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.”