The intro page of David Markson’s copy of The Rush for Second Place: Essays and Occasional Writings by William Gaddis:
On which Markson placed his name and the date as an inscription:
As with Malcolm Lowry, David Markson played an instrumental part in the career and legacy of William Gaddis.
From the Joseph Tabbi interview:
JT: You were proselytizing fairly extensively for The Recognitions too?
DM: I suppose you become addicted to a certain kind of writing. There’s little enough of it extant, God knows. I’m not sure how much actual “proselytizing” I did for Gaddis, however. Except for practically buttonholing friends on street corners.
JT: But I understand you were very directly responsible for the first reissue of the book, also?
DM: Evidently I was. It’s a funny story, actually. I was living in Mexico, and someone—well, old Aiken, in fact—gave my address to Aaron Asher, who was editor of Meridian Books at the time. I picked him and his wife Linda up at their hotel and brought them out to where Elaine and I were living—outside of Mexico City—for dinner. And then spent approximately three solid hours talking nonstop about Gaddis. Finally Aaron threw up his hands in despair, telling me, “Please, please, I promise I’ll read the darned thing as soon as I get home! But now tell us something about where to go and what to see in Mexico, for heaven’s sake!”
JT: And then he did publish it. Did Gaddis himself know about the impetus?
DM: That’s fairly funny too, as it happens. The Recognitions came out in 1955. I’d read it twice when it did, and then wrote Gaddis a letter. It’s perhaps the only other letter I’ve ever written to an author I didn’t know, but it was completely different from the one I wrote to Lowry. In this case I’d just been infuriated by the rotten reviews and simply wanted to tell the man the hell with them all, that there were some few of us out there who did see what he’d accomplished. I didn’t get an answer, though I eventually heard secondhand that Gaddis had been too depressed at the time to send one. Or that he’d ultimately decided it was too late. But then sometime in 1961, not long after the Asher incident, I did hear. Six years after the fact, this was, a letter beginning with something like, “Dear David Markson, if I can presume to answer yours of June whatever, 1955”! Which went on to say that Asher was in fact about to do a first reprint.
JT: I know you became friendly with him subsequently?
DM: Back here in New York, yes. The period when we saw the most of each other would have been over the next ten or fifteen years.
And Gaddis is often mentioned in Markson’s Wittgenstein’s Mistress…
“I am fairly certain that I had not yet gone to Europe when I wore my last wristwatches, if that is at all relevant.
I doubt that wearing thirteen or fourteen wristwatches, along the length of one’s forearm, is especially relevant.
Well, and for a period several gold pocket watches also, on a cord around my neck.
Actually somebody wore an alarm clock that very way in a novel I once read./I would say it was in The Recognitions, by William Gaddis, except that I do not believe I have ever read The Recognitions by William Gaddis.
In any case I am more likely thinking of Taddeo Gaddi, even though Taddeo Gaddi was a painter and not a writer.”
- David Markson, Wittgenstein’s Mistress, pgs. 26-27.
“I also believe I met William Gaddis once. He did not look Italian.”
- David Markson, Wittgenstein’s Mistress, pg. 36.
“It was Lucien, in fact, who told me that. Lucien was once acquainted with William Gaddis also, I believe.
Though perhaps it was William Gaddis who lived for a certain period near water in Cádiz, and had a pet seagull.”
- David Markson, Wittgenstein’s Mistress, pgs. 84-85.
“For that matter I have more than once thought about The Recognitions, by William Gaddis, when I have not seen a copy of The Recognitions by William Gaddis in twelve or fifteen years.
I have even thought about William Gaddis himself, when I have not seen William Gaddis for twelve or fifteen years earlier.
In fact I may have never seen William Gaddis.”
- David Markson, Wittgenstein’s Mistress, pg. 93.
“Although what I am actually now remembering about that cat is that it climbed into certain other laps beside de Kooning’s, as it happens.
As a matter of fact it once climbed into William Gaddis’s lap, on an occasion when Lucien brought William Gaddis to my loft.
I believe there was an occasion when Lucien brought William Gaddis to my loft.
In any event I am next to positive that he did bring somebody, once, who made me think about Taddeo Gaddi.
Taddeo Gaddi scarcely being a figure one is otherwise made to think about that frequently, having been a relatively minor painter.”
- David Markson, Wittgenstein’s Mistress, pg. 143.
“And to tell the truth William Gaddis was less than extraordinarily famous himself, even though he wrote a novel called The Recognitions that any number of people spoke quite well of.
Doubtless I would have spoken quite well of it myself, had I read it, what with having gathered that it was a novel about a man who wore an alarm clock around his neck.
Although what now I am trying to recall is whether I may have asked William Gaddis if he himself were aware that there had been a painter named Taddeo Gaddi.
As I have suggested, certainly many people would not have been aware of that.
Then again, if one were named William Gaddis, doubtless one would have gone through life being aware of it.
As a matter of fact people had probably been driving William Gaddis to distraction for years, by asking him if he were aware that there had been a painter named Taddeo Gaddi.
Possibly I was sensible enough not to ask him.
In fact I hope I did not even ask him if he knew that Taddeo Gaddi had been a pupil of Giotto.
Well, doubtless I would not have asked him that, having not even known I remembered it until the instant in which I started to type that sentence.
And in any event the cat may not have climbed into William Gaddis’s lap after all.
The more I think about it, the more I seem to remember that Rembrandt rarely went anywhere near strangers.
Even if he and William Gaddis would have remained equidistant from each other at all times, of course.
Well, as any other cat and any other person.”
- David Markson, Wittgenstein’s Mistress, pgs. 143-144.
“In fact whose lap the almost cat had climbed into was Marco Antonio Montes de Oca’s lap.
Even if I no longer have any idea whatsoever what Marco Antonio Montes de Oca may have been doing at my studio. Unless perhaps it may have been William Gaddis who brought him.
Although doubtless I have also failed to mention that William Gaddis ever visited at my studio himself.
William Gaddis now and again visited at my studio himself.
And on certain of those occasions brought along other writers.
One would tend to do that sort of thing, basically.
Well, by which I mean that if William Gaddis had been a pharmacist doubtless the other people he brought would have been other pharmacists.
Assuming he brought along anybody to begin with, I am obviously also saying.
So that this time he had perhaps brought along Marco Antonio Montes de Oca, who in either case did ask me what my almost cat’s name was.”
- David Markson, Wittgenstein’s Mistress, pg. 210.
“I have not at all lost track of where I was.
Where I am is at the point where somebody next borrowed another sheet of paper and actually started to dictate the letter for me.
In fact it may have been William Gaddis himself who did this.
Or one of the pharmacists.”
- David Markson, Wittgenstein’s Mistress, pg. 214.
Gaddis also appears elsewhere in Markson’s oeuvre…
“Author would undeniably be distressed at the loss of Schnabel’s portrait of William Gaddis.”
- David Markson, Vanishing Point, pg. 107.
“Good lord, Willie, you are drunk. Either that or you’re writing for a very small audience.”
- David Markson, The Last Novel, pg. 83.
(Which is actually an unattributed quote from The Recognitions.)
And good lord, Willie Gaddis, whether or not you did write for a very small audience, that’s all you’ve unfortunately received. Still, even after the re-evaluation and growing appreciation of Gaddis in recent years, the amount of people who have actually read him, or have actually even tried to read him, is surprisingly small.
So small that when he died in 1998…
“Not until a year after his burial at Sag Harbor did someone notice that the title of The Recognitions was misspelled on the back of William Gaddis’s headstone.”
- David Markson, The Last Novel, pg. 41.
But even if the readership of Gaddis is not as massive as it should be, he is no longer the completely forgotten author he may have been if Markson had not forced Aaron Asher to read The Recognitions.
Markson did constantly rave about that novel…
“And thus it is my conclusion that The Recognitions by William Gaddis is not merely the best American first novel of our time, but perhaps the most significant single volume in all American fiction since Moby Dick, a book so broad in scope, so rich in comedy and so profound in symbolic inference…”
- Mentioned by Markson in his Epitaph for a Tramp.
“The Recognitions, which I think is categorically the best American novel of the twentieth century.”
- Said by Markson in the Bookslut interview.
“I thought The Recognitions was—Lowry being English—the great American novel of that period.”
- Said by Markson in the Conjunctions interview.
“I would have given my right arm to have written The Recognitions.”
- Said by Markson in the Portable Infinite interview.
“The greatest novel in American history, I think. Every character, every word. He was the American zeitgeist.”
- Said by Markson and relayed in Jeff Laughlin’s loving send-up of and send-off to Markson in The Awl.
Doubtless I would have spoken quite well of it myself…
David Markson’s copy of The Rush for Second Place by William Gaddis is owned by Zach Barocas. The above scan is used with his permission. Copyright © Zach Barocas.