Tag Archives: Infinite Zombies

#OccupyGaddis: 300 – 450

It is one thing to read a book about entropy. It is another thing entirely to read a book that is entropy.

The challenges of working through dialogue without attribution have been compounded in these pages with phones ringing and people dying, shoes getting lost and multiple Generals, two guys in slings and face bandages and people in each others’ suits, and sex and faucets that won’t stop running and mail flying through the air…

It’s been a little tough to keep track of things. It’s a testament to Gaddis that the story continues to make some sense, but I’ve found these pages to be among the most difficult in which to maintain a reasonable momentum and keep track of the scenery going by.

Similar struggles have been contemplated by Daryl L.L. Houston over at Infinite Zombies, who wrote in a post titled “Worthwhile?

I am curious whether anybody else is finding the length of the book, and especially of some passages, to be taxing.

I find that the portions of the book that take place in boardrooms and offices or on the phone between people situated in these locales get old pretty quickly.

Personally, my frustrations tend to grow with the presence of Gibbs, who turns into an un-listening, interrupting fount of allusive gibberish and bad marriage advice once he gets hold of some liquor. Whiteback’s office, with its two phones and competing streams of visitors and broadcasts is a close second.

Adding to the confusion are J R’s increasingly complex business dealings. This seems to be the one place in the novel where a system holds its shape long enough to be effectively acted upon. J R uses tax laws and banking strategies to increase cash flow and invest in companies without really concerning himself in the production and sale of any particular product. He’s making sure that his money works for him, even if his companies don’t.

On the other side of J R’s business adventures are Eigen, the late Schramm, Gibbs, Schepperman and Bast, the artists trying to make a living with their products. The cold hard business of capitalism here is moving ahead with handshakes and phone calls, and the production end is a peripheral concern when it’s not useful for a tax write off. In this long book about modern American capitalism, the true workers and producers are the painter, the writers and the composer. The artists are the only characters who actually make and sell tangible products. And so far, one writer has hung himself, one is unable to follow-up on his previous novel and another can’t write at all.  The painter’s works go straight into storage where no one sees them, and the composer can’t get a dime for the pieces he’s written. As disorienting and confusing as this novel can be, these stories are all too recognizable.

– Michael Moats

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#OccupyGaddis: 151 – 300

Land of the free $1.

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, thirdfourthfifth, and sixth posts to get fully caught up.

– Michael Moats

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#OccupyGaddis: 1 – 150

I have to agree with Lee Konstantinou in disagreeing with Rick Moody: J R is a hard book. Or at the very least, it is not an easy, straightforward affair. A few pages in, you realize that this novel actually is 700+ pages of this:

A loud buzz cut him off. She pushed her nail polish aside and repsonded to the box at her elbow. — Yes sir, yes sir . . . oh and Mister Crawley, Mister Davidoff is here with . . . yes sir.
— And Shirl, tell him . . .
— He’ll be right out, she said, as an unencumbered massive panel behind her proved to be a door.
— What in God’s . . . !
— I want you to meet a real live stock broker boys and girls

Broken dialogue. No attributions. Interruptions and overlaps. At times, ambient noise from a background TV or radio will cut its way in. There is the occasional scene-setting — often these are the places where Gaddis reminds you that he really can write: “Sunlight, pocketed in a cloud, spilled suddenly broken across the floor through the leaves of trees outside.” — but few of these are orienting. Not “a door opened behind her” but “an unencumbered massive panel behind her proved to be a door.”  This format takes getting used to, to say the least, especially when the events jump from one set of characters to the next. It’s like Mrs. Dalloway with even less clarity about who is at the center of the narrative.

For someone like me who comes to Gaddis by way of David Foster Wallace, it’s easy to see the influence passed down from J R. Each of Wallace’s three novels has scenes of unattributed dialogue within the first 30 pages, and you could reasonably claim that Brief Interviews with Hideous Men is a variation of this technique. Wallace clearly mimics the satirical, comedic pacing where characters misfire sentences into and over each other in an accelerated, everybody-talks-but-no-one-listens way.

But Wallace did small snippets, short scenes inside a larger context of more recognizable styles.  J R offers no such break, and reading this sustained dialogue has some interesting effects once the initial shock wears off.

For one, the book starts to feel like what it most resembles in form: a play. Not a meditative drama, but something exaggerated, chaotic and Vaudevillian.

The basic ingredients of time and space provided in most novels, are so conspicuously absent — or so opaque in their presence — that I’m forced to fill them in myself. The places are familiar: a school, a suburban neighborhood, Wall Street, a train platform, a boardroom. But without any guidance on what they look like, I find myself filling in the gaps with a richer-than-usual imagining of the world around these voices. It’s counterintuitive; one of those rare instances where less actually appears to be more.

The technique also seems to work counterintuitively as far as the characters go. You might expect that, if all you hear are characters’ voices, then J R is a character-driven novel. But this is more a book about, for lack of a better word, systems. Outside forces that act on people: education, sex, history, politics, art, bureaucracy — and did I mention money? This novel, so far, is about how money affects all of these different systems, and people whose daily lives inevitably get caught in the churn. J R Vansant is the title character, I suspect, because he is the only one who comes to this world as an innocent. At age eleven he is curious and precocious enough to thrive in certain ways, but unlike the adults around him, he is not preoccupied with either resisting or controlling the forces around him. At least that’s what it seems like so far.

More info on J R and #OccupyGaddis can be found at Infinite Zombies. You can also follow along on the #OccupyGaddis Facebook group, and read Konstantinou’s first, second, thirdfourth, and fifth posts to get fully caught up.

– Michael Moats


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