Agape, Steven Moore gave this interim report on this last and perhaps most disturbing of Gaddis's work.It was delivered at the international colloquium "Reading William Gaddis" in Orlans, France, March 24-25, 2000.
Now both the player piano and the computer adapted this technology from the automated loom invented by Jacquard at the beginning of the 19 century, which also used punched cards, which were taken up in 1835 by Charles Babbage for an early calculator, and further modified in 1890 by Herman Hollerith for a tabulating machine, another forerunner of the modern computer.
As Gaddis realized the player piano was only a chapter in the long history of mechanization and automation, his researched broadened to the point where he was overwhelmed by the logistics of integrating all this material into a coherent narrative.
In an oft-quoted passage in J R, Gibbs describes his project as -- a book about order and disorder more of a, sort of a social history of mechanization and the arts, the destructive element . Those selections are so dense and allusive that some readers may feel its just as well that Gaddis never completed the book, because even the few pages included in J R are difficult enough that the thought of a lengthy book written in that manner is enough to send even sympathetic readers reeling Gaddis was able to incorporate most of his thoughts on mechanization and the arts in J R, triumphantly if I may say so, and in later years he seems to have become reconciled to this solution.
In his letters he continued to refer occasionally to Agapē Agape, offering tantalizing glimpses of what it might have been.
When he did begin writing again, he had trouble settling on the right project.
He began then abandoned a novel on business in 1957, then started a novel on the Civil War, which he changed to a play entitled Once at Antietam, then shelved it in 1960 after failing to find a producer for it.Gaddis wasnt merely displaying an elitist reaction to the democratization of the arts; instead, he was concerned about the growing demand for immediate gratification and for the willingness to accept a mechanical reproduction over the real thing.Its the same trend towards the elimination of the human element that was going on in assembly-line production, whose growth took place concurrent with the heyday of the player piano.He was crushed by the commercial failure of The Recognitions in 1955, which he probably thought would set him up in the same way that Ralph Ellison was set for life after the publication in 1953 of Invisible Man.Gaddis got married later in 1955 and had to get a job, and within a few years had two kids to support.He then decided to resurrect his work of a decade earlier on the player piano because he continued to be obsessed (as he writes in a letter to John Seelye) with expanding prospects of programmed society & automation in the arts.He worked on this version of Agapē Agape from 1960 to 1962, at which time he accepted a commission from the Ford Foundation to write a book on the use of television in the schools, which fell through the following year.After he finished the assignment he decided to research the history of the player piano further and to write something of his own on the topic, which he hoped to publish in the New Yorkers Onward & Upward column, only to have it rejected. 4 is a slight piece, just an anecdotal overview of the history of the player piano, and yet its opening paragraph gives a clear indication of Gaddiss concern: Selling player pianos to Americans in 1912 was not a difficult task.By this time, he had begun work on The Recognitions, so he set it aside, but in 1950, while in Paris, Gaddis dusted off his essay and sent it to the Atlantic Monthly, who, much to his delight (as he wrote in a letter to Helen Parker), offered to take an excerpt from it, or possibly the whole. [Click here for this article.] The fact that this essay is only a few pages long suggests that it was indeed only an excerpt from a longer work, and thus that longer work would be the basis for what he eventually called Agapē Agape. There was a place for everyone in this brave new world, where the player offered an answer to some of Americas most persistent wants: the opportunity to participate in something which asked little understanding; the pleasure of creating without work, practice, or the taking of time; and the manifestation of talent where there was none.In fact, a page of Gaddiss notes for the year 1920 is reproduced on page 587 of J R, and one look at that and you can see what he was up against.To go back a little bit, it should be remembered the late fifties were a difficult time for Gaddis.