Land of the
Things are definitely starting to happen in some kind of recognizable way — especially with the aid of this very handy scene-by-scene guide of Gaddis Annotations.
Last we saw, Norman Angel — who manages the Bast roll plant and is married to Stella (who tried to seduce Bast but shows no interest in her husband) — was leaving work on a business trip after seeing some compromising pictures of his secretary (who is helpfully named Terry). Days pass as the radio interjects. As the scene moves through the subway we run across Gibbs visiting his daughter who lives with his ex-wife, followed by Dan diCephalis running into his unhappy, conspiracy theorist, harpy wife Ann on the train.
If you’re not already getting the message about marriage in this novel, Mrs Joubert’s union is also on the rocks. She gets some hapless legal counsel from Beaton on whether her husband can take her son overseas.
Then we get another unhappy marriage, between Eigen and his wife, which loses center stage to the suicide of Schramm, the recently one-eyed writer who shared the 96th Street studio with Gibbs and now Bast. Gibbs goes on an aggrieved, drunken rant under the influence of Schramm’s death and the discovery of some whiskey in a cabinet. (Side note: I too once discovered a bottle of Old Smuggler left in a kitchen cabinet, though in my day the bottle was plastic. I can assure our readers that it is as high a quality of whiskey as the 96th Street studio’s general squalor would indicate.)
On a different, sadder point of comparison, Gibbs’ rant about the author who has hanged himself echoes the thoughts of David Foster Wallace. In his well-known TV essay, Wallace wrote about — among other things — the challenges for fiction that requires active engagement when it’s up against television and the passive reception of entertainment. As Gibbs says:
– Good. I hope every reader will, from this history, take warning, and stamp improvement on the wings of time problem most God damned readers rather be at the movies. Pay attention here bring something to it take something away problem most God damned writing’s written for readers perfectly happy who they are rather be at the movies, come in empty-handed go out the same God damned way what I told him Bast. Ask them to bring one God damned bit of effort want everything done for them they get up and go to the movies…
Bast escapes Gibbs and the studio to meet with J R at the Museum of Art. Here we see J R’s empire truly starting to take shape, with the help of Bast as his half-willing business representative. We also get to see the childish J R make some very adult, capitalist decisions. As I said before, J R seems innocent, or at least lacks the anxiety that seems to trouble every other character in the novel. There is a lightening of the mood when he appears on the page, which can be attributed at least in part to the fact that it’s easy to recognize exactly who is speaking with all his this heres and heys. But that must be weighed against what he’s actually doing. Lee Konstantinou has his own sharp interpretations on the character J R in his most recent #Occupy Gaddis post, “The Playful Destruction of J R”:
And yet, unlike other characters, who struggle with the chaos they’re embedded within – Gibbs and Eigen particularly come to seem like stand-ins for Gaddis – J R is at home in the world of entropy. Gibbs, Eigen, and Edward give evidence of interior struggle. By contrast, J R is a master of chaos, a manipulator of paper – what Crawley calls “wallpaper.”
By making J R a perfectly innocent child, so young so as to not yet have a fully formed personality, by stripping J R of the need to ideologically rationalize his activities, Gaddis gives us a picture of naked capitalism.
Much more on J R and #OccupyGaddis can be found at Infinite Zombies. You can follow along on the #OccupyGaddis Facebook group, and read Konstantinou’s first, second, third, fourth, fifth, and sixth posts to get fully caught up.
- Michael Moats