William Gaddis

The Recognitions

He had, by now, the look of a man who was waiting for something which had happened long before.

He stood there unsteady in the cold, mumbling syllables which almost resolved into her name, as though he could recall, and summon back, a time before death entered the world, before accident, before magic, and before magic despaired, to become religion.

It is the bliss of childhood that we are being warped most when we know it the least.

On the other, the spiritual, hand, the congregation breathed out stale prayers for the boy's recovery. But in the end they always gave their God full leave to do as He wished, to remove the lad if such were His sacred whim, loading the fever-stricken boy with the guilt it had taken them generations to accumulate. They called this Humility.

He started to speak, but his father, looking away from him toward the east, made a sound, and they were both caught, as a swimmer on the surface is caught by that cold current whose suddenness snares him in cramps and sends him in dumb surprise to the bottom.

I love how he takes the turn of the screw and shows the debilitating effects of "--religion" or whatever on the child, aunt may as the governess, and it is only by turning to pagan sources that the child is redeemed...perfect...

"--Guilt? he murmured, walking with the letter unfolded in his hand. "--Because of guilt, my son cannot study for the ministry. Guilt . . . good God! are You hiding somewhere under this welter of fear, this chaos of blood and mutilation, these terrors of weak minds ... A feeling of guilt, dear Heaven what other kind of Christian ministers do you send us? or have there ever been? The fool! . . . and I thought I could spare him. Perhaps, if he knew the truth . . . An abrupt shudder broke through his whole frame, and he stood as though he had been pierced, the shock of the past in that woman's voice perhaps, "--Pagan indeed! . . . and his faltering withdrawal, "--Set foot inside myself . . . ?

and the words of William Rufus, to Bishop Gundulf of Rochester, "--By the Holy Face of Lucca, God shall never have me good for all the evil that He hath wrought upon me

Tearing his eyes from the empty place in the sky where the sun had set, he stopped stumbling back by years and ran, vaulted through centuries. The letter he had torn in pieces lay on the moving air for an instant, was caught, spread up over the ground and blew away from him like a handful of white birds startled into the sky.

What is it they want from a man that they didn't get from his work? What do they expect? What is there left of him when he's done his work? What's any artist, but the dregs of his work? the human shambles that follows it around. What's left of the man when the work's done but a shambles of apology.

Tragedy was foresworn, in ritual denial of the ripe knowledge that we are drawing away from one another, that we share only one thing, share the fear of belonging to another, or to others, or to God; love or money, tender equated in advertising and the world, where only money is currency, and under dead trees and brittle ornaments prehensile hands exchange forgeries of what the heart dare not surrender.

Otto had followed her in, and he sat on the foot of the bed which had become a refuge, no longer a beginning but a desperate end, no longer a vista of future conquest but sanctuary where failure in all else made this one possession unbearable, unearned and come too soon.

Images surround us; cavorting broadcast in the minds of others, we wear the motley tailored by their bad digestions, the shame and failure, plague pandemics and private indecencies, unpaid bills, and animal ecstasies remembered in hospital beds, our worst deeds and best intentions will not stay still, scolding, mocking, or merely chattering they assail each other, shocked at recognition.