Gabriel Josipovici 1940-
(Full name Gabriel David Josipovici) French-born English critic, novelist, playwright, and short story writer.
The following entry presents an overview of Josipovici's career through 2000. For further information on his life and works, see CLC, Volumes 6 and 43.
Josipovici is a highly regarded literary critic and leading experimental fiction writer. Many critics argue that Josipovici most effectively posits his theories in The World and the Book: A Study of Modern Fiction (1971), a controversial work in which he urges readers to “remove the spectacles of habit” when reading unconventional fiction. Like antinovelist and theorist Alain Robbe-Grillet, Josipovici contests the value of the traditional realistic novel, believing that a work of fiction should concentrate on reconstructing rather than imitating the world. Josipovici adheres to this principle in his own fiction, utilizing fragmented dialogue, disjointed narrative, interior monologue, and other experimental techniques to challenge preconceived ideas about the nature of fiction and reality.
Josipovici was born on October 8, 1940, in Nice, France, where he lived until the end of World War II. His father, Jean, was of Romanian-Jewish descent, and his mother, Sacha Rabinovitch, was the daughter of a Russian-Jewish doctor who had settled in Cairo, Egypt. Josipovici's parents, who had been studying in France when he was born, separated when he was three years old. After the war, his mother decided to leave France and return to her native Egypt. His mother, a poet and translator, wanted to spare her son the hardship of the rigid French school system. Josipovici attended English schools in Egypt until 1956, when he traveled to England to attend Cheltenham College. After he graduated from Cheltenham, Josipovici was too young to be admitted into English universities. He spent one year living in England, exploring London and the English culture, before enrolling at St. Edmund Hall, Oxford. He studied English literature and graduated in 1961 with honors. In 1963, Josipovici married and began teaching English at the University of Sussex in Brighton. He remained in that position for two decades before accepting a position at University College, London. In 1996, he served as the Weidenfeld Professor of Comparative Literature at the University of Oxford. Josipovici published his first novel, The Inventory, in 1968 and continued thereafter to divide his time between writing and teaching. His play Evidence of Intimacy won the Sunday Times National Union of Students Festival award in 1970, and Mobius the Stripper, a collection of stories and short plays, won the Somerset Maugham Award for fiction in 1974. In addition to his novels and criticism, Josipovici has published several collections of short stories and has scripted a number of plays for both radio and theater.
Josipovici's scholarship in literary theory has consistently informed both his fiction and nonfiction works. During the 1970s, he became known as one of the new deconstructionists, interested in challenging the form of the traditional novel. The Inventory focuses on Joe Hyman, a lawyer who is sent to take an inventory of the belongings of an elderly man who has just died. In the deceased man's apartment, Joe meets several of the man's relatives and acquaintances who interact with Joe as he catalogues the man's possessions. The events in the novel are related mainly through dialogue and the narrative structure is both spiraling and sparse. Josipovici juxtaposes motifs and time schemes, employing repetition and a circuitous structure filled with verbal patterns between Joe and the relatives. Words (1971) contains more traditional exposition, but the bulk of the plot once again unfolds mainly through dialogue. The novel centers around Jo, a woman who writes to Louis, her former lover, to ask permission to visit him and his wife. Louis and his wife live near Southhampton, where Jo will be boarding a ship to meet her husband in San Francisco. Louis's brother and his wife—who are experiencing marital problems—are already staying with Louis at the time, and he very reluctantly agrees to Jo's visit. Through relentless and seemingly pointless chatter, Josipovici epitomizes the strains of modern life and marriage—the feelings of emptiness, ennui, and shallow human relationships. In The World and the Book (1971), a collection of critical essays, Josipovici champions the unorthodox writing styles of T. S. Eliot, Marcel Proust, and Vladimir Nabokov. Mobius the Stripper is a collection of stories and plays that revolve around the concept of perception and the various ways of establishing or ascertaining personal identity. Many of the pieces in the collection focus on presenting two sides of an issue. The story titled “This” is comprised entirely of a dialogue in which one character endlessly questions the other about what he has seen on a walk along the seashore. In the title story, “Mobius the Stripper,” Josipovici experiments with two opposing viewpoints, by dividing the pages of the story in half. The top half presents a straightforward account of a male stripper named Mobius who speaks broken English and views his work very seriously. The bottom half of the pages presents a related account of a writer and his girlfriend, Jenny, who urges the author to leave his typewriter and his job to gather experience in the world, including going to see Mobius perform. Migrations (1977) employs a series of repeated events in its narrative. The plot involves a man in a bare room lying on a bed. He occasionally arises to look out the window at the shops and cafes along the street. He imagines himself walking down the street, waiting for a pub to open, falling down, and lying in a hospital. In each repetition of events, more details are added, which reveal more about the man and his attempts to understand his predicament. In The Echo Chamber (1980), Josipovici employs more traditional elements of conventional fiction. The book parodies the mystery-thriller genre by using many of the conventional features of the thriller, such as the building of suspense and the climatic last page. A man named Peter is welcomed into the home of his Aunt Marion, after leaving the hospital where he was recovering from a breakdown. Marion's house acts as a refuge for a large number of people including Yvonne, one of Marion's daughters, who befriends Peter. Yvonne and Peter begin taking daily walks where she encourages him to remember the cause of his breakdown. Eventually he does remember, but after the revelation, he subsequently foresees an impending disaster in the very near future.
Biblical scholars have credited Josipovici with altering the critical landscape by creating an informed and respectful study of the Bible as a work of literature in The Book of God (1988). In the work, Josipovici attempts to teach readers how to read and interpret the Christian and Hebrew Bibles. He also draws attention to the various problems the biblical texts present, such as the different ordering of the books in the Christian and Hebrew versions, the nuances of translations, and how readers have been programmed by tradition. In his later works of criticism, including Text and Voice (1992) and Touch (1996), Josipovici continues to praise experimental writing styles, encouraging novelists to create new worlds in their novels rather than simply recreating reality. He argues that realism is seen through a lens of common expectations and commonly held conceptions of how the world should be presented. Many of his arguments focus on the idea of resisting the urge to judge fiction against preconceived and artificial standards of writing. Throughout his career, Josipovici has employed several unorthodox literary strategies, which can be seen in the novel Moo Pak (1994), which was written without paragraph breaks, and in the terse and choppy dialogue of In a Hotel Garden (1993). Moo Pak is comprised of the opinions, thoughts, and ramblings of Jack Toledano, as recorded by his walking partner, Damien Anderson, while they traverse the moors, heaths, and parks of London. The title of the book is a child's rendering of Moor Park, the home of Sir William Temple, where Jonathan Swift wrote his satire on religion and learning, A Tale of a Tub. Several critics view Toledano's opinions as verbal reworkings of Josipovici's own cultural criticisms. In a Hotel Garden examines the relationship between Ben and his girlfriend, Sandra, who are on vacation. During the vacation, Ben becomes attracted to a woman named Lily. Ben and Lily increasingly spend time together, and one day partake of a circuitous hike around a mountain. Eventually, Ben and Sandra split up after returning to England from their holiday. This work continues to examine some of Josipovici's favorite subjects, such as freedom and constraint, homelessness, and identity. Throughout his diverse canon, Josipovici continually utilizes recurring themes, including the questioning of reality, a probing of the deficiencies of language to express experience, and a consideration of the nature of memory.
Critical reaction to Josipovici's work has been mixed throughout his career. Critics have generally agreed that he has raised important and essential questions about the nature of fiction during the modern age. Scholars have concurred that Josipovici's diverse reading habits and thorough background in literature allow him to write competently on a variety of subjects. While some critics have faulted Josipovici for deficiencies in his critical works, such as suspect logic and undeveloped theories, they have still welcomed the challenges that he issues, particularly concerning the nature of language and reality. Of Josipovici's works, The Book of God has garnered the greatest critical attention and praise. Critics have lauded The Book of God—despite some minor flaws—as an exemplary exercise in the way in which the Bible can be read as a unified body of literature, separated from the question of whether it is the inspired word of God. Ray Shankman commended the work, stating “Josipovici succeeds in convincing this reader that the Bible is a unified book and not a ‘rag-bag’of isolated stories and fragments.” However, Shankman objected to the casual rhetoric in the work, asserting that “At times, […] Josipovici becomes a talker instead of a writer and sounds as if he were speaking to a small seminar of students.” Critics have been less appreciative of Josipovici's fiction, with several reviewers disparaging the works as overly abstract and banal. Nonetheless, certain critics have praised his nonlinear narratives and experimental, provocative style. While reviewing Moo Pak, Bryan Cheyette remarked: “The novel sweetly dramatizes the perpetual struggle between the written word—the parklands—and that which can not be known in the dark ‘moors’ of the imagination.”
The Inventory (novel) 1968
Evidence of Intimacy (play) 1970
Words (novel) 1971
The World and the Book: A Study of Modern Fiction (criticism) 1971
Mobius the Stripper: Stories and Short Plays (short stories and plays) 1974
The Present (novel) 1975
Four Stories (short stories) 1977
The Lessons of Modernism and Other Essays (criticism) 1977
Migrations (novel) 1977
Vergil Dying (play) 1979
The Echo Chamber (novel) 1980
The Air We Breathe (novel) 1981
Writing and the Body (criticism) 1982
The Mirror of Criticism: Selected Reviews, 1977–1982 (criticism) 1983
Conversations in Another Room (novel) 1984
Contre Jour: A Tryptych after Pierre Bonnard (novel) 1986
In the Fertile Land (short stories) 1987
The Book of God: A Response to the Bible (criticism) 1988
The Big Glass (novel) 1991
Text and Voice: Essays, 1981–1991 (criticism) 1992
In a Hotel Garden (novel) 1993
Moo Pak (novel) 1994
Touch (criticism) 1996...
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SOURCE: A review of The Book of God: A Response to the Bible, in Dalhousie Review, Vol. 68, No. 4, Winter, 1988, pp. 531–34.
[In the following review of The Book of God: A Response to the Bible, Shankman asserts that although Josipovici's writing is uneven at times, he is ultimately successful with his arguments regarding Biblical interpretations.]
Gabriel Josipovici, in his book, The Book of God: A Response to the Bible, wants us to learn how to read experientially, to truly read, for as he says in his Preface, The Book of God “is a book in the end as much about the nature of reading as about the Bible” (xiv). The reader of the Bible, if Josipovici is any example, should be brought “more fully to life” compelled to “want to let others share in the experience” (309). Such is Josipovici's mission to the reader:
Our task is to wrestle with this book as Jacob wrestled with the ‘man,’ in pitch blackness, and not for the mere sake of the contest or in order to wrest the book's secret from it, but in order that we may hear it utter its blessing upon us. But that, we must not forget, is what we would expect of our encounter with any great book.
Josipovici takes up the task of book/word/God-wrestling (existential encounter) with some enthusiasm and erudition. His general...
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SOURCE: “Bible Stories,” in London Review of Books, Vol. 11, No. 4, February 16, 1989, p. 23.
[In the following positive review, Barton commends The Book of God as a major step forward in the debate surrounding the classification of the Bible as “literature.”]
Hegel, says Kierkegaard, presents us with history seen in terms of its ends, as a story which we, from our privileged vantage-point, can decipher. But, says Kierkegaard, that leaves out of account precisely what it means to live in the world. It leaves out of account the choices men always have to make without any knowledge of ends, and it leaves out of account the directions not taken, relegating to darkness those who have made the wrong choices or the choices not condoned by history. Ultimately, it leaves out the fact that we each of us have one life and one death, which is ours and no one else's.
—The Book of God
Most ways of reading the Bible within the Judaeo-Christian tradition have been, in the sense deplored by Kierkegaard, Hegelian. From the vantage-point offered by a theology which claims to ‘make sense’ of human history, the life of the individual and the divine plan for all created things, believers have turned to the Bible to fill in the detail of this grand design. The Bible has traditionally been assumed to be congruent with the...
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SOURCE: “In a Personal Spirit,” in Times Literary Supplement, March 31, 1989, p. 331.
[In the following review, Donoghue offers a positive assessment of The Book of God, calling the work both scholarly and accessible.]
Gabriel Josipovici describes the Bible as “that most complex yet most reticent of books,” and his response to it observes both of the qualities he attributes to it. He will not let go of its complexity till it has blessed his account of it. Nor is he gruff in granting to it the right to be reticent.
In “Religion and Literature” (1935), T. S. Eliot denounced men of letters who go into ecstasies over “the Bible as literature,” the Bible as “the noblest monument of English prose,” and insisted that such men “are merely admiring it as a monument over the grave of Christianity.” The Bible, he maintained, “has had a literary influence upon English literature not because it has been considered as literature, but because it has been considered as the report of the Word of God.” The fact that men of letters discuss it as “literature,” he said, probably indicates “the end of its ‘literary’ influence.” Josipovici quotes this passage from Eliot's essay, and similar ones from writings by C. S. Lewis, James Kugel and James Barr, but he elects, while recognizing that the question of authority is inescapable, to...
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SOURCE: A review of In the Fertile Land, in Review of Contemporary Fiction, Vol. 9, No. 2, Summer, 1989, pp. 255–56.
[In the following review, Malin explores the existential themes of reality and the past as portrayed in In the Fertile Land.]
This collection of stories [In the Fertile Land]—including a novella entitled Distances—is required reading. It informs us in a brilliant, sad manner that we can never describe—or, better yet, capture—the events which happen to us. We can never get the “truth”; we can only interpret incompletely. We are always plagued by distances.
The first story begins strangely: “Yesterday I talked to my father. He stood in my room with his back to the window, facing the bed, his legs slightly apart, his hands behind his back, in the familiar posture. He has been dead for ten years.” We are plunged into a world in which dead fathers talk to their sons, opposites abound (“apart,” “behind”), “familiar postures” seem “unfamiliar.” The description is ghostly, hallucinatory, perverse.
And the odd descriptions continue. The narrator remembers a game in which “complex and rigid rules” create “terror and exhilaration.” But he then tells us that he cannot really remember the vanished past. He wonders about the relationship of past and present, the meaning of distance, loss, exile:...
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SOURCE: A review of The Book of God: A Response to the Bible, in Interpretation, Vol. 44, No. 3, July, 1990, p. 318.
[In the following review, Milavec offers a positive assessment of The Book of God, complimenting the work as an “exemplary text.”]
Josipovici is currently Professor of English at the School of European Studies, University of Sussex. In the preface to his book [The Book of God], he explains that he never mastered the Bible in the way he had mastered Chaucer and Proust, even though he was aware that the Bible contained narratives “far fresher and more ‘modern’ than any of the prize-winning novels rolling off the presses” (p.x). To rectify this deficiency, Josipovici learned Hebrew and Greek and digested nearly a hundred books and articles dealing with biblical studies.
At the beginning of his book, Josipovici raises the related questions of how the Bible constitutes “a sacred book” and how its many books (in terms of topic and style) can have a canonical unity. Then, so as to answer these questions, Josipovici skillfully brings his readers into fresh encounter with the rhetoric and pathos of the biblical narratives themselves. For example, using the story of the patriarch Joseph, Josipovici shows how a fairy tale beginning is artfully used to lure the reader into an identification with a hero who, in the course of the drama, encounters...
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SOURCE: “Fractured Glasswork,” in Times Literary Supplement, March 8, 1991, p. 19.
[In the following positive review, Cardinal explains the historical events on which Josipovici built his novel The Big Glass.]
Reminiscing in 1946 about the origins of his masterwork “The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors, Even,” (commonly known as “The Large Glass”), Marcel Duchamp acknowledged the inspiration of Raymond Roussel, whose curious play Impressions d'Afrique he had seen performed in 1911. “The Large Glass,” that legendary synthesis of calculation and Dada nonsense, begun in New York in 1915 and “definitively incompleted” in 1923, may thus be supposed to draw at least in part on the principle of transposition d'art. “I felt,” Duchamp recalls, “that as a painter it was much better to be influenced by a writer than by another painter.”
Gabriel Josipovici's novel [The Big Glass] turns a neat mirrortrick by carrying “The Large Glass” back into the verbal medium, thereby continuing a practice that dates back to his homage to Pierre Bonnard, the triptych, Contre Jour (1984). The mode of transposition Josipovici favours is distinctive; rather more than a verbal commentary on the visual work, but not quite a fictionalized biography. What he does first is dip freely into the pictorial motifs, critical readings and biographical data...
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SOURCE: “Life Studies,” in New Statesman & Society, March 8, 1991, p. 38.
[In the following positive review, Pavey offers a positive assessment of The Big Glass, praising its “seamless quality.”]
The Big Glass of Gabriel Josipovici's title is closely related to the artist Marcel Duchamp's “Large Glass, the Bride stripped bare by her Bachelors, even.” That singular work, with the accompanying Green Box of Duchamp's notes, has attracted respect and the word “enigmatic” ever since it was (un)finished in 1923. Josipovici is not seeking to explain it, nor to fictionalise Duchamp's life. He has written a novel, using his rare capacity to be both maker and critic at the same time.
Harsnet the artist and Goldberg the critic are the main characters. Harsnet retains much of Duchamp; he too is working on a “delay in glass,” writing notes to go with it, taking a long time, playing chess, being intimidating. But he is doing it in London in the sixties, and is not Duchamp. He is an invention, but a recognisable one, fitting into the uncrowded, priestly, all-male group for whom the pursuit of a goal excludes everything else. We know about him because Goldberg, a sort of Sancho Panza, is busy typing up Harsnet's notes, while adding a few comments of his own.
The typing is taking place some time later, when Harsnet has already abandoned both the...
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SOURCE: A review of The Book of God: A Response to the Bible, in Journal of Biblical Literature, Vol. 110, No. 2, Summer, 1991, pp. 323–25.
[In the following review, Fishbane places Josipovici's scholarship in the context of Biblical studies, arguing that The Book of God adds much to scholarly Biblical interpretation.]
This new book [The Book of God] by the critic and novelist Gabriel Josipovici signals a turn in the wide-ranging discussion of the “Bible and Literature” and puts a little landscape into what had become a fairly flat topography. It arises for Josipovici out of a personal need to confront the Bible as a form of discourse and to ponder it as a species of literature. Thus at the center of the discussion is the old-new question of whether the Bible is a privileged or special discourse—and if so, how. As an old matter, the case was clear: Scripture was deemed special by virtue of its sacred status or divine origin; accordingly its styles and forms must be read with a special (i.e., sanctioned) hermeneutic that can best elicit the manifold content of an often elliptic Scripture. There is no danger of over-reading here, since everything in the text is fraught with significance. From the Jewish side, one need merely evoke the methods of midrash to make the point; but some authors, like Judah Halevi in The Kuzari (II.70–76) or Moses de Leon in the Zohar...
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SOURCE: “Abishag's King,” in Raritan, Vol. 11, No. 3, Winter, 1992, pp. 105–16.
[In the following review, Qualls compares Harold Bloom's The Book of J with Josipovici's The Book of God.]
“To qualify for the Blessing, you need not charm Yahweh, as David and Joseph do, but you must not be dull,” writes Harold Bloom about God's—or the author “J's”—search for those worth attention, worth the gift of “more life.” Those worth the Bible's attention, Gabriel Josipovici proclaims, find life in narrative: “God, in this book [The Book of God] … appears to be pure potential realized in activity … in the unfolding narrative. … To trust in narrative, as the author of Job realized, is to make the same act as to trust in children: it is to give up the impossible desire for understanding.” Being is enough.
I begin with these statements because they seem to me at once to summarize the commonalities of viewpoint in these two otherwise very different studies of the Bible's ways of knowing (not, finally, believing) and to chart in the late twentieth century a telling moment in the evolution of biblical studies (at least outside of theology schools). Both Bloom and Josipovici live, and find their heroes living, in history. Yet their history is finally Romantic, Carlylean: it is the biography of great men—and some great women, particularly Rebecca and...
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SOURCE: “Words Heard,” in New Statesman & Society, June 5, 1992, pp. 39–40.
[In the following review, Davey outlines Josipovici's developing views on literary theory in Text and Voice.]
During the 1980s, beacons were lit in universities across the land to warn the studious that a fleet of hostile French deconstructive thinkers was under sail. Numerous Channel ports of the intellect were sealed and appeasers were duly pilloried. But the bulk of this fearful armada arrived anyway, having taken the transatlantic route. A landing was easily effected, and Derida was received into Cambridge. Every discipline has had to define its response.
As a result of his deeply sympathetic engagement with European literary modernism in The World and the Book and The Lessons of Modernism (both published in the 1970s), Gabriel Josipovici was particularly attuned to the source and the strength of the challenge. But over the next decade, in the essays now collected in Text and Voice, he increasingly dissociated his work from the “shallow radicalism” of deconstruction.
His critical preoccupations were nonnegotiable: “the need to listen to the work of art and not impose ourselves upon it; the need to make ancient works come alive for us today; the role of the body in the making and reception of art; the anxiety of modernism; and the writer's need to...
(The entire section is 749 words.)
SOURCE: “Defeatist Dialogues,” in Times Literary Supplement, March 5, 1993, p. 19.
[In the following review, McCue offers a negative assessment of In a Hotel Garden, arguing that Josipovici fails to connect with his readers.]
What feels like a crisis of choice may actually be a needless piece of worrying, and yet the truly important changes in our lives may happen without our caring, or even noticing. The life of feelings, just beyond our grasp, is but a dance around the life of actions.
Some such elusiveness is the subject of Gabriel Josipovici's new novella [In a Hotel Garden]. The writing is calm, polite, reserved—all those things one learns to be as one grows older and puts out of sight the wild feelings that few of us can handle. Here, statement follows statement: these things at least we can be sure of. “Francesca puts the food away methodically, the bread in the bread-bin, the vegetables in the vegetable-rack, the butter and cheese in the fridge, the sugar and marmalade in the cupboard.” With its exaggeratedly perfect fits (“bread in the bread-bin”), this evokes the concentration with which a child puts the triangles and stars in the triangular and star-shaped holes. But fulfilling the task is a distraction from the shapeless question “Should I phone her?”
On holiday in the Dolomites with Sandra, his girlfriend, Ben has met and...
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SOURCE: “Moor Means Worse,” in New Statesman & Society, December 2, 1994, pp. 38–39.
[In the following review, Cheyette offers a generally positive assessment of Moo Pak.]
The title of Gabriel Josipovici's 11th novel [Moo Pak] is a child's rendition of Moor Park, now a secondary school, where Jonathan Swift originally wrote A Tale of a Tub. While in residence at Moor Park, Swift met the eight-year-old Esther Johnson, known as Stella, who eventually became the love of his life. The subsequent history of Moor Park—as a lunatic asylum or an institute for research into primates—is alluded to throughout the novel.
But this work is not about Moor Park in any straightforward sense. The house is used as an extended metaphor for that which combines the unkept or natural world of the “moor” with the cultivated “parks” of the novel's London setting. Josipovici is fascinated by Swift precisely because his writing holds in tension a passionate intensity with a formal coolness. This fundamental struggle is enthrallingly re-enacted in Moo Pak.
Swift's conflicted sensibility feeds into the creative desperation of Jack Toledano. For much of the novel, we simply hear Toledano's cri de coeur. His voice is so rich that the need for a well-crafted plot seems artificial. But, as he grows increasingly melancholy and misanthropic, the many...
(The entire section is 604 words.)
SOURCE: “Finger Food,” in New Statesman, Vol. 125, No. 4306, October 18, 1996, pp. 45–46.
[In the following review, Hall offers a negative assessment of Touch, criticizing the work for focusing too heavily on ideas over actuality.]
In an ideal world you would be reading this article with your eyes closed. It would be printed in braille that was sumptuously and variously textured. As you read, the bottom half of your body would be lapped by waves of warm milk, while the top half would be expertly massaged. Alas, the New Statesman is printed in cheap ink on flimsy paper, and this article is one of the least sensuous of things—a book review. One can but dream.
Gabriel Josipovici is a dreamer. In his day job, as a professor at the University of Sussex, he has produced a steady stream of sturdy academic tomes, such as The Lessons of Modernism (1977) and The Book of God (1988). However, on rare days off, he has written novels and stories full of major yearnings. His new work [Touch] straddles autobiographical and scholarly styles.
Josipovici was born in 1940 and he is very much a child of the 1960s. He is obsessed with the mind-body problem, and believes that mind has been in the ascendant for too long. The mind's henchman is sight, and this organ of sense is “free” and “irresponsible.” Following Merleau-Ponty, he stresses...
(The entire section is 722 words.)
SOURCE: “Tactile Yearnings,” in Times Literary Supplement, April 11, 1997, p. 24.
[In the following review, Cardinal offers a mixed assessment of Touch, noting the uneven qualities in the essays.]
Gabriel Josipovici once averred that “one writes what one would like to read but cannot find written by anyone else.” An experimental novelist, playwright and literary critic of distinction, he adopts here the relaxed tone of one sitting in an armchair at home. In terms of genre, the two dozen short chapters of Touch are less a well-tempered suite of essays à la Montaigne and more a carnet intime, in which pronouncements on culture or the human condition are strewn amid personal jottings and household trivia. As a guided tour to Josipovici's sensibility, the book remains unemphatic and sometimes a little wan; yet it may be that its absence of stress corresponds to a strategy for teasing out a particular vein of truth, nonchalance being an efficient tool for probing unacknowledged strata of experience. At one point we find the author musing on the way in which stylists like Proust and Kafka needed to “train” themselves, the grinding-out of heaps of unsatisfactory fragments and sketches being a necessary prelude to that final state of grace when they could write exactly as they wanted. Similarly, this book reads as a draft for some major statement as yet unexpressed, its...
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SOURCE: A review of Touch, in World Literature Today, Vol. 71, No. 3, Summer, 1997, pp. 661–62.
[In the following review, Jaron discusses the experimental nature of the essays in Touch.]
In his last years Roland Barthes became increasingly preoccupied with the desire to write a novel—a desire left unfulfilled at his death. He did speak about it, however, as in a 1978 lecture at the Collège de France. While “Longtemps, je me suis couché de bonne heure” (collected posthumously in Le bruissement de la langue) is not a direct expression of that wish—that would be presumptuous, lacking in taste—we nevertheless have the sense that he wanted to compose a “roman utopique” so as to pass to another kind of learning (“savoir”), a new learning which would require an innovative research method.
It was in Proust (thus the title of Barthes's lecture) that Barthes found not his model practitioner—the roman utopique, after all, had not yet been written—but his stimulation. His predecessor had exploited a “certaine indécision des genres,” perceptible in the writings of Nerval and Baudelaire, which led to the creation of his masterpiece. Was it a novel? Was it an essay? “Aucun des deux ou les deux à la fois,” he proposed. In fact A la recherche was a “tierce forme,” a third genre made possible by Proust's working method, by his having...
(The entire section is 785 words.)
SOURCE: “This, Here, Now,” in Kenyon Review, Vol. 20, Nos. 3–4, Summer–Fall, 1998, pp. 191–97.
[In the following review, Wood explains the themes and artistic examples that Josipovici explores in Touch.]
Visiting friends leave the poet for a while and go off for a walk. He imagines them arriving at a place he himself knows well:
The roaring dell, o'erwooded, narrow, deep, And only speckled by the mid-day sun; Where its slim trunk the ash from rock to rock Flings arching like a bridge;—that branchless ash, Unsunned and damp, whose few poor yellow leaves Ne'er tremble in the gale, yet tremble still, Fanned by the water-fall!
Quoting these lines from Coleridge's “This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison,” Gabriel Josipovici points out very precisely what is happening. It is not, as is usually said, that the poet's imagination in itself denies his imprisonment, and not even that his words take him in spirit to the place he names. It is his writing the words that takes him there, “the movement of the poem under his hand,” as Josipovici finely puts it (12). And the first and last thing we learn from Josipovici's remarkable new book, Touch, is the difference writing makes.
“The desire to write an essay on touch,” Josipovici begins, “has grown steadily on me in the last few years” (1). Spoken in...
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SOURCE: “Simple Mysteries,” in Times Literary Supplement, February 25, 2000, pp. 4–5.
[In the following review, Kermode positions Josipovici within the world of modern criticism based on the arguments on literary theory presented in On Trust.]
Gabriel Josipovici's new book [On Trust] is not a simple collection of disparate essays. It has a theme that recurs through his discussions of Genesis, Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Kierkegaard, Proust, Kafka, Eliot, Beckett, Wittgenstein and others along the way. Although he attaches great importance to this theme, he must have been conscious of its dangers. His critical observation on A. W. Schlegel might be adapted to question his own procedures: Schlegel has been saying that Christianity, by bringing to consciousness “the intimation that we aspire to a happiness unobtainable here,” has ensured that ours is a poetry of desire and not, like that of the ancients, a poetry of joy. “Schlegel,” says Josipovici, “falls into all the traps of the historian of ideas, projecting a neat scheme on the complexities of history.”
Historiographical dichotomies of this kind can take many forms. One, applauded by Josipovici, is Schiller's distinction between naive and sentimental poetry (“a lucid and profound analysis of the difference between two civilisations”). His own theme is in some ways analogous: modern creative...
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Boadt, Lawrence. Review of The Book of God: A Response to the Bible, by Gabriel Josipovici. Theological Studies 50, No. 4 (December 1989): 786–787.
Boadt argues that Josipovici is only partially successful in his attempt to reinterpret the Bible in The Book of God.
Cheyette, Bryan. “From Game to Silence.” Times Literary Supplement (13 May 1988): 533.
Cheyette praises the thematic and intellectual issues raised in In the Fertile Land.
Clee, Nicholas. “Walking and Talking.” Times Literary Supplement (23 September 1994): 23.
Clee offers a positive assessment of Moo Pak, noting that Josipovici's previous questions about the adequacy of language are explored further in the novel.
Clifford, Richard. Review of The Book of God: A Response to the Bible, by Gabriel Josipovici. Journal of Religion 71, No. 4 (October 1991): 634.
Clifford offers a positive assessment of The Book of God, calling the work informative and instructional.
Dyer, Geoff. Review of In the Fertile Land, by Gabriel Josipovici. New Statesman (8 January 1988): 32.
Dyer offers a negative assessment of In the Fertile Land, faulting the work for being formulaic and derivative....
(The entire section is 299 words.)