Tag Archives: gabriel josipovici

Gabriel Josipovici on New Finnish Grammar by Diego Marani

Gotta love a guy who can start a review with an extended quote from Wordsworth:

One of the most mysterious and disconcerting episodes in The Prelude concerns Wordsworth’s encounter in London with a blind beggar “who, with upright face,/Stood, propped against a wall, upon his chest/Wearing a written paper, to explain/His story, whence he came, and who he was”. The sight, the poet tells us, sent his mind spinning, “As with the might of waters”, for it seemed an “apt type . . . of the utmost we can know,/Both of ourselves and of the universe”. Can this be true? Is the blind beggar, his name written on his chest but unable to read it, an emblem of ourselves?

The idea is shocking to most of us, who believe that we are transparent to ourselves and that the world is, to a certain extent, open to our understanding.

Diego Marani’s remarkable novel sets out to explore these questions . . .

Also read his essay on Thomas Bernhard in the same periodical.

Everything Passes

Interesting review of Everything Passes by Gabriel Josipovici.

Before I knew it I was around 20 pages in. The whole book is only 60. I figured I should stop as it was very late, but I was 30 pages in before I did and only then because I was too tired to continue. It’s hard to capture it from such small quotes as those above, but Josipovici can write. I found myself turning the pages as if it were a thriller.

As the book continues it becomes apparent that it is not written in chronological order. The paragraphs may be the man’s memories and thoughts as he gazes out that unidentified window (is it always the same window?). They may not be. Still, as the words slide past a sort of story began to emerge. I began to get a picture of the man’s life, forming from the fragments before me.

When I reviewed Berger’s A Painter of Our Time I spoke of it as being a cubist novel. That’s what’s happening here too (though the style is very different). Through fragments of perspective one sees the whole life, but no part of that life is given priority over any other . . .

Eliot Weinberger’s Odd Takedown of Gabriel Josipovici

The current NYRB has an article on Gabried Josipovici’s What Ever Happened to Modernism, said article being written by Eliot Weinberger. I’d been expecting an inspired reaction to an inspired book, but that is not what I found.

Weinberger clearly did not like the book, but I cannot figure out quite why. He jumps from an attack on its title (based a strangely literal reading of it) to a bunch of random, nitpicky-type arguments. For instance:

“Haydn could write a hundred symphonies” but “Beethoven could write only nine” (ignoring Beethoven’s hundreds of other works) because Haydn was “at ease within a tradition. What he had to do . . . was fill in a form.” He “didn’t feel he needed to start from scratch each time.”

Weinberger means for this to rebut one of Josipovici’s “exaggerated dichotomies,” but it does nothing of the sort. For one, it’s purely wrong on the facts–even going beyond symphonies, as Weinberger suggests, we see that Haydn had some 750 compositions to Beethoven’s 138. But it does nothing to dispute the fact that Beethoven famously made many remarks along the lines that he did feel he started over with each symphony, whereas Haydn worked in an entirely different tradition and didn’t compose as Beethoven did.

Weinberger is equally nitpicky when he trots out some generic attacks on Jospovici’s prose (e.g., use of the royal we, “gratuitous references,” etc).

Aside from the nitpicking, Weinberger’s characterization of the book as “largely a stringing of short ruminations on the works of favorite writers, artists, and composers” is a complete misreading. The book very clearly and carefully lays out a case for modernism as a response to the crisis of authority experienced in the West after the fall of the Church, an argument that Weingerber makes no attempt to respond to.

The closest he comes to a real rebuttal of Josipovici’s thesis is close to the very end:

But it is astonishing that his is a Modernism without the rise of the city, with its factories, crowds, and anonymity; without the devastation of the Napoleonic and First World Wars; without the ideological ardors of communism and fascism, the thrill of speed, the new symbolic language of the telegraph, the international voices of radio, mass migrations, the representational “reality” of photographs and the collapse of time in film montage, anthropological investigations of tribal cultures, or the beauties and terrors of industrial products.

Fair enough as a beginning, but as a sum total of Weinberger’s reaction this is very unsatisfying. And it completely contradicts Weinberger’s later assertion that modernism is now taking place in (I assume) industrializing nations like China and India:

Their writers and artists are entering into a Modernism that already is both familiar and different, a cosmopolitanism that doesn’t take London or Paris as its nexus, a continuation of, and revolt against, traditions that have little or nothing to do with Josipovici’s narrative of Church and Reformation, the Enlightenment and the French Revolution, Kierkegaard and the nouveau roman, certainty and doubt.

But if modernism consists of the telegraph, World War I, photographs, etc, then what those people are experiencing must be something else.

I don’t mean to imply that Josipovici’s argument is beyond critique or even that I agree with it completely; I only mean to say that it’s disappointing to see someone of Weinberger’s reputation completely fail to engage with one of the more interesting and accessible critical books to be published last year.

Life Big Read: The Best Critic of a Writer . . .

. . . is another writer. And thus I have taken Stephen Mitchelmore’s advice and checked in on Gabriel Josipovici’s sage critique of Life A User’s Manual. I encourage you all to do the same, although it will take a trip to your local library. Here’s the citation:

And here are the first two grafs. I’ll discuss this article more later in the week:


The Surrender is Veronica Scott Esposito’s “collection of facts” concerning how she embraced her true gender.


Two long essays of 10,000 words each on sex in—and out of—literature . . .

The first essay dives in to Nicholson Baker’s “sex trilogy,” explaining just what Baker is up to here and why these books ultimately fail to be as sexy as Baker might wish.

From there the book moves on to the second essay, which explains just why Spaniard Javier Marías does right what Baker does wrong . . .


5 essays. 2 interviews.

All in all, over 25,000 words of Latin American literary goodness.

3 never-before-published essays, including “The Digression”—a 4,000-word piece on the most important digression in César Aira’s career.

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