William Gaddis's final work, Agape Agape
, is an effective distillation of his philosophy and a powerful personal statement regarding the state of modern culture. The book is written in the form of a disjointed, stream-of-consciousness monologue delivered by a dying elderly man, himself attempting to complete his final work, a social history of the player piano in America. Desperate to complete his work before the onset of madness or death and fighting the effects of medication, the frantic narrator offers a meandering discussion of his work, which explores technology's artistically stifling influence. The narrator has isolated a particularly profound example of this in the player piano, an artistic invention that alternately replaced the artist. Technology, the narrator argues, has heightened the value of passivity, entertainment, and mediocrity, leading to the impending "collapse of everything, of meaning, of language, of values, of art, disorder and dislocation wherever you look." The narrator fervently claims that only through artistic courage can we achieve understanding, transcendence, and discover the uniting spirit of creativity, a brotherly "agape" love.
As Joseph Tabbi explains in his informative afterword, Agape Agape is the result of years of research and consideration by Gaddis, and the novella explores technological advancement and the response to this advancement, both actual and hypothetical, by such figures as Nietzsche, Walter Benjamin, and Tolstoy. While an impressive work of scholarship, Agape Agape is foremost an emotional decree, Gaddis's final statement of outrage and sadness at our cultural direction and a plea for change. At less than 100 sparsely punctuated pages, the book is an efficient combustion of energy and an affecting depiction of personal and cultural disintegration. At once a condemnation, warning, and affirmation, it reflects Gaddis's apprehensions but also his enduring faith in the power of creation. A worthwhile starting point for newcomers to Gaddis's work, Agape Agape is a memorable end to the career of a gifted thinker. --Ross Doll
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From Publishers Weekly
Published after his death in 1998, this final novel by Gaddis is a brief but noteworthy commentary on the state of creativity and the arts at the close of the 20th century. Gaddis has compressed 50 years of research on the social history of the player piano into a novel narrated by a dying elderly man who is as concerned with his own physical collapse as he is with his piano-based literary project. Gaddis's cultural jumping-off point is the late 19th and early 20th century, as he explores the coincidence between the advent of techniques of reproduction that made mass-produced art possible and the drop-off in artistic participation by hobbyists and ordinary people that soon followed. The title captures much of the essential concept, referring to the unique sense of wonder that arises during the creative process and that is now missing from our daily lives. As usual, Gaddis's avant-garde style requires patience and staying power from readers, who must parse long, elliptical sentences that wander from idea to idea while barely advancing the narrative. But his thoughts and ruminations remain fascinating and challenging, particularly when he manages to briefly focus his ramblings on such subjects as the publishing process, the nature of performing, the rise of such iconoclasts as Glenn Gould and the fractures that are beginning to appear in the fabric of cultural civilization as we currently know it. The brevity of this volume makes it relatively accessible for those new to this author (a cogent afterword by Joseph Tabbi helps too), and literary mavens who have followed Gaddis's career will mark this book as a brilliant closing effort from a groundbreaking novelist.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.
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