Gabriel Josipovici

Gabriel Josipovici is Reader in English at the University of Sussex. His new novel, The Echo Chamber, will be published next spring.

Jews’ Harps

Gabriel Josipovici, 4 February 1982

It is not often that a reviewer can say that the book under review has altered his entire conception of the past. Yet that is what I have to say about this book.

Story: ‘Steps’

Gabriel Josipovici, 3 December 1981

He had been living in Paris for many years.

Picasso and Cubism

Gabriel Josipovici, 16 July 1981

Le Mystère Picasso is how Clouzot entitled his famous film, in which the artist was seen at work before our eyes, and for most of its eight decades our century has been vainly trying to decipher that mystery. To talk about Picasso is to talk about the culture of our time, not just because his work has played such an important part in it, but because in the reactions to it we can discern nearly all the myths and clichés of the age. Picasso has been the butt of every anti-Modernist joke in a way Cézanne, for instance, never was, and he has also been our most celebrated artist. The paradox is only superficial, for both attitudes show little interest in the actual work of the hand.

A Human Kafka

Gabriel Josipovici, 5 March 1981

When Kafka died in 1924 not one of his novels had been published. He was known to a small circle – though Janouch’s testimony shows that that circle spread beyond his friends – as the author of a story about a man who turned into a beetle. Brod published The Trial in 1925, and followed it with The Castle (1926), America (1927) and a volume of short fragments and aphorisms, The Great Wall of China (1931). The first work of Kafka’s to be translated into English was The Castle, which the Muir brought out in 1930. In the twenty years following his death Kafka came to be known in Europe and America simply as the author of The Trial and The Castle. Those twenty years saw the destruction of the world Kafka had known, and his family with it, and they were years when it might have been thought Europe would have other things on its mind than the assimilation of the strange imaginative world of a Prague Jew writing in German. But it didn’t work like that. The very temper of those years made Kafka seem profoundly relevant and prophetic, and by the end of the war his reputation was as solidly established as that of Eliot or Joyce or Proust.

One day they found him under the bed curled tight, pressed against the wall. For as long as they could remember he had been in the habit of hiding objects in boxes, in drawers, in holes he dug in the garden. Sometimes, when they sat down to a meal after calling for him in vain, he would suddenly appear from under the table. But when they found him that day under the bed it was different. He wouldn’t come out and they had to pull the bed aside and haul him to his feet. His pockets were stuffed with objects: pebbles, a rusty spoon, two pen-nibs, a half-sucked sweet. When they asked him what he was up to he wouldn’t reply. They pleaded, threatened, cajoled. When they finally gave up he went back to his place under the bed.

Dante’s Mastery

Gabriel Josipovici, 21 August 1980

No one, except perhaps Proust, has been able to express such a sense of totally unexpected joy as Dante, and what most often brings joy flooding through his body is the chance meeting with a revered ancestor or teacher. ‘O sanguis meus, O superinfusa gratia Dei,’ Cacciaguida greets him in Paradise, and Dante, turning in puzzlement to Beatrice, feels that ‘I had touched the limit both of my beatitude and of my paradise.’ Then, he tells us, the spirit continues to speak, and it is ‘a joy to hearing and to sight.’ Many hours before, deep down in the pit of Hell, another meeting had taken place, following a very similar pattern:

Meyer Schapiro’s Mousetrap

Gabriel Josipovici, 5 June 1980

I have always thought that there was a striking resemblance between Freud’s earliest case-histories, which he published as Studies in Hysteria, and the Sherlock Holmes stories. In the Studies, as in Sherlock Holmes, we are presented with the man of wisdom to whom people bring their problems; who listens in silence; then asks a number of carefully considered questions; and who finally solves the mystery and restores things to the order they were in before tragedy struck – or at least unearths the culprit. There is even an episode in the Studies about the great doctor on holiday in a mountain resort. But a man like Freud and Holmes can, of course, never take a holiday: here, too, a mystery is brought to him to solve; naturally, he obliges.

Imperfect Knight

Gabriel Josipovici, 17 April 1980

The life of books is a mysterious thing. If an author is still read fifty years after his death there is a strong likelihood that he will be read five centuries from then. Chaucer, at any rate, has never been far from the consciousness of readers of English, and if the last twenty years have seen an amazing upsurge of interest in him in academic circles, this has fortunately not been balanced by his disappearance from the consciousness of the wider public.

The Hard Life and Poor Best of Cervantes

Gabriel Josipovici, 20 December 1979

Not much is known about Cervantes. He was born in 1547 in Alcalá de Henares, not far from Madrid. His grandfather, a specialist in fiscal law for the Inquisition, had amassed a fortune by shady means and then withdrawn to another city with a former mistress, leaving his children, to whom he had given no proper education, to fend for themselves. The burden of looking after the family fell on Rodrigo, Cervantes’ father, who had the unfortunate idea of becoming a surgeon to support his dependents. At the time it was doctors, with their university degrees, who achieved fame and wealth, leaving to ill-paid and ill-trained surgeons the mundane tasks of splinting broken limbs, administering purges and bleeding for the fever. To avoid the constant threat of having their goods confiscated or being thrown into prison for debt, the family was always on the move: Valladolid (the Court city), Córdoba, Seville, finally Madrid.



10 November 1988

Barbara Everett’s thoughtful, often profound review of Hugh Kenner’s A Sinking Island (LRB, 10 November) prompts a few comments. When one reads Kenner or Hartman one longs for the earthiness of an Everett or a Bayley. Conversely, though, when one reads Barbara Everett or John Bayley on the ‘thinginess’ of the greatest literature something seems to be missing and one longs for...

Out of Egypt

3 July 1986

SIR: I was delighted to read Ahdaf Soueif’s fine piece on Wagih Ghali (LRB, 3 July), though the story she has to tell is a sad one. Beer in the Snooker Club is the best book ever written about Egypt (better even than my grandfather’s Goha le simple) and it is a crying shame that it should be out of print.

Faculty at War

17 June 1982

SIR: May I endorse Joseph Bristow’s remarks about the Methuen ‘New Accents’ series (Letters, 5 August)? The Government, as we all know, is doing its best to destroy the universities as centres of serious scholarship and learning: but for some time now publishers have also been lending a helping hand, with, I am afraid, the complicity of many academics as well. The proliferation of...

Roads to Rome

4 February 1982

Gabriel Josipovici writes: As a Classicist, Charles Martindale ought to be familiar with the uses of rhetoric. When I spoke of ‘our Rome-centred, Classics-centred view of the past’, I did not do so after taking an opinion poll. I was generalising from my own impressions of that vague and fluid thing, the ‘cultural Establishment’ as it exists in England even today, enshrined...
SIR: It seems to be a convention that writers of critical and scholarly books may answer hostile reviews but novelists should not. It is easy to see why this convention should have arisen. What seems to be at issue in a book which deals with other books or with some aspect of the real world is something checkable, while, novels being mere stories, approval or disapproval of them is simply a matter...


5 June 1980

SIR: I suspect the issue is a good deal more complicated than either Roger Poole (LRB, 5 June) or John Sturrock in your last issue is prepared to admit. There is no distinction between a man and what he writes, asserts Poole; there is an absolute distinction between a man and what he writes, asserts Sturrock, speaking for Derrida. But the central theme of art and thought since the Romantics has been...

Buckets of Empathy

James Wood, 30 March 2000

If innocence were a family business, a terraced saga like Buddenbrooks, our age would be the sickly generation that abandons the firm and takes up the piano. We would seem to have nothing left in...

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Bible Stories

John Barton, 16 February 1989

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...

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Yak Sandwiches

Christopher Burns, 31 March 1988

John Murray’s fiction has always seemed to arise directly from the circumstances of his own life. At first, his work concentrated on his childhood and adolescence among the tiny, depressed...

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Graham Hough, 3 July 1986

Three African writers, from very different parts of the continent – Saro-Wiwa from Nigeria, Ndebele from South Africa, Macgoye from Kenya. My ignorance of all three regions being deep and...

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The Great Exhibition

John Sutherland, 6 September 1984

A prefatory note testifies that Empire of the Sun draws on its author’s observations as a young boy swept up by the Japanese capture of Shanghai, and his subsequent internment in Lunghua...

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As I begin to write this, innumerable other reviews are being born. Some are being word-processed in paper-free offices, others handwritten in the Club lounges of intercontinental jets and others...

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Mortal Scripts

Christopher Norris, 21 April 1983

In the present climate of polemical exchange one may doubt whether Gabriel Josipovici would take very kindly to being enlisted on the side of ‘literary theory’. Though his essays make...

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Words about Music

Hans Keller, 30 December 1982

My fairly extensive – and, analytically, intensive – writings about Stravinsky confine themselves to his music and the psychology of his creativity – to the products and the...

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On the Verge of Collapse

John Sturrock, 19 August 1982

The Siren’s Song is the first chance English readers have had to experience Maurice Blanchot. If it is the case, as Gabriel Josipovici pre-emptively asserts in his introduction, that...

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Graham Hough, 3 December 1981

It is a curious thing that while so many critics are busy telling each other that literature is a linguistic game, that novels are purely formal structures and that their pretensions to represent...

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Character References

Robert Taubman, 15 May 1980

‘Yvonne dear,’ his Aunt said, ‘won’t you do the introduction?’ ‘This is Nancy,’ Yvonne said. ‘This is Andy. This is Mildred. This is George....

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