Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Condensed Spirit of Literature

At Tales from the Reading Room, litlove has long been one of blogdom's most persistent champions of Gabriel Josipovici. There are too few of us. Recently she had the opportunity to meet the writer and found him to be "like the condensed spirit of literature". I love this expression. And based on my readings of Josipovici's fiction and criticism, and also A Life, his loving biography of his mother, the translator (of Blanchot, as well as Henri Lefebvre, among others) Sacha Rabinovitch, the phrase is apt.

For some of us Josipovici means almost too much to convey. I find I could write about him constantly, and nearly do. Just last month, Stephen Mitchelmore wrote of his first encounter with Josipovici, as far back as 1988, via a letter to the editor of the London Review of Books, an encounter that, for him, ultimately had a profound impact. My own first encounter was as a name seen in passing, across a blog here or there, a name which stuck in my mind well enough to be dimly recognizable when I spied a remaindered copy of the New Directions edition of In a Hotel Garden. I enjoyed the novel, but I wouldn't chalk the experience up as a life-changer. But then came the critical books On Trust and The Book of God, books that hit me at just the right time in my life, when I was both dissatisfied with my reading and also working through certain borderline existential (not to say banal) issues in my personal life. The implications of the arguments in these two books alone continue to strike me as hugely important. The impact on my thinking, anyway, has been enormous, and much that I have written about since then has been deeply informed by his writing. With litlove's phrase in mind, along with Stephen's remembrance of a "profound conjunction", I wanted to take this opportunity to simply offer a little thanks.


ak said...

I live in India where Josipovici, who isn't famous anyway, is hardly known. But thanks to Steve's enthusiasm and 'Lessons of Modernism' (that a rare teacher had put in the small English department library), I chased Josipovici's other books for very long; it's a small story (worth blogging?) how I got each of his (critical) books. But 'On Trust' spoke to my concerns - I remember reading, rereading and then reading out the first chapter to my friends and girlfriend - and I am very keen to read his latest book of essays.

Anthony said...

Josipovici's obscurity is difficult to appreciate. Is there an obvious reason why his publisher does not invest in marketing his work?

Last night's insomnia was lightened by reading the first of the two most recent novels After, a subtle, powerful tale.

litlove said...

What a lovely tribute. Josipovici is an author who does touch people's lives. I think there can be a mistrust of high literary works, due to the belief they are cold and cannot readily move their readers and alter their perspective. Josipovici proves the exact opposite.

Jacob Russell said...

It was I Dream of Toys in The Singer on the Shore, and the wonderful final essay, Reading Writing and the Study of Literature that were the zingers for me.

"The first lesson I learned then was that there are no short cuts where art is concerned. you have to discover everything for yourself, and each time you have to go all the way back to the beginning. It is not a struggle between convention and sincerity...but rather a struggle to discover what it is one wants to be sincere about. And to do that no amount of thought or reading will help, only work, the making of things."

Anonymous said...

I stumbled across On Trust, which I had heard of thanks to you and this blog, oddly enough in the philosophy section of a great local used bookstore, and because of that book it is indeed true that "Josipovici means almost too much to convey." And that says most of it. I had the opportunity to meet him last year and am fairly certain I made a fool of myself with earnestness, but ah well.

Surprised you were not taken with In a Hotel Garden, though. After Everything Passes, I think that is my favorite, though there are numerous novels I haven't gotten to. I've lost my copy of The Book of God, too, which I was looking forward to reading.

Richard said...

Thanks for the comments, everybody.

I should say that I liked In a Hotel Garden quite a lot (here is my review); I'm merely saying that it wasn't the game-changer for my thinking that On Trust was.