Recently read Beckett’s Molloy and, after reading something of Marshall McLuhan’s son, Eric’s, on the role of art in human survival, can’t help but think of the two of them – Gaddis and Beckett – along similar lines, at least in some respects.
“As we grow older, we dim down the sensory responses and increase the sensory inputs, turning ourselves into robots. That is why art is indispensable for human survival… Art perpetually dislocates our usual sensory responses by offering a very abstract or meagre and selective input.”
I think it’s fair to say both Gaddis and Beckett are doing this, reducing the inputs, hacking away at thickets of information, forcing the reader to construct the novel alongside them. They go about it in different ways, but they’re both making a point of leaving things out, of demanding the reader contend with the “space between the notes”.
I call your book-length dialogues floated dialogue because while you present everything through dialogues—background information, letters, newspaper articles, radio texts, tv texts—too many outlines become blurred, persons and objects are externally undifferentiated, everything is allowed to be viewed through what is spoken only. The omniscient narrator gives insignificant, descriptive details of the physical situation in which the dialogue is carried on, but he is of no help with what the reader would be really interested in.
I will tell you something in that area, if you like a theory, which I may have come up with after I wrote the book—I’m not sure. It is the notion that the reader is brought in almost as a collaborator in creating the picture that emerges of the characters, of the situation, of what they look like—everything. So this authorial absence, which everyone from Flaubert to Barthes talks about, is the sense that the book is a collaboration between the reader and what is on the pages.
Something I find interesting is it doesn’t always work – nicely tying in with their mutual interest in failure – and I can end up picturing nothing at all… the words just words… but when it does work, I find myself confronted with something akin to the kind of flattening of affect that can come with psychedelic drugs; a bicycle or newspaper clipping takes on as much significance (or insignificance) as a character or line of dialogue, just as a mushroom trip might imbue a table leg or piece of fabric with the significance of a film or painting, and vice versa.