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Agape Agape [Paperback]

William Gaddis , Joseph Tabbi , Sven Birkerts
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Oct. 28 2003 0142437638 978-0142437636 Reprint
William Gaddis published four novels during his lifetime, immense and complex books that helped inaugurate a new movement in American letters. Now comes his final work of fiction, a subtle, concentrated culmination of his art and ideas. For more than fifty years Gaddis collected notes for a book about the mechanization of the arts, told by way of a social history of the player piano in America. In the years before his death in 1998, he distilled the whole mass into a fiction, a dramatic monologue by an elderly man with a terminal illness. Continuing Gaddis's career-long reflection on those aspects of corporate technological culture that are uniquely destructive of the arts, Agape Agape is a stunning achievement from one of the indisputable masters of postwar American fiction.


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From Amazon

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 --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

Customer Reviews

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Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant--It's Changed My Mind About Gaddis! June 2 2003
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
I have seldom if ever revised my opinion of an author based on a posthumous work-until now. I confess to having found the late William Gaddis' other (and in some circles, classic) novels (J.R., Frolic of His Own, The Recognitions, and Carpenter's Gothic) theoretically interesting and probably brilliant, but always far too long, very self-indulgent, difficult for its own sake and almost unreadable-in other words, they bored me, what I could get through of them.
This prejudice of mine is coupled with a general dislike for posthumous works in general-the kind where a Major Author left a work unfinished at death, and which is years after released and edited with an introduction or forward by some noted Scholar: ("This really IS a great book, all of Fitzgerald's/Hemingway's/Duras'/McGowin's major Themes are here," etc., etc.). Well, they very seldom are great works, and just as the act of Revision seems contrived to some (your Kerouac wannabes, perhaps), I, conversely, find the act of posthumous publication to itself be contrived-again, in general. Glenn Gould, the great pianist, once expressed his intense dislike of "live" recordings being released on record labels with the surrounding hoopla, and said he planned to do a "fake" live album, recorded in the studio, complete with mistakes and overdubbed with audience coughing, etc. Sony of course wouldn't go for it, but I've often wanted to write a "fake" posthumous novel, the Final (unfinished) Work of a Great American Novelist-I'll make it about 100 de-contextualized pages, with 200 pages of forwards, introductions, afterwards, and footnotes. Now that Dave Eggars is a Publisher, he should get in touch.
But in the case of Agape Agape, the Afterward is totally superfluous.
Read more ›
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4.0 out of 5 stars Agape Agape Oct. 30 2002
Format:Hardcover
Make no mistake: "Agape Agape" is not the mammoth achievement of prior Gaddis novels. However, it still is a worthwhile read brimming with ideas on every page.
A man is dying and from his bed he struggles to put his papers in order, to try to give shape to his last book. His mind races with all manner of thought mainly about society: the mechanization of the arts, society's dumbing down, player pianos, the Pulitzer Prize, school violence. All these thought threads come together in one overarching theme, and Gaddis's genius is not only in the ideas put forth but in his prose style: a style of fits and starts, sentences that run on incessantly, others that end abruptly to go on to the next thought. It is the perfect representation on paper of the thought processes of a dying intellectual man.
Admirers of both Gaddis's work as well as the work of Thomas Bernhard will gain much from this slim volume. Joseph Tabbi's afterword at the end puts this novella in context when viewed against Gaddis's entire ouevre.
Readers new to Gaddis might start with this one or "A Frolic of His Own."
Either way, treat yourself to this little book, one that deserves to be read more than once, one that deserves to be admired, one written by a largely overlooked American giant.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Ruminations June 12 2003
Format:Hardcover
William Gaddis' Agape Agape is a brilliant, philisophical rumination on the nature of contemporary society and its relationship to art and the artist. It's not really a novel, but rather a 100 page diatribe of a dying man trying to get his affairs in order before the end. He is in a bed somewhere, spilling water, bleeding slightly on his notes, his books. He talks to us about everything from the mundane (the blood) to the deeply philisophical (Plato and many, many others). I read this one one sitting in about an hour because it's that compelling and enjoyable. The conversation seamlessly moves from real estate matters to artistic matters. His commentary will make you chuckle, will make you shake your head in agreement. This is an interesting work and if you are looking from a step up from your average novel. Enjoy.
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5.0 out of 5 stars A compressed delight Oct. 20 2002
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
An old man's Beckett-like disjointed rant is a forum for satisfyingly inconclusive and erudite musings on art, music, and individual inspiration in our "age of mechanical reproduction" and mass-market pandering. This small book is full of a wealth of crisscrossing themes. Unlike Gaddis's larger tomes, this is simply structured, has blistering forward momentum and can be read in a few hours. In prose alternately profound and profane, Gaddis has contrived a perfect device to exercise his lifelong preoccupations, creating an impassioned but infirm narrator whose very disorganization engagingly mocks the author and his sprawling subject. Parts are excruciatingly funny. This is a must-read if you're a Gaddis or Beckett or Thomas Bernhard or David Markson fan, or if you ponder the nature of art in this--or any other--age.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.1 out of 5 stars  9 reviews
21 of 21 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant Ruminations June 12 2003
By Elizabeth Hendry - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
William Gaddis' Agape Agape is a brilliant, philisophical rumination on the nature of contemporary society and its relationship to art and the artist. It's not really a novel, but rather a 100 page diatribe of a dying man trying to get his affairs in order before the end. He is in a bed somewhere, spilling water, bleeding slightly on his notes, his books. He talks to us about everything from the mundane (the blood) to the deeply philisophical (Plato and many, many others). I read this one one sitting in about an hour because it's that compelling and enjoyable. The conversation seamlessly moves from real estate matters to artistic matters. His commentary will make you chuckle, will make you shake your head in agreement. This is an interesting work and if you are looking from a step up from your average novel. Enjoy.
43 of 49 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Brilliant--It's Changed My Mind About Gaddis! June 2 2003
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I have seldom if ever revised my opinion of an author based on a posthumous work-until now. I confess to having found the late William Gaddis' other (and in some circles, classic) novels (J.R., Frolic of His Own, The Recognitions, and Carpenter's Gothic) theoretically interesting and probably brilliant, but always far too long, very self-indulgent, difficult for its own sake and almost unreadable-in other words, they bored me, what I could get through of them.
This prejudice of mine is coupled with a general dislike for posthumous works in general-the kind where a Major Author left a work unfinished at death, and which is years after released and edited with an introduction or forward by some noted Scholar: ("This really IS a great book, all of Fitzgerald's/Hemingway's/Duras'/McGowin's major Themes are here," etc., etc.). Well, they very seldom are great works, and just as the act of Revision seems contrived to some (your Kerouac wannabes, perhaps), I, conversely, find the act of posthumous publication to itself be contrived-again, in general. Glenn Gould, the great pianist, once expressed his intense dislike of "live" recordings being released on record labels with the surrounding hoopla, and said he planned to do a "fake" live album, recorded in the studio, complete with mistakes and overdubbed with audience coughing, etc. Sony of course wouldn't go for it, but I've often wanted to write a "fake" posthumous novel, the Final (unfinished) Work of a Great American Novelist-I'll make it about 100 de-contextualized pages, with 200 pages of forwards, introductions, afterwards, and footnotes. Now that Dave Eggars is a Publisher, he should get in touch.
But in the case of Agape Agape, the Afterward is totally superfluous. The book was finished when Gaddis died, and I don't need to have that explained to me, nor do I care what Joseph Tabbi et. al. Think of it in the overall context of Gaddis' other novels or what it started out as or what Gaddis wanted it to achieve. It's 125 pages, and all of a piece, without section or chapter breaks, the perfect length for what is the most cohesive and affecting book the man ever wrote-the free-associations of a dying narrator who's afraid his lifelong goal to write the definitive history of the player piano will never come to fruition. Into this frenetic and breathless narrative, then, is woven...everything. What begins with the narrator's opinions concerning several aspects of the History and Future of Technology becomes a fictional autobiography the likes of which has rarely been achieved, cemented by the character's grasp of mortality and humanity, and by Gaddis' seamless and masterful narrative drive. He is ON.
This is a one or two-sitting book, and the reader will come away from it reeling. It's too brief for me to go into specifics, for the specifics are the book, the book is the plot-but if you've never read Gaddis, START HERE. And if you need to picture a Literary Precedent, think of Dostoyevsky's Notes from Underground, perhaps, or of the best shorter work by Camus or John Hawkes-but only think. Because this book suceeds where Gaddis' other novels drag in that it also makes you feel.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A compressed delight Oct. 20 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
An old man's Beckett-like disjointed rant is a forum for satisfyingly inconclusive and erudite musings on art, music, and individual inspiration in our "age of mechanical reproduction" and mass-market pandering. This small book is full of a wealth of crisscrossing themes. Unlike Gaddis's larger tomes, this is simply structured, has blistering forward momentum and can be read in a few hours. In prose alternately profound and profane, Gaddis has contrived a perfect device to exercise his lifelong preoccupations, creating an impassioned but infirm narrator whose very disorganization engagingly mocks the author and his sprawling subject. Parts are excruciatingly funny. This is a must-read if you're a Gaddis or Beckett or Thomas Bernhard or David Markson fan, or if you ponder the nature of art in this--or any other--age.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Everything you never wanted to ask because you were afraid one day he'd tell you Feb. 6 2014
By Michael Battaglia - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is the best place to start with William Gaddis, and yet, it's not.

On the odd chance that I'm writing this to someone who has wandered onto this page by accident and has no clue who Gaddis is (it's okay if you weren't aware of him previously, he's a tad obscure . . . but I'm still impressed you made it here somehow), he was a man known for writing lengthy, complex and erudite novels, so lengthy and complex that he only managed to write about five in his lifetime, of which this is one. Most of the others have something that would scare off the casual reader, whether it's because it's nine hundred pages ("The Recognitions"), completely comprised of dialogue ("JR" - probably my favorite and the best primer for writing dialogue as cacophony that still advances the narrative . . . just like real life) or uses mounds of legalese ("A Frolic of His Own") it's not that he intentionally made things difficult, it's just that he was going to do it his way and he really didn't care about waiting around to see if you were going to catch up.

He passed away in 1998, and this was published several years later. Its genesis lies in extensive notes that were taken over the years for a history of the player piano but have now been folded into an extended shifting stream of consciousness monologue from a dying writer who is sorting through the disposition of his property and boxes of information about player pianos that he's gathered over the years. There's no dialogue and only one paragraph so once it starts there's no stopping it, not unlike the raspy old man at the bar that twenty minutes into his long, rambling story you realize that everyone else has moved away and left you alone, it's just you and him. And honestly, he doesn't even really need you.

Its length makes its by far the most accessible of his works. Even if you simply power through it'll probably take a little over an hour or so to skim all ninety some odd pages. But there's no true narrative here, no real rising or falling action in the literal sense, and no momentum except for the ceaseless rhythm of a dying voice throwing everything against the wall in the hopes that something will stick and in that sticking won't get washed off right away. Its the sound of someone trying to leave a mark and realizing that everything blends into the color of oblivion eventually. The question is: is it worth trying? The fact that I just finished a ninety page rant suggests that perhaps it is.

People looking for a plot are going to be sorely disappointed but if you came here looking for convention you're definitely in the wrong place. The style comes across as Beckett mixed with Thomas Bernhard (who I've never read but is referenced here and in the helpful forward and afterword), never disjointed but choppy, shifting from one idea to another and then back again with all the speed of whiplash as the narrator rails against the dissolution of civilization, of creativity, of his own body, has imaginary conversations with the old writers and philosophers he admires, all coming at you in prose so tightly compressed that its not until you start looking up references and come up for air that you realize how much is packed in here. Its the sound of a man acutely aware of his mortality, aware that time is running out, and who isn't happy about it and will not accept it, and in that knowledge has become determined to cram in everything he ever thought important, to create something in a world where creativity has ceased to exist, where people are willing to simply plug in the machine and let it play the fruits of other peoples' labors. Art should inspire us to create more of our own, not allow us to simply sit back and passively admire it. In that sense it comes across as less cranky rant than muted scream, desperate to get people to pay attention when even he's lost the ability to even focus. Better people than me can tell you how autobiographical it all is, but you don't need to be an academic scholar to start seeing the parallels. It's not a last will and testament, it's a last ditch effort, and its all too aware of the odds.

It's an easy book to read but not an easy one to digest. The topics shift with all the hyperactivity of a toddler let loose in the Shiny Things Museum and in what has to be an unintentional homage to hip-hop, the narrative drops in quotes from the writers he admires, Bernhard and Tolstoy among others, often addressing their characters directly (Tolstoy gets referenced a lot, unfortunately for me just about every novel but "War and Peace", completely negating my pride at having finished that behemoth). It's the kind of work that becomes more meaningful when you understand the context of what he's referencing, and its almost designed to keep a certain Internet encyclopedia handy if you're so inclined. And if you're not the kind of person who immediately tries to look up stuff he's not familiar with in a work he's enjoying, its quite possible that William Gaddis isn't the author for you.

But even if you don't know your Tolstoy from your Toy Story, what comes across this work is both the passion and the desperation. He puts the invention of the player piano at the heart of everything that's gone wrong, separating people from each other and leaving it unnecessary to make art anymore. He comes across as acutely worried for the world that's to come, and while the specter of death circles the edges of the novel, it never becomes harrowing. He's frustrated that he can't get through and doesn't want to run out of time, but its us poor saps that get left behind that are in for it eventually. He'll be past all concerns. It shows how we're the culmination of all that matters to us, not only what we like but our dislikes as well, the proof that we don't do enough when we could do more. It attacks the spiraling fear that we could say all the best things, if we only had enough time, and lets us watch as he lays too slow, and all the rest remains out of reach. It's the kind of book where every page is the kind of page where you'd underline perfectly said phrases, spectacular in their improvised splatter, and all the more remarkable because they aren't improvised.

At least once per year it seems I read a work where an awareness of mortality lays as close as the condensation from our breath on the bathroom mirror. It's not a story as much as a channeling of one man's emotions about death and dying into a narrative where that nearness is omnipresent, while the author is aware that the slide he feels is the slide into the inevitable. It skirts along the honest edge without ever becoming pitying or maudlin but lays out all the rancor and fear, all the missed opportunities and the hope. It snarls without teeth because that's what you do when you've poured it all in and have nothing left and makes it even more surprising when you look down and see the bite marks. It's everything he ever did and would have done, compressed until its black and hard and impossible to shatter, and departs while daring. It walks with us right up to the border of all things and pauses just long enough to look back and say "I've done all I can, now what can do you do?" before vanishing into a place where only immortality goes. It begs us to do something other than disintegrate and if you think that's not possible, know that there is success and there is proof. Here. Here it is. It has no weight. And it'll last as long as words do.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A bit of posthumous genius Sept. 1 2008
By Steve - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
William Gaddis will never be an American literary icon on the order of Hemingway or Faulkner, it's fair to say. His novels, written in a fractured, stream-of-conscious hybrid of dialogue and interior monologue, are full of obscure allusions, facts and figures, and in true postmodern glee, often defy thematic description. I found "A Frolic of His Own" to be an absolute riot (maybe because I'm a lawyer)--it was too long, for sure, but smart and true as the best satires are.

This interesting little book has a lot to say about the state of Art in the Age of Technology. Unapologetically elitist, the moribund narrator illustrates how the democratization of art (best exemplified, for Gaddis, by the invention of the player piano) has transformed the genius of creation into little more than a spectator sport. Poking fun at the Pulitzers (the only purpose of which, he observes, is to proclaim the recipient fit for bourgeois consumption), the narrator breathes a sigh of relief on behalf of Pulitzer-less Thomas Pynchon, while commiserating with John Kennedy Toole on his posthumous receipt of the prize. Gaddis bewails a world where every four year old with a computer is considered an artist and sounds a note of gratitude (of which self-gratitude is almost certainly a part) for those who toil in the sweat and anonymity of true creation.

For those disgusted by the Hollywood mentality that exalts the mainstream at the expense of the maverick, that assesses quality in the language of capitalism, this sly little book provides a welcome critique, nurturing the inner elitist in us all.
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