Gabriel Josipovici Essay - Critical Essays

Josipovici, G(abriel)

Josipovici, G(abriel) 1940–

Josipovici, a novelist, poet, and critic, was born in France, reared in Egypt, and has lived in England since 1956. His work has been compared with fiction by Lewis Carroll, Samuel Beckett, and Alain Robbe-Grillet. (See also Contemporary Authors, Vols. 37-40.)

Gabriel Josipovici is 'a born writer not afraid of the dark'. He asks questions, mainly in dialogue, both in his stories and short plays, about identity, truth, memory, death, and the relationships between mind and body and writer and words. Words are getting heavier, says a character in 'Voices'. And they get in the way; how can you think properly if you are always thinking of words? Some of the stories in Mobius the Stripper fall into pretentious banality, but mostly you find punches coming from unexpected angles, with no nonsense about any accepted Queensberry rules of style or structure. Josipovici's metaphors range from stripping and tattooing to obesity, drowning and the piling-up of garbage, and his poetry is that of a late 20th-century Lewis Carroll whose Alice must wait for Godot when she wants so intensely to get to Sidcup. (p. 62)

John Mellors, in The Listener (© British Broadcasting Corp. 1975; reprinted by permission of John Mellors), January 9, 1975.

The Present, as [its] wrapper unequivocally informs us, 'is about the present'. But not so fast. What, after all, is the present? You may not get stuck on that one too often, but Gabriel Josipovici's characters certainly do. Is it Minna and Reg, married and sharing a London flat with Alex? Is it Minna and Alex, married and living in the country with their two children? Is it Minna and Reg trying to come to terms with Alex's inexplicable suicide? Or is it Minna in hospital after a breakdown, receiving Reg and Alex as visitors? Which of these four states, presented inextricably intermingled with each other, is the present, and which the past, future, dream, or imagination? Mr Josipovici works hard at reflecting the kaleidoscope of reality. On page 7, Alex opens a beercan: 'Released, the air makes a tight explosive noise.' By page 84, this has become subtly transmuted to 'The air, released, makes a tight explosive noise'. But then, as the Doctor (who may be the Inspector dressed up in a white coat, but that's only a bold guess on my part), puts it, 'The present is very hard to bear'. Reg and Alex read us bits from Bede and Celtic history, like instant sages in a Godard film; but even that fails to advance this trim and arid fictionette very far. (p. 30)

Julian Barnes, in New Statesman (© 1975 The Statesman & Nation Publishing Co. Ltd.), July 4, 1975.

The Present is written in the same tense and the same mood as Robbe-Grillet's now tedious 'texts', and he uses that same marginal but authoritative prose, but Josipovici creates more powerful effects because he lingers upon the human surface of the world. Alex, Reg and Minna are circling around each other in one of those domestic cages which are only constructed in fiction (which is why clever Mr Josipovici has decided to use it again)…. The narrative is constantly interesting, because the language has a lightness to it and it can float free of its themes. Old-fashioned 'characters,' when they are created within this elliptical range, can come into their own instead of becoming the transparent integers of 'thought' and 'feeling'.

It is never quite clear what is actually happening, and although the more robust and hearty Anglo-Saxon critics will sneer at Josipovici's presumption in scrapping the idea of plot altogether, their loss is our gain. Different varieties of fiction mingle with one another until the boundaries become blurred and insignificant. In this sense, The Present displays the actual and bewildering nature of any fiction—how does anyone make that leap, whether it be one of writing or reading, to the other side of what is actual and everyday? Some critics will call this book "disturbing" and others will call it something else; it is in fact refreshing, and it makes a very good case for the survival of the English novel. It adopts the theoretical stance of poor French orthodoxies at the same time as it purifies our now turgid Anglo-Saxon conventions. (pp. 17-18)

Peter Ackroyd, in The Spectator (© 1975 by The Spectator; reprinted by permission of The Spectator), July 5, 1975.

The true topography [of The Present] is the modern European mind, and their ancestors the hospitalised or isolated beings of Samuel Beckett. With its short sequences which chime together like words in a poem, its fragmented narrative, its alternative versions of the characters' relationships, its concern over problems of individual communication and its general air of unhappiness, the novel is recognisably "experimental"—though why more joyous fictions should never claim this title is a puzzle. The ambiguity in the phrase "nothing is happening" is central, and the apparent fate of the characters—the suicide of one, the breakdowns of the others—adds up to a critique of the emptiness of normality. Some of the alternative realities have point…. And the dexterous use of the present tense throughout provides a test of how much of past and future the present can be made to bear. Individual passages have a force and clarity of their own. But the alternatives, which eventually become completely interchangeable, gnaw away at one of the central strengths of fiction, the ability to attain the credibility of life. And life, unlike history, rewrites itself for no one. (pp. 75-6)

Clive Jordan, "The Viet Nam Connection," in Encounter (copyright © 1975 by Encounter Ltd.), September, 1975, pp. 75-6.