Dalkey Archive Press has just reissused two of the most important texts of the past sixty years–William Gaddis’s The Recognitions and JR. Introductions are by William H. Gass and Rick Moody.
Here is a scene from early in the book. A teacher, Mrs. Joubert, takes her sixth-grade class on a field trip to the New York Stock Exchange to buy a share of Diamond Cable. In one of the rare descriptive passages in the book, Gaddis outlines their route from the subway to the storied piece of real estate nor more than a short jaunt away (they exited the subway at the Wall Street stop on what would be the 4 or 5 green line today). Gaddis details the landmarks on that route before dropping the needed forked words on that hustle of bustle, before letting the “boxed” voice and the children who could care less, take over. One exception is little JR, a boy who asks about stock warrants ahead of his turning his penny stocks into an Empire, the JR Family of Companies.
…engulfed in the roar of the subway until they burst from the pavement where the sun cut a path across Trinity Church . . .
—Hey look at the graveyard . . .
—Boys and girls? yes look at the tombstones some of them are over two hundred years old oh look, look at that one with the weeping cherub carved on it isn’t it dear . . . and they gaped obediently at the bird dropping coursing down that weathered angel’s cheek until the light changed and released them across Broadway and down Wall in disheveled Indian file staggered seriatim by a stench rising from the sidewalk grating at No. 11 until George Washington’s extended hand flung their attention fragmented round the corner into Broad where the lofty pediment at No. 20 threatened to spill its stone comedy of naked labor yoked, high above their heads, to the lively dominion seething within, buffeted by the anxiety of lifetimes’ savings adrift in windbreakers and flowered hats toward the visitors’ gallery where football field hyperbole addressed them in a voice strategically boxed along the rail.
—on the Exchange Floor which is made of solid maple . . .
—Boy what a mess.
—Hey I thought we’re going to the Museum of Natural History.
—thousand brokers who have the privilege of trading stocks on the floor . . .
—We getting tested on this Mrs Joubert?
—that look like hieroglyphics on the ticker tape band you see running high above the . . .
—See that little guy waving down there hey? I bet if I spit . . .
—stock of companies that provide jobs for millions of Americans in every walk of . . . (81)
Seriatim – Latin for “in series”
To say that this book, written in the late 60’s and early 70’s, foretold the coming corporatizing of our souls is like saying . . . well, I can’t say it. No one can “say,” can orchestrate the tweedy Ivy League or the penny ante American voice like Gaddis. Today, the New York Stock Exchange is hardly accessible and I don’t think many classes are allowed there. The temple of our God is well protected by those who protect and serve. As a stockbroker tells Edward Bast, the musician who JR gets to help him in his scheming (and the “associate” of the following passage):
—Stay in music Mister Bast. Stay in music and advise your, your associate here to stay in whatever in the name of God he’s in, where neither of you will ever have to know the value of anything. (201)
On The Recognitions, as well as a rare Gaddis TV interview