our hero realizes (recognizes?) as he reads through the readable, though highly disorienting, second chapter. As Matthew Cheney put it, some time ago:
I enjoyed much of The Recognitions on that first reading, but also knew that I was missing a lot, perhaps even 80% of what the book was up to. For one reason or another, I didn’t mind being lost in the book, though. I was both lost in the book in the traditional sense — engrossed, enchanted, beguiled — and lost in the pedestrian sense: I kept forgetting which character was which and how they related, had no idea for many pages what was going on, and sometimes wondered if English were even a language Gaddis and I shared. Consequently, my memories of The Recognitions are impressionistic, imagistic, and not tied at all to narrative or meaning.
Which, well, yeah. Suddenly we’re in Paris and there’s a lot of French dialogue and a lot of non-linear descriptive about stuff I’ve got little bearing on, and, uh, yeah. Maybe not the best chapter to try to get lost in with an itchy bandaged finger pointing one way and a pre-dinner stomach point another way.
Still, the book keeps coming back to some kind of ground, some entirely relatable, entirely, ah, forgive me, again: recognizable bit of prose. Such as:
He painted at night, and often broke off in a fever at dawn, when the sun came like the light of recovery to the patient just past the crisis of fatal illness, and time the patient became lax, and stretched fingers of minutes and cold limbs of hours into the convalescent resurrection of the day.
– page 69
Which is a strange way to put it, and a strange call-back to the sunrise stuff from the first chapter, but: it’s enough. Enough to move me into the next paragraph, which may or may not be immediately (or less so) get-able.