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ReadySteadyBlog

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
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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.

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