Saturday, September 08, 2007

Follow-up to Goldberg: Variations

So, Goldberg: Variations. I hope it was clear from my review that I quite liked this book. When I agreed to write the review, it so happened that I was midway through Josipovici's On Trust. As I began to read the novel, I was immediately struck by how much correspondence there was between the two books, and I felt compelled to use On Trust in the review. And so I did. I had a lot I wanted to say about it, but I necessarily had to focus on just a small part of the novel; even given the fairly large amount of space I had (far longer than a typical even lengthy blog post, or a normal newspaper review), a lot had to be left out, editorial compressions made. I could have talked about Goldberg's discussion of the cunning of Odysseus. I could have discussed the significance of insomnia--how the consistent inability to sleep means that one is never really awake, and the implications that might have for the rest of the novel. I could have mentioned the fragility of society (ruins figure in the novel), or butterflies flapping around inside one's head (a special trauma I am all too qualified to sympathize with), or the chapter that is a detailed description of a painting, or the chapter--the longest one in the book--that depicts Goldberg spinning variations on the theme of, as King George puts the challenge to him, "A man who had enough wanted everything . . . As a result he was left with nothing." Or I could have written about Klee's painting, The Wander-Artist, and what it might mean to the writer in the "modern" parts of the novel. Etc. All of this, of course, has some bearing on what I did focus on, namely the question of tradition and trust in that tradition. As such, I will probably be pulling the novel into future further entries here on Josipovici and his ideas.

As mentioned, space considerations meant that some trimming and compression was necessary. An example was the final paragraph, which was condensed from the following two, which I think are a little clearer, particularly the idea of "trust" in the last sentence:
Josipovici has written a novel of ideas, ideas which are indeed at the center of his concerns as a writer and a critic, but which are subtly interwoven into the fabric of his fiction. If any of this sounds dry or academic, it’s not. Josipovici’s prose is lucid, with a lightness of touch that well serves the often complex and heavy ideas at play. The characters, though several may exist in another character’s fiction, never seem to be mere containers for these ideas, speechifying back and forth, but in fact people grappling with serious issues.

I’ve focused on just a small portion of the pleasures Goldberg: Variations has in store for the serious reader. Structuring his fiction in a manner that invokes the traditions, Josipovici has given us a narrative that effectively and entertainingly animates the problems that arise when trust in those traditions has been lost: how to make the decisions we need to make in order to live in the world.
Judge for yourself.

(By the way, it was pointed out to me this morning, quite rightly, that I mangled the legend of Bach's Goldberg Variations. In the second sentence of my review! As J. D. Daniels says here, the Goldberg in question was not the "rich patron" suffering from insomnia, but the harpsichordist who played the Variations for a Count Keyserlingk [or as Wikipedia has it, "Kaiserling"]. It was the latter who suffered from insomnia and had had Goldberg play for him until he fell asleep. The Variations, the story goes, were composed for him.)

(Also, I have just come across two pieces about Goldberg: Variations, both of which have been around for a few years; I'm not sure how I missed them before. One is a review from 2004 by, of all people, Peter Kramer, and appears in The American Journal of Pyschiatry. Kramer is very positive, though he begins with a potentially questionable gambit, criticizing the French nouveau roman, or "new novel":
Experimental fiction has a consistent shortcoming; it appeals to the mind more than the heart. Certainly "new novels" had this failing. They were thin books—most by mid-century French authors—aimed at subverting readers’ expectations. Alain Robbe-Grillet, for example, might describe an object at length, but the eraser or venetian blinds would prove to have scant relationship to the characters’ inner being and no moral import, except the negative one, that the world stands apart from us.

Gabriel Josipovici writes in the tradition of the new novel, but with the improvement that his work can be deeply moving.
The other is called "The role of music in Gabriel Josipovici's Goldberg: variations" and is by Werner Wolf. This article is very long--24 web pages--so I haven't had a chance to read much of it yet, but it looks fascinating.)

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