Blog Roll

Anecdotal Evidence
The Beiderbecke Affair
Biology of the Worst Kind
The Book Depository Editor's Corner
Book World
Buzzwords Blog: 3AM Magazine
Edward Champion's Return of the Reluctant
The Elegant Variation
KR Blog
the Literary Saloon
Long Sunday
MadInkBeard - Updates
The Midnight Bell
The Olive Reader
pas au-delà
The Reading Experience
splinters: books, authors, literature, travel, politics
Tales from the Reading Room
This Space
University of Nebraska Press
Weblog - A Don's Life - Times Online
Weblog - Peter Stothard - Times Online
Powered by Bloglines


One of the Guardian Unlimited Books' top 10 literary blogs: "A home-grown treasure ... smart, serious analysis"

Tuesday 19 September 2006

A note on Josipovici's Everything Passes

Gabriel Josipovici's Everything Passes is hugely affecting: disquieting, profound, emotionally truthful. It occupies just sixty pages. I'm wary of talking about this astonishing and beautiful book for two reasons: I fear invoking cliches about it punching above its weight, about it being short but never slight; and I fear that, as with the work of Beckett, a prolix review would be entirely inappropriate given the minimalist qualities of the work in question. But criticism, like all metalanguages, tends to infinity with regard to its object: you can write endlessly about any work of art, but, in the end, it must be allowed to speak for itself. How, then, to let Everything Passes speak and, yet, to write about it, to respond to it?

As Steve noted the other day, "There are some books whose first lines, the opening lines, are enough. Reading them, you know this is it. This is why you read." As Steve quotes, the novel (the diminutive novella seems too pretty, too dismissive) begins:

A room.
He stands at the window.
And a voice says: Everything passes. The good and the bad. The joy and the sorrow.
Everything passes.

Immediately, a rhythm. The stage is set. Indeed, these could almost be stage directions. (And, again, and not to Josipovici's detriment, one thinks of Beckett.) The stage is set, and we are drawn on, we read on. The tone is melancholy, minatory even. Looking through a cracked window pane, Felix remembers. Brief sketches, but full enough, redolent of a flawed, full existence. A lived life. Josipovici doesn't create characters by packing the narrative with events that pretend, via accumulation, to some authentic, life-like verisimilitude (the more facts, the more real; the more pages, the more real!). Rather, he builds an emotional veracity that arises from an honesty about the nature of writing itself. And so, and at first this feels a little abrupt, the monosyllabic work opens out and Rabelais is recalled (but this is never bloodless, intellectual writing: Josipovici manages, via a concision that verges on the magical, to evoke the full confusion and pain of familial love in a matter of a sentence or two). Rabelais: the writer who invented modern writing. Writing that was to be read, by strangers, not made as part of, and for, a community. The writer who first knew the absurdity of modern writing, of writing, to be read, by and for these strangers. The writer who first knew. Extreme contemporary!

Rabelais is remembered and other memories intrude. A life passes. Everything passes. A lover passes besides Felix, and gently pushes her way into the garden. His son and daughter come and go. A wife, that lover, a life. Even words pass. But these, these pass slowly: the book contains as much silence and space (it is almost auto-contemplative) as it does language. And this is only right. Beautiful.

Posted by Mark Thwaite
Tags: ,

Reader Comments

Tuesday 19 September 2006

Rodney Pybus says...

Like all good writing about writing, this makes me want to read the work that set it off.
Two small points: don't agree with the notion that the term 'novella' is of itself disparaging; this seems to be carrying synaesthesia too far! And I liked the fact that Josipovici's protagonist, his Everyman, presumably, is called 'Felix' -- the happy/fortunate one. That's a pleasing turn up for the books! Or book. i.e. everything passes, but it is still possible to be 'felix'...

Tuesday 19 September 2006

Mark Thwaite says...

Thanks for this Rodney. Actually, I love many "novellas", but the word, to me, does somehow carry pejorative overtones. I wish this wasn't so. Above, I just wanted to say that Josipovici's récit (his preferred term, I understand) is as rich as any long novel and in no way compromised (indeed, is strengthened) by its brevity.

Add a comment

If you have not posted a comment on RSB before, it will need to be approved by the Managing Editor. Once you have an approved comment, you are safe to post further comments. We have also introduced a captcha code to prevent spam.




Enter the code shown here:  

Note: If you cannot read the numbers in the above image, reload the page to generate a new one.

Submit News to RSB

Please let us know about any literary-related news -- or submit press releases to RSB -- using this form.

-- Mark Thwaite, Managing Editor

Books of the Week

Edward Carpenter Edward Carpenter
Chushichi Tsuzuki
Cambridge University Press

This is the first full-scale biography of Edward Carpenter, an 'eminent Victorian' who played an intriguing role in the revival of Socialism in Britain in the late nineteenth century. 'A worthy heir of Carlyle and Ruskin', as Tolstoy called him, Carpenter tackled boldly the problems of alienation under the pressures of commercial civilisation, and developed a strongly personalised brand of Socialism which inspired both the Labour Party and its enemies, Syndicalism and Anarchism. A homosexual, he grappled with the problems of sexual alienation above all, and emerged as the foremost advocate of the homosexual cause at a time when it was a social 'taboo'. This study, based upon letters and many other personal documents, reveals much of Carpenter's personal life which has hitherto remained obscure, including his 'comradeship' with some of his working-men friends and his influence upon such notable literary figures as Siegfried Sassoon, E. M. Forster and D. H. Lawrence.

-- View archive

Vigilant Memory Vigilant Memory
R. Clifton Spargo
Johns Hopkins University Press

Vigilant Memory: Emmanuel Levinas, the Holocaust, and the Unjust Death focuses on the particular role of Emmanuel Levinas's thought in reasserting the ethical parameters for poststructuralist criticism in the aftermath of the Holocaust. More than simply situating Levinas's ethics within the larger context of his philosophy, R. Clifton Spargo offers a new explanation of its significance in relation to history. In critical readings of the limits and also the heretofore untapped possibilities of Levinasian ethics, Spargo explores the impact of the Holocaust on Levinas's various figures of injustice while examining the place of mourning, the bad conscience, the victim, and the stranger/neighbor as they appear in Levinas's work. Ultimately, Spargo ranges beyond Levinas's explicit philosophical or implicit political positions to calculate the necessary function of the "memory of injustice" in our cultural and political discourses on the characteristics of a just society.

-- View archive

Poem of the Week

Cousin Nancy

Miss Nancy Ellicott
Strode across the hills and broke them,
Rode across the hills and broke them --
The barren New England hills --
Riding to hounds
Over the cow-pasture.

Miss Nancy Ellicott smoked
And danced all the modern dances;
And her aunts were not quite sure how they felt about it,
But they knew that it was modern.

Upon the glazen shelves kept watch
Matthew and Waldo, guardians of the faith,
The army of unalterable law.

-- TS Eliot
Collected Poems 1909-62 (Faber and Faber)

-- View archive

Word of the Day


Part of a book published in installments. For example, the Oxford English Dictionary was published in fascicles. more …

-- Powered by

October's Books of the Month

Everything Passes Everything Passes
Gabriel Josipovici
Auschwitz Report Auschwitz Report
Primo Levi

-- View archive