Knight Sheds New Light on Contemporary Literary Giant

Thirteen years ago, Stephen Moore wrote in his study on two-time National Book Award-winning author William Gaddis: "[He] is in the paradoxical position of being one of the most highly regarded yet least read novelists in contemporary American literature."

One reason undoubtedly is the length and intellectual complexity of his four published novels, released over the span of 40 years. A literary critic once wrote that a close examination of the novels involved "plowing through the thickets of Gaddis’s prose."

Christopher J. Knight of the Department of English acknowledges "the difficulty of these novels" in his new book, Hints & Guesses: William Gaddis’s Fiction of Longing (The University of Wisconsin Press).

"Hints and Guesses will not radically alter this situation, but it represents an attempt, like most prior scholarship, not only to come to some better understanding of this writer’s ‘careful obscurity,’ but to trumpet the importance of Gaddis’s fiction."

For many, the book has already risen above prior works on the subject. Stephen Moore himself has said that Hints and Guesses "will become the standard study of Gaddis."

Not only is it the first book to discuss Gaddis’s four novels, The Recognitions (1955), JR (1975), Carpenter’s Gothic (1985), and A Frolic of His Own (1995), but it seeks to free the author’s works from a critical consignment to a postmodernistic realm. Knight explores Gaddis’s significance as a satirist and social critic, and finds an author not only sensitive to post-war social realities, but also one who conveys an implied utopian dimension.

It is from this last aspect of investigation that the book’s title derives. It is taken from T.S. Eliot (who, along with Shakespeare, Dostoyevski, and Evelyn Waugh, Gaddis has spent much more literary time with than James Joyce or the post modernists), and supports Knight’s view that "Gaddis is a novelist who gives every evidence of perfectionist thinking, which is dependent upon an enlarged notion of reality, whereby what is asks to be understood in the light of what the materialist should say but is imagined."

"The sorts of judgments that are made in the texts speak a sense of standard, possibility and perfection," Knight said. "Gaddis is not the sort of writer to give definite form by what’s implied or suggested. Nevertheless, there is the suggestion of incompletion that characterizes the novels: a fiction that hints at another world."

Knight finds that in Gaddis’s ethical and social criticism, which brilliantly satirizes characters consumed by capitalism’s cash nexus — corporate lawyers, art forgers, Wall Street financiers — a different unspoken standard might be imagined; that in the characters’ own sense of meaninglessness, a better existence — a redemption — is being hinted at. It is for the reader to recognize its path. Gaddis’s works, writes Knight, while offering no specific direction, deliver both preparation for good "guesses," and a sense of urgency.

Vinny Reda

 


Folklorist Supreme Once Again

Linda Pershing of the Department of Women’s Studies has been awarded the Elli Kongas-Maranda Prize from the American Folklore Society for her book The Ribbon around the Pentagon: Peace by Piecemakers, published by University. of Tennessee Press in 1996.

The Kongas-Maranda Prize is awarded annually to a folklore scholar for the best work on folklore and feminist theory. This is the second time Pershing has received the prize, the first time in 1994 for a co-edited volume, Feminist Theory and the Study of Folklore.


Levy Book on Latin America’s NonProfits Feted

Daniel C. Levy of the Department of Educational Administration and Policy Studies has been awarded the 1997 Award for Distinguished Book in Nonprofit and Voluntary Action Research from the Association for Research on Nonprofit Organizations and Voluntary Action (ARNOVA) for Building The Third Sector: Latin America’s Private Research Center and Nonprofit Development.

The book discusses Latin America’s emerging nonprofit sector and its interaction with the for - profit and public sector. The achievements of private research centers and how they help build civil society are analyzed, along with some of the characteristic problems of nonprofit organizations. The award was presented on Saturday, Dec. 6, at ARNOVA’s Annual Conference in Indianapolis.