Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Reminder: Read Josipovici

Why is Gabriel Josipovici not simply the most famous critic working today? Why are so many of his books out of print? How can it be that On Trust is out of print? How can The Book of God be out of print? Did no one read them? Everyone should read them. Everyone should read them.

I have to think people don't like what he has to say. Is that it? Is it that simple? To me, these books are crucial. They speak to me on an elemental level, about life and modernity and literature. And they are beautifully written.

I'll have more to say about why I think Josipovici's work is so necessary--and why it speaks to me so personally. But for now, just praise. And a reminder: the more recent collection of essays, The Singer on the Shore, is equally fantastic. You should go out of your way to read it. Read it.

[Update: it appears that both On Trust and The Book of God are still in print, at least according to this page at the Yale University Press. I'm not entirely sure why I thought they were not, except that no new editions appeared available when I was looking into buying them. In any event, being university press books, they are of course insanely expensive, if bought new. It would be nice to see his books in more affordable editions. You should still read them.]


the new world said...

just found this surfing around the web looking for stuff about fernando pessoa (your page was linked from a blog about him). anyway, just wanted to say -- you have all the same favorite books as me, it's kind of eerie. i'll have to come back and read this when it's not 3 am. -becky

Mark Thwaite said...

Like you Richard, I've no idea why Josipovici isn't Lord of the Universe or Pope or something! Truly matchless critic.

Perhaps the problem is that he is so fully philosophical but without being a philosopher. For me, he is the perfect result of the good that can come out of a Literature/Philosophy mash-up. But -- and this is one of the reasons he is so good -- he'd be chary of recognising too much of a distinction between those two categories in the first place.

Also, he is a Modernist, not a postmodernist. So, fashion is against him.

Finally, he writes as a practitioner, which helps. But more, he writes as a reader. And one feels that, for Josipovici, being a good reader is the hardest task of all.

Much of his work is out of print, but I've been able to get most of it (via abebooks and amazon marketplace) both fairly cheaply and pretty easily...

Richard said...

the new world - ah, yes, The Blog of Disquiet... it seemed like a good idea at the time! Thanks for dropping by.

Mark - I've been able to find a few of Josipovici's books used, too, and very cheaply. But it still appalls me that they're not properly in print! Where are NYRB Classics on this?

I think Modernism is the main trip-up. His conception of what Modernism was strikes me as different (and much more interesting) than the conventional wisdom. It seems to me that people aren't prepared for the implications of it.

Ste said...

After your high recommendations, I eagerly nabbed a copy of On Trust which I discovered (shelved in the philosophy section— which I thought odd, considering this particular used bookstore has a huge lit-crit section). And I have to give great thanks for pointing me in his direction.

I'd be hard pressed to call Josipovici a modernist. Modernism requires a certain amount of self-assuredness regarding one's own viewpoint and suspicion of those preceding or other than yours, with a certain terror at the suspicion encroaching on your own. Though J. talks about moving past suspicion, he still sees it as a necessary component of understanding one's own viewpoint— I'm reminded of the closing quote from the preface or first chapter of OT about trust perhaps only revealing itself at the moment it succumbs to suspicion. What I love so much about J. is that he is, it seems to me, a critic thoroughly familiar with the lessons of Modernism and Postmodernism both, but still striving for a new footing in the face of suspicion. It looks a lot like Modernism because anything involving trust is liable to be labeled so, but his concept of trust— of learning to trust again— is deeply indebted to working through suspicion. That's why his philosophy seems so imminent and elemental, and perhaps why it isn't as widely read as it should be.

Anyway— thanks again for pointing me in his direction, as well as several others you've led me to. I've got Montano's Malady on the way, thanks to your recommendation.

Levi Stahl said...

It looks as if On Trust is in print from Yale, though The Book of God is apparently OP.

You've convinced me: I'll pick up On Trust; the fact that he writes about Proust in that one makes it the ideal starting point for me.

Richard said...

Levi - good to know On Trust is in print; I suppose I could have looked it up first... it didn't look in print when I was trying to buy it.

I'm glad you decided to buy it. You won't regret it. (Proust figures in The Book of God, too, though not as the main focus, obviously.)

Ste - I'm delighted that you liked On Trust! Yay!

You write: "Modernism requires a certain amount of self-assuredness regarding one's own viewpoint..."

I'm not sure this is true. In fact, it's my understanding that Modernism is, in part, about not having this self-assuredness.

Stephen Mitchelmore said...

"In fact, it's my understanding that Modernism is, in part, about not having this self-assuredness."

That's my understanding too Richard. If Ste is hard-pressed to call Josipovici a modernist he must have trouble calling Proust French. However, the word modernism has perhaps sunk into cultural history for it to be reborn as itself.

I'd also like to respond to Mark's comment. I don't know what's philosophical about Josipovici's literary criticism any more than literary criticism is implicitly philosophical. And I'm sure he would make a distinction between philosophy as a discipline and literary criticism. What he does is in On Trust as elsewhere is literary criticism. We needn't call it anything else.