When he spoke, all she heard was a distant hum, something like the dull resonance of the big bang, or the whine from the empty center of the Milky Way. She knew he was saying words, could see his lips moving, knew he was talking to her about the Benz, the mortgage on the lake house, a vacation to the Mayan Riviera, their daughter’s credit card, his mother’s third divorce, but she couldn’t hear him, hadn’t been able to hear him for months. While she watched his lips move, she thought about the feel of the terrycloth robe on her back, and the way the material irritated her nipples, making them erect. She saw him looking and immediately pulled the robe tighter around herself. She thought maybe he was now talking about who had last taken the trash out. She thought that was his job. She thought she didn’t care about the trash. But she certainly cared when it started to stink, and shouldn’t the man take care of things when they started to smell bad? As a pastiche, I’m not sure the above is entirely fair to the source text. Another not entirely fair thing I thought/wrote about the book in question was: I have not read any John Updike, but now feel as though I have.
Obviously Benjamin, and he is also namechecked. But also Beckett in the way the slowly fading mind meanders within the broken body. Beckett and Der Mensch erscheint im Holozän by Max Frisch. But then also somehow Babyficker by Urs Allemann, because, and obviously, both concern a first-person narrator in a bed exploring an obsession in a kind of fugue (state) where themes are repeated to the point of becoming leitmotifs. But then, in the way Gaddis’ narrator “hallucinates,” begins to flip or meld the standard “what is outside of me is reality / what I think is not,” there is also Pynchon, there is Doc Sportello never quite sure if his connections are justified or simply an effect of the drug (in the case of Agapé, prednisone). And if there is Inherent Vice, there is, and again, Burroughs’ Cities of the Red Night. Just look at all these white men. What there is not, and what was then surprising about a book initially conceived as a history of the player piano (but which quickly, and at the end of Gaddis’ life, became a meditation on art vs. mechanization (and here we are back at Benjamin)), is that there is no Conlon Nancarrow. And because there is no Conlon Nancarrow, the composer who put the human back into the player piano by attacking the thing from the other end, he is thus placed here: