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RevueLISA/LISAe

journal
Littratures,HistoiredesIdes,Images,SocitsduMondeAnglophone
Literature,HistoryofIdeas,ImagesandSocietiesoftheEnglishspeakingWorld

vol.XIIn2|2014:
CriticalPerspectivesonGabrielJosipovici
ComprendreJosipovici

BeyondtheGrammar
Audeldelagrammaire

VESNAMAIN

Rsums
FranaisEnglish
EnserfrantplusparticulirementMooPak,cetarticletudielapotiquedelafiction
de Gabriel Josipovici et dfend lide selon laquelle son uvre est centre autour des
questions dart et de crativit dans un monde o les oracles ne nous parlent plus. Les
protagonistes de ses nouvelles et de ses romans sont des artistes ou des crivains qui
souffrentdelanxitvhiculeparlebesoinprofonddecrer,toutcommeilssouffrentde
la conscience du caractre inluctable de lchec. En mettant laccent sur limpossibilit
hermneutique et lincertitude ontologique, la grammaire narrative de Josipovici ne
saligne pas sur la tendance dominante du ralisme social du roman britannique
contemporain,genrequidiffrepeudesonprdcesseurdusicledernier.Josipovici,au
contraire, crit dans la tradition europenne du modernisme. Cet article pose la question
de la marginalisation de lauteur par le monde littraire et fait valoir quil incombe au
critique daider les lecteurs rompre avec lhomognit du roman britannique
contemporainet devenir plus ouverts dautres types de texte, ceux qui sont critsau
deldelagrammairedestendancesdominantes.
With specific reference to Moo Pak, the article examines the poetics of Gabriel
Josipovicisfictionandarguesthathisopuscentresonquestionsofartandcreativityina

worldwhereoraclesnolongerspeaktous.Manyoftheprotagonistsofhisshortstoriesand
novels are artists or writers, suffering from the anxiety that is brought about by the
compellingneedtocreateandtheaccompanyingawarenessofthenecessityoffailure.With
its emphasis on hermeneutic impossibility and ontological uncertainty, Josipovicis
narrative grammar does not conform to the dominant trend of social realism in the
contemporaryBritishnovel,agenrethatdifferslittlefromitspredecessorofacenturyago.
Rather,JosipoviciwritesintheEuropeantraditionofmodernism.Thearticlequestionshis
marginalisation by the literary establishment, and argues that it shouldbetheroleofthe
critic to help the readers break away from the homogeneity of the contemporary British
novelandbecomemorereceptivetoothertypesoftexts,thosethatarewrittenbeyondthe
grammarofdominanttrends.

Entresdindex
Indexdemotscls: JosipoviciGabriel,MooPak,ralismesocial,grammaire
narrative,fictionbritanniquecontemporaine,modernisme,critureetchec,art,cration,
critique
Indexbykeywords: GabrielJosipovici,MooPak,socialrealism,narrativegrammar,
contemporaryBritishfiction,Modernism,writingandfailure,art,creativity,theroleofthe
critic
Indexgographique: GreatBritain,GrandeBretagne
Indexchronologique: 20thcentury,21stcentury,XXesicle,XXIesicle

Texteintgral
1

InWhatEverHappenedtoModernism?,hismostrecentcriticaltext,Gabriel
Josipovici, with a nod to G. W. F. Hegel, writes that the Oracles, which
pronouncedonparticularquestions,aredumb1:theynolongerhaveavoiceina
worldinwhichthesocialstructuresthatmadetheirexistencepossiblehavebeen
replaced by modern capitalist individualism. Referring to Max Webers well
known diagnosis of this condition, which the German sociologist calls the
disenchantmentoftheworld,Josipovicigoesontoaskwhatkindofartcanbe
meaningful in such a world. I wish to suggest that not only is this question a
consistent preoccupation of his critical work, but it is also at the centre of his
fictional opus. As much as his critical texts expound on the philosophy of
creativity, including its ontology, metaphysics and ethics, his novels offer a
discussiononthequestionofartanditsroleinourworld.Artistsandwritersare
frequent protagonists in his novels and short stories (ContreJour2, The Big
Glass3,Goldberg:Variations4,MooPak5,Infinity6,He7,amongothers)ormake
significantcameoappearances(MissLearinTheAirWeBreathe8 ). Many of his
charactersshareanobsessiveneedtocreate,aneedthatisregularlyaccompanied
byananxiety about their own creativity. Above all, his artists are keenly aware
thatcreativefailureisinevitable.
Josipovicis novels are economical with words and exquisitely formed, each
unique in style and narrative technique. Several are written almost entirely in
dialogue. What they have in common is their rejection of social realism, the
dominantmodeofthecontemporaryBritishnovel.Mostcharactersexistthrough
asingleobsessionorpassion.Theirprivatelivesremainprivate:thereaderlearns
nothingbeyondtheimmediateconcernthatdefinesthem,nordowehaveaccess
totheirinnerthoughts.Atthelevelofthesentence,Josipovicis voice is sparse:
there are no metaphorical flights, the rhythm is musically cadenced through
repetition, punctuation is minimal and quotation marks are infrequent.
Extradiegeticnarratorialcommentsarerareandtheirroleislimitedtothatofa
detached recorder of sights and sounds. Nor does Josipovicis fiction show an
interest in presenting a picture of society at large the common themes of the

contemporaryBritishnovel,suchasthefamilyasaninstitution,oranindividual
facing lifechanging decisions, do not interest him. The descriptions of the
material world lack padding, the formulaic apparatus of most novels, those
incidentaldetailsdesignedtocreateasenseoftherealworld,whatJamesWood
has so pertinently called the grammar, the rather lazy stockintrade of
mainstreamrealistfiction:thecinematicsweepfollowedbytheselectionofsmall,
telling details9. In fact, ever since the publication of his first novel, The
Inventory10,in1968,Josipovicihasconsistentlyeschewedtheconventionsofthe
dominant narrative. Instead, he employs a wide variety of techniques, and any
oneofhisnovelsorshortstoriesisanexampleofwritingbeyondthegrammarof
contemporary British fiction. Below, I consider Moo Pak, a novel which is
essentiallyinmonologue,andarguethatitispreciselythiswritingbeyondthe
grammar,i.e.inastylethatdoesnotconformtothedominanttrend,whichis
responsible for Josipovicis unfair marginalisation within the contemporary
literaryscene.
OriginallypublishedinEnglishin1994,andreleasedinFrenchtranslationin
2011,thisisJosipoviciseleventhnovel.Ithasnoplotassuchthatis,inthesense
of starting with a problem whose promised resolution propels the narrative. In
termsofthesequenceofevents,thenovelcanbesummarisedinafewwords:itis
a story written by Damien Anderson, who describes his walks and talks across
London,overaperiodofthirteenyears,withhisfriendJackToledano.Mostofthe
text is taken by Toledanos elaborate exposition of the novel he is writing. But
what makes this intriguing novel is much more than its plot. The fact that
nothingmuchhappensinatraditionalnarrativesenseitisalltalkaswellas
theregularityandrepetitivenessofthemeetingsbetweenthetwofriends,andthe
near sameness of the content of each encounter, are subtly suggestive of the
drudgery of human existence with its incessant and inexorable repetition. The
meetings, talks and walks, very much like days that differ only through the
changeofseasonsandconventionsofsocialrituals,becomeindistinguishableand
blend into one another so that the reader, just like the two characters, is not
distractedbytheincidentalbutismadetoshareinthepassionandobsessionof
theprotagonists.Theeffectisenhancedbythetechniqueofusingnoparagraph
separations, a structural device that makes the reader aware of the arbitrary
nature of paragraphing, particularly important in a story where the unifying
factor is the continuity of the conversation, the conversation that is always
focusedonitscentralpreoccupation,thatofwriting,ratherthanontheincidental
andmundane.Thelasttimetheprotagonistsmeet,Toledanoadmitsthatthereis
no novel and never will be and, subsequently, he does not keep the next
appointment.Andersonwritesthathehadforsometimesuspectedthatthenovel
did not exist. Now that he knows that for certain, he has to take down from
memorywhatToledanohastoldhim.Werealisethattheregularmeetings,and,
asfarasthenovelisconcerned,thecharacterslives,havebeensustainedbyan
illusion that was apparent to both protagonists. But Moo Pak is not a story of
(self)deception.
JackToledanospeaksformanyofJosipovicischaractersand,Iwouldventure,
forhisidealreader,whenhesays:Formecoveringthewhitepageforthefirsttime
is so frightening and so desperate an act that I can only do it because the
alternativeisevenworse.(9)
Heechoesthesentimentmanytimes:I,atanyrate,wouldbeamoreunhappy
and smaller and meaner person if I was not committed to writing in the way I
am.(59)
Driven,heisalsotornbyfear:Onecanonlyworkinthedarktothebestofones
abilityandtrustthatifithashappenedonceitwillhappenagain.Butthereisno
sayingthatitwill.(78)

Andthentherearethedoubts:
Youaskyourselfallthetimewhyyouaredoingitandif,likeme,youare
deeplysuspiciousofthenotionofinspirationandofthenotionthatthereis
somethingyouhavetosaytotheworld,thenthetemptationtoturnto
somethingmoreobviouslyworthdoingisverygreat.(124125)

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Buttheothersideofthisawarenessofselfdoubtisthatitgeneratescreativity:I
wrotemyfirstworkunderthepressureoffear,hesaid,thefearthatIwouldnever
beabletowriteanythingmorethanfivepageslong.(139)
Paradoxically,ashepointsout,onecanonlygoonifonehasselfconfidence:
Inotonlylikebutbelieveinthenotionofregulardailywork[].Butwhenit
comes to it I cannot work unless I am fired by a belief in what I am doing.
(125)However,hestresses,eachworkonestartsmustbethoughtofasthefinal
one,thelastandthebest.(106)
Asforthemechanicsofwriting,thecharacterisonlytooawarethatthereisno
motjusteandthatonlythroughregularworkcanthewriterdiscoverwhatheis
tryingtosay.Theproblemisthat,ashesays:
[]onceIstartplayingwiththewordsandsentencesIwillneverbeableto
moveforwardandIwillgrowlessandlesssurewhichofthemany
possibilitiesistheonethatwillsuitmebestandthenIwillgrowmoreand
moreunsureofwhatbestmeansandofwhatIwastryingtodointhefirst
placeandIwillprobablyendupkickingthescreeninoutoffrustrationand
despair.(10)

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Heknowsthat,intheend,nothingcanbesaidnevertheless,onehastogoonto
cleartheairsothatsomethingmightbesaid(135)somethingmightbesaid,
thatlittlepossibility,thatspacebetweenahopeahopethatisoftentemporary
andslightandtherealityoffailure,thatspacebetweenthedrivetocreateand
theinevitabilityoffailure,thatmight,weunderstand,iswhatdrivesthewriter
on. Here, as elsewhere in Josipovici, the reader is reminded of Samuel Becketts
Try Again. Fail again. Fail better. Just like Becketts, this is a world of
seriouslygrownupcharacterswhoaretenaciousenoughtocarryondespitetheir
awarenessofexistentialhorrors.Equally,Josipovicisworlddemandsthereaders
be seriously grown up and strong enough not to expect the text to fob them off
with fairytale endings or entertain them with gossiplike stories of affairs and
theirmoralconsequences.AsIhavesaidelsewhere11,whilemostofcontemporary
British fiction grants readers the position of a spectator, complete with the
voyeuristic pleasure of spying on the lives of their neighbours and their
neighbours neighbours, Josipovicis work does not even attempt to satisfy such
inquisitiveness. Instead, he takes the reader on a journey full of intellectual
surprises.Withnoclosure,thestoriesrepeatedlyeschewresolutionandthereader
hastolearntoenjoythetravellingCavafyfashionratherthanwaitforIthaka.
Toledano, as much as other artists in Josipovicis world, is selfcritical and
aware of his own limitations he believes he has never succeeded because his
wordshavebeenclumsyandeverysentenceIwrote,insteadofstandingtherelike
astone,hasonlycarriedtheechoesofmyownquerulousandsometimespetulant
voice.(135)Ultimately,heknowsthatanartistwhoishonestwithhimselfhasto
followacertainpath,thatis,makechoicesthataretruetohisart.Ashesays,the
greatbetrayalistotryanddowhatyouthinkwillbringyousuccess12words
thatonemightsayhavenotbeenheededbythemajorityofcontemporaryBritish
novelists.
In the course of the walks, Toledano makes clear his own critical position
(fuelled by his views on what I am here referring to as the grammar of the
contemporaryBritishnovel)ashetalksofabsurdandmelodramaticplots,ofa
sentimentalandcynicalpostmodernistwhotriestogivetheimpressionthathe

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has no feelings but wishes only to toy with all traditions and impress his peers
andsatisfythefatcatpublisherwhohasgivenhimaridiculousadvance.(14)He
goes on to make us aware of his literary Pantheon, with frequent references to
FranzKafka,JorgeLuisBorgesandStphaneMallarm.Afterthem,hesays
there is absolutely no excuse for writing a long book, scarcely any excuse for
writingbooksatall,noexcuseforgoingonandonaboutdeforestationandozone
layers[]andatthesametimecontributingtoitallbytheprintingofmoreand
moreandlongerandlongerbooks.(96)
Eventually, his bitterness about the current situation of the novel becomes
explicit:
Todayinthemajorityofcasesourwritershavesubstitutedself
righteousnessforintegrity,theyflowwiththefilthytideandtalkof
subversionandrisk.Itislaughable,hesaid,tohearthemtalkontelevision
andinnewspaperinterviewsabouthowtheyarevilifiedandsilencedand
howtheauthoritiesdenythemavoice.(105)

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As an artist, rather than a manufacturer of literary commodities, Toledano


displays constant awareness of the fragility of the writing process itself: It is
never a question of just hanging on, least of all at the end. There are always
decisionstobetaken.(146)
The characters emphasis on the nuts and bolts of the craft of creation a
preoccupationthatheshareswithanumberofcharactersintherestoftheopus
isoneofthefeaturesthatmakesJosipoviciawriterswriter.Similarly,Toledanos
subsequentwords,whenwelookupfromourdesk[]wearedonefor.Butifwe
neverlookupfromourdeskwearealsodonefor,canbeunderstoodtoshowthe
charactersunderstandingtheneedtogivecompleteattentiontotheformandto
takeintoaccountthesocialreality,thatis,whatthewriterseeswhenhelooksup
from his desk. Some critics have objected that Josipovicis fiction is too
experimental, too preoccupied with the form and not engaged with social
reality. Quite apart from the question whether explicit social engagement is
generically essential to the novel, such criticism operates within a very narrow
definition of social engagement, as if it means no more than writing about
dilemmassurroundingbankingcrisis,childpoverty,thethreatofglobalterrorism
andthelike.WhereJosipovicistextengageswithsocialissues,itdoessoinmuch
moresubtleways,suchasinhisnovelInaHotelGarden13,wherethequestionof
the Holocaust and its remembrance is addressed through discreet references,
which is perhaps too muted a way for the reader used to the industry of
Nemirovskyandco.
In Moo Pak, readers looking for the novels social engagement cannot miss
Toledanoscriticalcommentsthatgobeyondhisviewsonwriting.Wenotethat
heisappalledbytheconsumeristcultureoflatecapitalism:therearetheextreme
andutterbanalityoftheyoung(20)andthedrunkenbandsofilliterateyouths
whoroamourcities.(35)Hecanonlylookwithdistasteatthemindlesstrash
thatassaultsoursensesateverymoment,themindlessbeatofthemusicofthe
young(61)whoarealwayspluggedintotheirdreadfulmusic.(20)Weneedto
rediscoversilence,heargues,andgoesontocomplainofaswampingofnative
English values by American ones. (117) In his view, bookshops are better in
France(36)andhelamentsthedisappearanceofthenotionscommontocivilised
peopleforcenturiessuchastheideathatyoucanreadabook[]putitdown,
thinkaboutit, think about what you have read, reread it. (61) All around, he
sees a world of crassness and philistinism and cannot understand the
narrowness and bigotry of the present climate. (21) This personal vision of
reality,presentedthroughtheeyesofthecharacterwhoseviewsonliteratureare
informedbyMauriceBlanchot,andofthecharacterwhoisalsoaproductofthe

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high culture of European intellectualism, is the default position defining the


protagonists, and the texts representation of social issues. The texts implied
reader is asked to share the values of this high culture of European
intellectualism,thevaluesthatareseparatedbyavastchasmfromthoseofthe
common British reader who would therefore have to read against the grain, a
taskthatislikelytobetooonerous.Inaddition,thisstrange,evidentlyforeign,
intellectual vision of reality is complemented by the novels subjective sense of
time: the two friends meet over the period of thirteen years but despite the
duration,thereisnosenseoftimepassing,ofeitherofthemageingorofanything
happeningintherealityoutsidetheirimmediateconcerns.Forexample,thereis
nopadding,noincidental,domesticdetailaboutthecharacterslives.Instead,
everything that is mentioned is linked to the preoccupations of Jack Toledano.
He,inturn,existsthroughhissinglemindedobsessionwithhiswritingthatis
whatmakeshimandthatisalsowhatdefineshisrelationshipwithAnderson,as
wellaswiththeworldaroundhim.
WeknowverylittleaboutToledanospastandaregivennoindicationthathe
livedhappilyeverafter.Heoccupiesapermanentpresent,asiftoremindusthat
for a writer, the writing is always in the present. In his work, the protagonist
experiencesflashesofhappiness,briefmomentswhenhethinksthateverything
fallsintoplaceandhetalksofthenovelheisworkingon,nottheonethathewill
write. His text can only exist as now, as an immediate possibility, about to be
achieved,asaresultofthatmight.Ontheotherhand,thewritingthatisdone,
thewritingthatisinthepast,isalwaysafailureheknowsitisadisappointment
andthereforeitdoesnotcount.Thewritingofthefutureiswhatthewriterdreams
of,thatis,theidealthathehopestoachieve.
WhenToledanorevealsthatthenovelhehasspentmorethantenyearstalking
aboutdoesnotexist,thereadermaybesurprisedbut,onastructurallevel,thisis
hardly a twist in the tail. Josipovicis texts are never simply about confounding
the expectations of traditional narrative. In the context of Moo Pak and its
constantawarenessofthefragilityofartisticcreation,theendingistheultimate
andtheinevitableexpressionofthedoubtsanduncertaintiesfacedbytheartist.It
istheonlyplausibleconsequenceofthefearthattheartthatexistsinourmindsis
always elusive when we try to realise it, and anyone who has ever produced
anything artistic is likely to identify with the sentiment14. And it is not simply
thatToledanohasfallenvictimtohisselfdoubt,apossibilitythathementions
earlier:Thedifficultycomeswhenyougettothemiddle,hesays,andwhenyou
begintolosefaithintheprojectandinyourabilitytocarryitthrough.(144)He
has not even started writing the novel, and never will. As the narrator Damien
Andersontellsus:Hehadbeen talking and talking about it in the hope that it
wouldmaterialisebut[]ithadntandhehadtofaceuptothefactthatitnever
would. (148) But what about the Beckettian try again, fail better? Not for
Toledano,itseems:hehascometotheendoftheroad.(150)Whilehemaynot
be suicidal, unlike Mobius the Stripper, another intriguing character of the
eponymousshortstory,whosefailedsearchforthetruthappearstoleadhimto
take his own life, Toledano does not conceal the fact that he finds the situation
difficult:IcannotquiteacceptthatIwillneverwriteagain.Itisableakprospect.
(150)Heisambivalentabouthissituation:thereisbereavement,butalsoasense
ofrelief,asifaweighthadbeentakenoff(149)hisback.Inthecontextofthetext
thatinsistsoncreativityasabiologicalneed,thereadercannottakeToledanos
words at their face value. For how can an artist ever stop creating? Blanchot
whoseideasonliteraturehavestrongechoesinJosipovici,hereandelsewhere
writes that Kafka lay in wait for that one moment of grace when one would
havetowritenolonger15.ForanartistlikeToledanothismightbebothautopian
andadystopianmomentinequalmeasure.

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While Mobius, too, is focused and dedicated, obsessive even, a stickler for
routine, and defined by his passion a metaphysical need. To strip16, he
explainsthemaindifferencebetweenthetwocharactersisthattheprotagonist
ofMooPakdoesnotthinkthatwritingorarthasanythingtodowithtruth.In
fact, Toledano comes to the realisation that his work would have made a
differenceonlytohim,nottotheworld.Bytalkingabouthisnovel,workingout
details of the narrative, describing what he is writing even though no writing
beyondafewnotestookplaceheisbeingcreativeand,byimplication,happy.
As with others of Josipovicis characters, Toledanos personal happiness is
broughtaboutbyhiscreativity.Butcreativityheremeansaprocess,albeitwith
the odd eureka moment, rather than the end product, that is, creativity is a
journey with no end, no arrival point. Even when the work is completed, the
yearning continues, since the desire to create can never be satisfied, just as the
createdcanneverbeanythingbutfailureinthesensethatitneverlivesuptothe
promiseoftheinitialconcept,oftheimagined,ofwhattheartistlongstocreate.
Followingfromthere,thefactthatToledanosnovelhasnotbeenwrittenbecomes
irrelevant17.
This idea of valuing the journey over Ithaka, as Constantine Cavafys poem
instructs Odysseus, translates into ways of reading Josipovici in general. The
readerhastolearntoappreciatethereadingprocess,tolovetostumbleandwalk
in different directions, without expecting narrative closure. As much as the
characters, beset by doubts and uncertainties, engage in trials and errors, the
readerthatis,seriousgrownupreadermustacceptthatthereisnoresolution,
nofinalunderstandingbeyondthatofahermeneuticimpossibility.Anythingelse
wouldbealie.Theproblemsandpreoccupationsthecharactersexperienceatthe
beginningofeachnarrativearestillthereintheendandthereaderhasevenmore
questions, without answers, than he started with. As far as this reader is
concerned, that is a bonus Josipovicis text reminds us that the novel is not a
comforting bedtime story. Similarly, if Mobius the Stripper were a traditional
story,theprotagonistssuicidewouldrepresentanobviousclosure.Buthere,the
structure echoes the Mbius strip device the two stories are printed on pages
splitbyahorizontallineandallowsthenarrativetobifurcate,onlytocomeback
together with another tale, that of a character suffering from writers block. The
circularity of the narrative sequence abolishes the distinction between the
beginningandtheendthesuicideactsasaspurtotheotherprotagonisttostart
writing, and thereby the narrative teases the readers traditional expectations
wherebythedeathoftheprotagonistmeansclosure.
ButperhapswearelookingattheendofMooPakfromalimitedperspective.
ToledanodescribeshisnovelatgreatlengthtoAnderson,ofteninminutedetail
heseemstohaveworkeditallout.CanwethensaythatToledanosnoveldoesnot
existsimplybecauseithasnottakenthematerialformofwordsonapage?We
alsorememberToledanosayingatonepoint:Ihavebeenflailingaboutforsucha
longtime[]knowingwhatIwantedbutnotknowinghowtosetaboutachieving
it.Butnow,hesaid,everythingisbeginningtofallintoplace.(99)Butthisisnot
amatterofhimlyingordeludinghimself:thisfeelingofcertaintythateverything
isbeginningtofallintoplace,onlytoevaporatelikemistthenexttimeonelooks,
must be familiar to anyone who has ever tried anything creative. Writers often
speakoffeelinggoodaboutapieceofworkonlytocomebacktoitthenextdayto
findthatitdoesnotwork.Certaintyisregularlyfollowedbydisappointment,by
therealisationthatonewasmistaken.IfMooPak,andJosipovicisotherfiction,
tellusonething,itisthefragilityofthecreativeprocess:thesatisfactionofthe
perfectexpressioncanbeonlyanillusion.
The paradox of creative work, Toledano says, is that when the work is
finisheditisthelifeofthemakerwhichisrenewed.Asthoughbygivingbirthin

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thiswayyoucouldreplenishyourself.(100)Doesitmeanthat,nowthathehas
abandoned the project, Toledano cannot count on his life being replenished?
Again, we have to remember that it is the process of creation that matters, the
writing, rather than completion. At this point, Toledano is besieged by other
doubtstoo:Therecomesatimeinlife,hesays,whenyouaskyourselfwhatuse
youhavebeentoanybody,andIhavetosaymyrecordisnotoneIamparticularly
proudof.(149150)ImmediatelyafterthiswereadAndersonsclosingwordsthat
hisownlifewouldhavebeenpoorerhaditnotbeenforthewalksandtalkswith
his friend Toledano. And we remember that as early as the first page, he has
writtenthatthereisnothingbetterthangoingforawalkwithJackToledano.(9)
Thisreadercanonlyadd:exceptreadingMooPak.
As I have mentioned above, most of the text consists of Toledano speaking.
Ostensibly,heisthenarrator,thefirstpersonnarrator.However,whatwereadis,
infact,writtendownbyAndersonandhenceheisthenarrator,albeitmoreofa
mechanicalrecorder,registeringwhatheseesandhearsandinterjectinghesaid
attributions. There are only a few sentences at the opening and at the end that
belongtoAndersonalone.ButthentherearealsophrasessuchaswroteDamien
Anderson. Who is observing him? Another narrator, clearly. But what does it
mean for the reader? Who are we with when presented with this Russian doll
narration? By necessity, all three of them the implied reader position shifts
around, with Toledano occupying by far the largest space. However, this is not
simply a matter of playing amusing postmodernist games with the reader,
offeringsocalledunreliableandreliablenarrators.Josipovicisworldisaworldof
ontologicaluncertaintyandinthatcontextthedistinctionsofreliability,orofa
fixed position offered to the reader, cannot exist: every narrator is by definition
unreliable in his own personal vision. The shifts between the three narrators
contributetoreadersdisorientationtothepointwheretheyfindthemselvesina
positionthatcorrespondstotheworldofuncertaintyoccupiedbythecharacters.
Althoughthenarratorwhocontributeshewroteisathirdpersonnarrator,he
hasnoinsight,noprivilegedpositiontoenterthemindsofthecharactersthe
technique of the classic realist text still favoured by the British contemporary
novel.NeitherdoesAndersonoccupymorethanalimitedposition:hiscomments
are confined to what Toledano says, not to what Toledano is thinking. Despite
thirteen years of walking and talking, and his valedictory remark that his life
wouldhavebeenpoorerhaditnotbeenforthemeetingswithhisfriend,thetwo
charactersexistintheirownworlds.Thatissobynecessity:Toledanosexposition
of his writing, like writing itself, is a solipsistic activity. As there is no dialogue
between the two characters, Toledano, very much like an artist creating in
solitude, appears to be talking to himself. Typically, most of Josipovicis
characters are solipsistic figures and rootless to boot. Some are geographical
exiles, others are dislocated in terms of the way they experiencealienationfrom
therestoftheworld.Toledano,aJewishimmigrant,hasnocountry,nolanguage
tocallhisown(20)andhecouldbehappyandcreative(thetwowenttogether)
anywhere.(63)Mostimportantly,hehasnonostalgiaforanythinglost.(104)
Mobius, too, is a foreigner. Rather than expressing national allegiance, the
charactersidentifywithintellectualpursuitsandwiththosewhosharethem.For
Toledano,alifewithoutSophoclesandDanteandDonneandStevenswouldbe
intolerable.(20)Hesays:IfeeluneasywhereverIam,[that]Ifindthevaluesof
allcountriesandsocietiesdepressinganddegrading.Onlywithafewindividuals,
likeyou,[hesaid,]doIfeelreasonablycomfortable,doIfeelthatIamnotalonely
crank.(117)
This, essentially modernist, sentiment has resonances in Blanchots thoughts
on the poet who is exiled from the city, from regular occupations and limited
obligations,thepoetwhoisawanderer,theonealwaysastray,hetowhomthe

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stability of presence is not granted and who is deprived of a true abode18 .


Arguably,themostemblematicofallJosipovicischaractersinthisrespectisthat
oftheWanderArtist,basedonPaulKleesimageofasticklikefigure,legsapart,
withonehandraisedasifingreeting.Hisfacehasonlytwolargedotsforeyes:he
is looking but there is no mouth to suggest his mood. Pared down to the bare
essentials,sticklike, with no individual or identifiable (national?) traits, it is a
figurethatcannotbelong,thatisofhereandnowhere,aperpetualforeigner,or
an extravagant stranger, to echo a description of Othello, another dislocated
character.Significantly,thefigureofWanderArtist is on the move, perpetually
steppingforward.TheimageisreproducedonthecoverofGoldberg:Variations
andoneofthenovelschaptersisnarratedbythecharacter.Hesays:Itdoesnot
matterwhereIhavecomefrom.YoucouldsaythatIamonlyalivewhenIcome
intoviewandwhereIamgoingisanyonesguess19wordsthatapplytoJack
ToledanoandtomanyothercharactersinJosipovicisfiction.
To return to the idea of Webers disenchantment of the world: if it were
possible to present a solution to the situation, Josipovicis would be that of
creativity. In his fiction, creativity is the sole human activity that can bring
happiness, albeit temporary. His prose makes us aware that while art and
literature come from that awareness of the disenchantment, they do not offer
solaceasthereisnoreplacementforthereligionandthegodswehavelost.Any
relieffromour anxiety is transient. His characters are compelled to be creative,
despite being aware that not only is there no promise of success, but failure is
destined.Nevertheless,theycarryonasisifitwerepossibletosucceed.Awriter
has to sit at the desk every day as if creativity and the successful expression of
ideaswerepossible. Regularity and discipline cannot be questioned, Toledano
instructs.(59)Inthissense,likeBeckett,Josipoviciisanartistofthepathosof
humanexistenceandheretobehumanmeanstobecreativewhile, at the same
time,beingawareoftheimpossibilityofcreation.Histextalsoremindsusofthe
pathosofmiddleagetheendofthetimewheneverythingispossibleandof
the need to accept that one will never write that book, never paint that picture
thatseemedwithinreach. In Toledanos words, after the age of fifty, [he said,]
youhavegottoaskyourselfwhatyouaredoingwithyourlife.(149)Butinstead
ofdespair,heisbesetbyamixtureofsadnessandrelief,asherealisesandhasto
acceptthathewillneversucceedinproducingtheworkheishappywith.Itishere
thattheessenceofJosipovicismodernitylies,inthisconstantquestioningofthe
possibilityofart,questioningthatiswithoutdespairandthatisaccompaniedby
theeffortandhopehingingonthatmight.
InMooPak,thequestioningisdonethroughthetoposofwritingbutthisisvery
different from the way many contemporary novels, such as Ian McEwans
Atonement,orMartinAmissInformation, or Julian Barness Flauberts Parrot
usewriting,thatis,eithertoexploreethicalissuesofcontrolandinfluence,orto
playwiththetextsfictionality.WithJosipovici,however,creativity,andwriting
in particular, are not metaphors, devices to say something else, or to point out
some truth of human nature. Instead, they are at the core of the questions
concerning ontology and epistemology. Above all, Josipovici is alert to the
overwhelmingquestionofthepossibilityofbeingawriter,inallitsvulnerability
and fragility. His texts often present writers struggling with words, worrying
about meaning and facing myriad decisions in the process. In Moo Pak, the
impliedreaderpositiondemandsthatweshareandadmiretheprotagonistsneed
forartisticendeavourand,atthesametime,thatweunderstandandacceptits
destinedfailure.
MonikaFludernik,intheonlybooklengthstudyofJosipovicisworktodate20,
referstoMooPak as a philosophical novel. But rather than developing an idea
throughitslogicalprogression,Candidestyle,thenarrativefumblesalong,andI

32

meanthatinthebestsenseoftheword,asifitweremimickingacreativeprocess,
uncertainbutneverthelessmovingon,exploringthequestionofwriting,without
ever coming to a conclusion. Moo Pak is more of an essaynovel and as such it
tempts the reader to reach for the index and look up the references to art,
creativity, solitude, and friendship, among others. This is literature about
literaturewhichrefusestouseitsmetatextasanarrativejoke.Josipovicisopus,
both critical and fictional, presents literature and art as most serious human
activities, rather than as entertainment, escapism, or social critique. As a text
whichconsistentlyexaminestheexperienceofreadingandwriting,MooPakisa
novel which expounds Josipovicis narrative poetics, and puts that poetics into
practice.InthewordsofToledano,anideawithoutaformisworsethanuseless
andsoisaformwithoutcontent.Onlywhenthetwocometogethercanaworkof
valueensue(99)afittingcommentonthiswritersnarrativefiction.
Josipovicis poetics is situated very much beyond the grammar of the
contemporaryBritishnovel,beyondallthosetextswherethepleasureofreading
comes from voyeuristic peeping into the lives of individuals, in particular into
theirdomesticarrangements,sexualaffairsandprofessionaljealousiesinmany
cases an activity that some might regard as the literary equivalent of reading
Hellomagazine.ThedescriptionofMobiustheStripperfacingagroupofgiggling
girls,whoareworkinginthesameclub,andpryingintohisprivatelife,providesa
goodillustrationofwhatImean:
Buttheyfeltmelancholyinthelateafternoon,farfromtheirfamilies,andin
theearlyhoursofthemorning,whenthepublichadalldeparted.Wheredo
youlive?theyaskedhim.Doyouhaveamanorawoman?Doyouhave
anychildren,Moby?
Toallthesequestionsherepliedwiththesamekindlysmile,butoncewhen
hecaughtoneofthemtailinghimafterashowhecamebackandhither
acrossthefacewithhisglovesothatnoneofthemevertriedanythinglike
thatagain.21

33

34

35

Thegirls,melancholyandlonely,arenotunlikereadersofcontemporarynovels
whoseekdistractioninfindingoutabouttheprivatelivesofcharacterssimilarto
them.Thegirlsgettheirwarning,butwhoisgoingtohitthereaderwithaglove
acrosstheface?
More often than not, writers of the British contemporary novel are moralists
even when they prevaricate over ethical questions: their protagonists seek
redemption,andusuallyfindit,intheshapeofsexorlove,moneyorcareer,the
habitualconcernsoftheclassicrealisttext,thetextofthenineteenthcentury.But
whilethedcorhas changed and the characters have mobile phones and worry
aboutglobalterrorism,thenarrationofthesenovelsishardlydifferentfromtheir
predecessorsacenturyagoitconformstotheconventionsofsocialrealismwith
itsassumptionsaboutreality,languageandsubjectivity.Theparochialconcerns
oftheBritishcontemporarynovel,itsunquestioningacceptanceoftheformand
thebeliefinthecontinuityoftheself,makeitverydifficult,ifnotimpossible,for
these texts to say anything about our specific conditions. One often wonders
whetherthereisanythingnovelaboutthesenovels.AsMilanKunderasaidsome
timeago,anovelwhichdoesnotrevealanythingnewaboutthehumancondition
isimmoral22.
Aslongagoasthe1960s,thenovelistB.S.Johnsonwhoseworkcertainlydid
notconformtothedominanttrendwrotethatthestraightforwardDickensian
novel had had its day because no matter how good the writers are who now
attempt it, it cannot be made to work for our time, and the writing of it is
anachronistic,invalid,irrelevantandperverse23. Since then, critics and writers
havebemoanedthestateofthegenre.Amongothers,ZadieSmitharticulatedthe
problem succinctly: The world has changed and we do not stand in the same

36

37

relationtoitaswedidwhenBalzacwaswriting24.However,inthesamebreath,
she admitted that she had written in this tradition herself and hoped for its
survival.Josipovicihimselfhassaidthatstraightforwardrealismalsostopsyou
actuallyrecognisingthismysteriousthingthatourlivesareopen,arenotgoingto
besubsumedinanarrativewecaneasilytell,butweareconstantlygoingtocome
up against something which is much more mysterious, much stranger, much
more uninchoate than we can imagine25. One of the most prominent and
eloquentcriticalvoicesaboutthestateofthenovelhasbeenthatofJamesWood,
whocameupwiththetermhystericalrealism26.However,neitherhenoranyof
theothershavebeenabletoinfluencethepublishingandbooksellingindustriesto
reflectuponthequestionsaboutthegenrethathasbecomeacommodity,fullyco
optedintothecapitalisteconomy,withthewriterforcedtoperformlikeashow
businessstar.Whilewecannotblamepublishersandbooksellers,noragents,for
expectingtomaketheirindustriesprofitableandtakingonwhatsells,wehave
to worry about the situation where any alternatives to the formula of social
realism,anynovelswithoutastory27,remainconsignedtothewriters bottom
draweror,iftheluckwouldhaveit,aretakenbysmall,independentpublishers
whoseresourcesandinfluencearenomatchforthepowerofbigguys.Thisprocess
ensures that the contemporary British novel is locked in stylistic homogeneity.
With its social certainties and fixed identities, the novel has been reduced to a
bourgeoisgenrethatdoesnothavemuchtosaytothetwentyfirstcenturyreader.
Atthesametime,theworkofwriterssuchasB.S.Johnson,AnnQuinetal.,and
ofJosipovicihimself,remainslargelyoutofprint.
Letmeaskthatquestionagain:whoisgoingtoslapthereader,wakehimup
fromtheslumberinducedbycomfortingbedtimestories?Whosejobisittohelp
the reader grow up and show him that, as Mobius says its not sexual, but
metaphysical? The only candidates worthy of the task are the critic and the
reviewer. While the former has tended to be analytical and theoretical, distant
fromthereadingpublic,thelatterhasfocusedonstraightevaluation,supporting
the conservative trend of the publishing industry by writing about the failed
empathywithcharacterswhodonotliveandbemoaningthelackoftextureof
realexperiencewhilepraisingtheintricaciesoftheplot28 .Criticsandreviewers,
however, should help the reader discover novel novels, that is, those texts that
explore and interrogate generic conventions, those novels that aim to be of our
time. Exposed to a repetitive diet of social realism, the common reader of the
Britishcontemporarynovelhasonlyparochialinterestsandlimitedexpectations.
Whatisrequiredisareaderwithmoresophisticatedtastebudsandwhowould
supportthepublishingindustryinbreakingnewgroundaswellastakeriskswith
agreatervarietyofwriting,providingafeastratherthanasetmenu.Onceagain,
Blanchot can be instructive: What most threatens reading is this: the readers
reality,his personality, his immodesty, his stubborn insistence upon remaining
himself in the face of what he reads29. Common readers of the British
contemporarynovel,usedtotherealismofcharacterslikethemselves,arelikelyto
findToledano, with his high intellectualism, passion for literature and writing,
andhisdisdainforthevulgarityofpopularculture,nomorethananobsessive,
eccentricoldmaninwhomtheyhavenointerest.Whilethecharacterisrealistic,
i.e. occupies a reality that is plausible in the sense of being consistent with the
lawsofphysics,Toledano,alongwithmostotherJosipovicicharacters,existsina
selfcontainedworldthatisalientomostcommonreaders.
Like Jack Toledano, Josipovici is a modernist, which, in the words of his
character, means neither a sentimental Victorian who pours out his fantasies
wrapped up in absurd and melodramatic plots nor a sentimental and cynical
postmodernist. (14) In Britain, where the majority of writers and readers are
oblivioustomodernism,histextshavebeencalleddifficultandexperimental,

38

thelabelsthatthenovelisthasrightlyrejected,thelabelsthatsaymoreaboutthe
situation of the contemporary novel than about his own work. In Blanchots
terms, we could say that Josipovicis novels are objects of contemplation, they
refertonothingelse30.Notboundbyhermeneuticclosure,infinitelyambiguous,
thesenovelsdemandandrewardrereadings.Ultimately,noexegesisispossible:
attemptingtounravelToledanosviews,thereadercanonlyquotemoreandmore,
untilthewholetextisreproduced.
JosipoviciwritesinthetraditionthatincludesCervantes,Sterne,Kafka,Beckett
and the nouveau roman among others, a tradition that has appealed less to
British readers than to their European peers31. Toledano says that such has
alwaysbeentheresponseofthemajorityofEnglishmentomodernistartistsand
thinkers,(6)butthequestioniswhetherthesituationhastoremainunchanged.
WhatisnotquestionableisthatJosipoviciisthemostintriguingcontemporary
writerinBritainandonecanonlyhopethathavingmissedThomasBernhardand
W.G.Sebald,theNobelcommitteewillnotbetoolateforhim.

Bibliographie
BLANCHOTMaurice,TheSpaceofLiterature,translatedbyAnnSmock,Lincoln/London:
UofNebraskaP,1982.
JOHNSONB.S.,TheUnfortunates[1969],London:Picador,1999.
FLUDERNIK Monika, Echoes and Mirrorings: Gabriel Josipovicis Creative Oeuvre,
Frankfurta.M.:PeterLang,2000.
JOSIPOVICIGabriel,TheInventory,London:MichaelJoseph,1968.
JOSIPOVICIGabriel,He[1977],inIntheFertileLand,Manchester/NewYork:Carcanet
Press,1987,6175.
JOSIPOVICIGabriel,TheAirWeBreathe,Brighton,Sussex:HarvesterPress,1981.
JOSIPOVICI Gabriel, ContreJour: A Triptych after Pierre Bonnard, Manchester:
CarcanetPress,1986.
JOSIPOVICIGabriel,TheBigGlass,Manchester:CarcanetPress,1991.
JOSIPOVICIGabriel,InaHotelGarden,Manchester:CarcanetPress,1993.
JOSIPOVICIGabriel,MooPak,Manchester:CarcanetPress,1994.
JOSIPOVICIGabriel,Goldberg:Variations,Manchester:CarcanetPress,2002.
JOSIPOVICI Gabriel, Mobius the Stripper, in Hearts Wings and Other Stories,
Manchester:CarcanetPress,2010.
JOSIPOVICI Gabriel, What Ever Happened to Modernism? New Haven (CT)/London:
YaleUP,2010.
JOSIPOVICIGabriel,Infinity:TheStoryofaMoment,Manchester:CarcanetPress,2012.
KUNDERAMilan,TheArtoftheNovel[1986],translatedbyLindaAsher,London:Faber
andFaber,1988.
MAINVesna,FailingBetter:HeartsWingsandOtherStories,PNReview201,vol.38,n
1,SeptemberOctober2011.
McILVANNEY Liam and Ryan RAY (eds.), The Good of the Novel, London: Faber and
Faber,2011.
SMITH Zadie, Two Paths for the Novel, TheNew York Review of Books, 20 November
2008.
WOOD James, Alan Hollinghurst, The Strangers Child, The New Yorker, 17 October
2011.
WOODJames,Human,AllTooInhuman,TheNewRepublic,24July2000.
WOODJames,KeepingitReal,TheNewYorker,15March2010.

Notes
1 Gabriel Josipovici, What Ever Happened to Modernism? New Haven
(CT/London:YaleUP,201,13).
2 Gabriel Josipovici, ContreJour : A triptych after Pierre Bonnard, Manchester :
CarcanetPress,1986.
3GabrielJosipovici,TheBigGlass,Manchester:CarcanetPress,1991.
4GabrielJosipovici,Goldberg:Variations,Manchester:CarcanetPress,2002.
5GabrielJosipovici,MooPak,Manchester:CarcanetPress,1994.
6 Gabriel Josipovici, Infinity :The Story of a Moment, Manchester : Carcanet Press,
2012.
7 Gabriel Josipovici, He [1977], in In the Fertile Land, Manchester/NewYork :
CarcanetPress,1987,6175.
8GabrielJosipovici,TheAirWeBreathe,Brighton,Sussex:HarvesterPress,1981.
9JamesWood,Keepingitreal,TheNewYorker, 15 march 2010. For Woods most
recentexample of the grammar, see James Wood, Alan Hollinghursts The Strangers
Child,TheNewYorker,17October2011.
10GabrielJosipovici,TheInventory,London:MichaelJoseph,1968.
11VesnaMain, Failing better : Hearts Wings and Other Stories , PN Review 201,
vol.38,no1,SeptemberOctober2011.
12Ibid,104.
13GabrielJosipovici,InaHotelGarden,Manchester:CarcanetPress,1993.
14Toledanosobsessivetalkingabouthiswritingmakesmethinkofwhatformeisone
of the most memorable cinematic images, that of a young boy, the bell maker, in Andrei
TarkovskysAndreiRublev.WhileToledanotalksandwalks,thechildbellmakerliesonthe
ground, foetuslike, clearly in intense pain. Both offer powerful representations of the
anxietyofcreativityandtheinevitablefailure.
15 Maurice Blanchot, The Space of Literature, translated by Ann Smock, Lincoln and
London:UniversityofNebraskaPress,1982,72.
16 Gabriel Josipovici, Mobius the Stripper , in Hearts Wings and Other Stories,
Manchester:CarcanetPress,2010,11.
17Iwonderwhethertheideacouldbeextendedfurther:doesitmatterwhetherawriter
publishesanovelornot,thatis,whetheritismadeavailabletothewideraudience?For
wecouldsaythat,ultimately,creationissolipsisticandtheartististheonlytruerecipient
ofhiswork.
18MauriceBlanchot,op.cit.,237.
19GabrielJosipovici,Goldberg:Variations,op.cit.,79.
20 Monika Fludernik, Echoes and Mirrorings, Gabriel Josipovicis Creative uvre,
Frankfurta.M:PeterLang,2000.
21GabrielJosipovici,MobiustheStripper,op.cit.,16.
22 Milan Kundera, The Art of the Novel [1986], translated by Linda Asher, London:
FaberandFaber,1988.
23B.S.Johnson,Introduction,inTheUnfortunates[1969],London:Picador,1999,
vii.
24 Zadie Smith, Two Paths for the Novel , The New York Review of Books, 20
November2008.
25 Quoted from blog This Space. <http://thisspace.blogspot.com/>, entry for 16
December2010,accessed25April2011.
26JamesWood,Human,AlltooInhuman,TheNewRepublic,24July2000.
27Theagentsinparticularactasfiercegatekeepers:anyonewhohasevertriedtosend
anoveltoanagentwouldhavebeenfacedwiththequestions:Haveyougotaplot?Whats
thestory?
28InBritain,theonlychampionsofthenovelthatdonotconformtotheconventionsof
social realism have been various blogs, such a Ready Steady Book, My Space. A recently
published collection of essays on (mostly) British contemporary novels, The Good of the

Novel(2011),setsouttogathercriticismthatisbothanalyticalandevaluativehowever,its
choiceoftextsservesonlytoconfirmratherthaninterrogatethehomogeneityofthegenre.
29MauriceBlanchot,op.cit.,199.
30Ibid.,212.
31 Fludernik attributes Josipovicis relative marginalisation to his being a British
cosmopolitanauthor.Shewritesthatmaybethatisthereasonwhyhehasantagonizedse
many British critics: not because he is not properly British, not, ultimately, one of their
own(op.cit.,1213).

Pourcitercetarticle
Rfrencelectronique

VesnaMain,BeyondtheGrammar,RevueLISA/LISAejournal[Enligne],vol.XIIn
2|2014,misenlignele27mai2014,consultle27aot2015.URL:
http://lisa.revues.org/5758DOI:10.4000/lisa.5758

Auteur
VesnaMain
VesnaMainwasborninZagreb,Croatia.SheholdsaPhDinEnglishfromthe
ShakespeareInstitute,UniversityofBirmingham.ShetaughtShakespearetoHausa
studentsinNigeriaandwasalectureratvariousEnglishuniversities.HernovelA
WomanwithnoClothesOnastoryofVictorineMeurent,Manetsfavouritemodelwas
publishedin2008.ShelivesinLondon.

Droitsdauteur
PressesUniversitairesdeRennes