Reading Gabriel Josipovici's The Lessons of Modernism and his The World and the Book, last night, I was reminded, yet again, what a matchless critic and writer he is. The first essay in The World and the Book is Proust: A Voice in Search of Itself. It's a superb paper which reminds us how "philosophical" and disruptive Proust's mammoth masterpiece actually is. And, crucially, how anti-novelistic. Lots of readers, who actually bother to read Proust, seem thrilled by its Edwardian grandeur and its scale and they miss its manifold subversions. Proust understands his own obsessions; he observes them and works through them within the body of the work. He recognises that the world within the pages of his book is not the world - despite the length of the work and some realist descriptions, the thrust of the work is anti-realist (there is nothing "natural" about Realism it is an invented, historically situated style): Proust is not attempting verisimilitude, he realises that truth is not mimesis.

Readers Comments

  1. I have a great regard for Gabriel's first book in particular, 'The World and the Book'. Years ago, he came to speak for me to my students and gave an inspired, note-free talk on the significance to him, as a contemporary writer, of Chaucer. It was breathtaking and ranged widely, and I remember vividly how natural it felt to find Chaucer and Proust rubbing shoulders. Few people I have met could have brought this off.

  2. I wholly agree. I was shocked by how much of Proust anticipated the thought of Wittgenstein and Merleau-Ponty. Also see Galen Strawson's piece on Proust and anti-narrativity, which points out some other undermining strategies used by Proust. (It's a fantastic piece anyway.)

  3. The essays collection "Text & Voice" is wonderful too, with good pieces on Blanchot, Perec, Beckett and and some stunning, almost Auerbachian meditations on the acts of reading and writing.

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