Notes on 'Everything Passes'

Notes on 'Everything Passes'

Although I know of Josipovici, and of his work, I haven’t, before now, read him. Of course, I know that he has written on Blanchot, and Everything Passes immediately reminded me of The Instant of My Death. In that short work, Blanchot evokes an instant which functions as an ‘immobility’, an immobility that ‘arrests time’, that holds the passing of time ‘in abeyance’. In that short work, the instant which arrests time, the immobility which holds the passing of time in abeyance, is ‘the instant of my death’.

In Everything Passes, it seems to me that the passing of time is at least part of what is at stake. And again, like Blanchot, it seems as if, for Josipovici, the instant of death, of Felix’s death, in fact holds the passing of time in abeyance. The room, with its silence, its bare floorboards, its greyness, its window with the cracked pane, and with his face at that window – that room is the moment of death. It is a moment in which time, and its passing, is stilled. But it is a moment which does not pass. Felix does not pass on. Although the door opens, he does not pass through it, out of the room.

What seems most interesting to me about this ambiguity between time’s passing, and its halting, is the issue of a certain openness within the instant, or, on the contrary, the closure of the instant. The openness, or closure, of the instant is expressed in the figures of the door of the room, and of the window of the room, with its cracked pain. Time stops for Felix as he looks at, or out of, the window. The instant does not pass. He does not die. But, if he goes through the door, if the instant passes, then he dies - and time stops, for Felix. And so, at the heart of the instant is a paradox – time appears to stop whether it passes or not. Thus, the passing of time in the instant, time’s stopping, the openness or closure of the instant – all of these apparent ‘moments’ of time are called into question in the instant of death, or of death deferred, held in abeyance. The passing of time itself is called into question.

This may be an overly abstract rendering of Everything Passes. I certainly wouldn’t want to claim of such a reading that it is the only, or the most significant, interpretation. However, it strikes me as significant within the context of the question that Mark has posed, regarding the relation between the work of fiction as Literature, and the work of fiction as (English) Establishment Literary Fiction (see e.g. here).

I was very surprised in reading Everything Passes by just how explicitly antagonistic Josipovici is towards ELF. The line of demarcation that Josipovici draws is adumbrated in the characterisation that Felix gives of Rabelais. Print removes the particularity of the audience for a work, it universalises the reader. At the same time, it denies the author a certain particularity, the particularity that derives from a direct contact with his or her audience. Rabelais’ insight is that the new medium of fiction entails the solitude of the depersonalised writer and the solitude of anonymous reader.

The failure of ELF is, of course, the failure to embrace this solitude. ELF writing is determined by the projection of a virtual audience – conjured up by the publisher, the agent, the book-seller, the metropolitan reviewers, the book-clubs, or even the creative writing course teachers & fellow students. ELF writing is thus worked from within by a false consciousness, the false consciousness of a general virtual reader. But it is this projected general, virtual, reader who serves to determine, and thus close down, the text of the ELF writer in advance.

As opposed to this closure, the work of Literature remains irreducibly open. This openness is grounded in the passing of the work between the solitude of the depersonalised writer and the solitude of the anonymous reader. Literature is written for no-one, and in being written for no-one, it remains fundamentally open. But it is, precisely, this very openness which allows the work of Literature to pass. The ELF fiction is already closed, closed by its general virtual reader, and thus does not, and cannot, pass. It has no dimension of passing.

And yet, even when things appear to be as clear as this, Josipovici allows a paradox to undermine from within this clarity of perspective.

In the wake of the discussions of literature which occur at the heart of the work, and on which these comments are based, Sal, Felix’s 1st wife, says to him, in exasperation: “You should hear yourself some time.. You don’t hear yourself.” And then, slightly later: “You don’t listen to anything except your own voice.”

Here, then, is the paradox which works the solitude of the depersonalised writer from within. Cut off from their audience, they have nothing to listen to, except their own voice. And yet, when you have nothing to listen to, except your own voice, then you are left unable to hear yourself.

In order to be able to hear yourself speak, you have to listen to a voice other than your own, to the voice of another.

In order that the writer may hear the voice of the other, there must be an opening within the solitude of the writer, within the moment of writing, within which the voice of the other may resonate.

Who speaks to the solitary writer in this instant whose closure is held in abeyance? And, in speaking, who calls on the solitary writer to respond?

-- Robin Durie (11/05/2010)

Readers Comments

  1. Josipovici tells it how it is about contemporary ELF in an interview with the Guardian - Really good to hear someone prepared to go against the grain of the dull metropolitan media hype which surrounds the Booker regulars, as well as Rushdie, Amis & their ilk - & Barnes especially.

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