Thursday, March 15, 2007

Sharp on Josipovici on Modernism

Ellis Sharp gives his account of Gabriel Josipovici's debate-provoking talk "What ever happened to Modernism?" given earlier this evening in Russell Harty Square, London. Mark Thwaite of RSB was there too. What an array of litblogging talent in one small room!

I would like to give my account too, but I've just got in, it's past midnight and I've got work in the morning. However, before I climb the wooden hill to Bedfordshire, someone did ask the speaker - was it Ellis? - whether he thought there was a popular literary novelist who was aware in his or her work of the issues raised in the talk. Josipovici asked the questioner to suggest one instead and he offered the name "John Updike". If that was you Ellis, I was the one choking two yards in front of you. Actually, I wanted to say that I thought Richard Ford was a better example - only he seems to be either unaware of the modernism seeping into the Frank Bascombe Trilogy or unwilling to disabuse reviewers and interviewers of their assumptions about its All American Realism.


  1. Anonymous9:44 am

    I feel it is important to treat literature this way - probably why your blog is my first port of call each morning/day. Gabriel Josipovici's idea of "bad writers, going through the motions" (as reported by Eliis Sharp) should be taken genuinely. Although, when Literature, and its practice, becomes distorted within a shroud of Blanchot-inspired mysticism I eagerly walk away.

    Lee Rourke.

  2. Gosh.

    If I’d known This Space and Ready Steady Book were going to be there I wouldn’t have bothered to supply my own hasty, partial and doubtless grossly inadequate jottings.

    No, it wasn’t me who asked the Updike question. Though naturally it made me grin rather than choke. Had I been quizzing GJ on his attitude to modern American fiction the gauntlets I would have thrown down would have been early Pynchon and David Foster Wallace.

  3. Thanks Lee. That wooshing sound is us passing eagerly walking to and from Blanchot. Still, I think you misrepresent it as mysticism.

    I remember your admiration of Paulhan's The Flowers of Tarbes - well Blanchot's reponse to that might be construed as a reassertion (via a deliberate "misreading" of Tarbes) of literature's mystique, but it certainly isn't mystical.

    And Ellis, your post wasn't inadequate at all but very welcome. I tend to forget too much and wasn't intending to write a response. Maybe I will now.

    I would correct one thing: I think he said those "writers going through the motions" weren't bad at all - in fact that they were all talented etc, but that they went blithely on churning out these books untroubled by doubt. So there's hope for those of us who are not talented to wade in with our almost crippling inadequacy and uncertainty. Hurrah!

  4. BTW Ellis, sorry about the delay in the comment appearing. I have comment moderation and I was unable to permit the comment until just now. I got hit by a lot of comment spam recently, so it's necessary.

  5. Okay... I didn't realise it had finally got through.

    And thinking about it, I'd add William Burroughs to my gauntlets.

    One thing you might clear up for me is GJ's antipathy to post-modernism. I didn't fully grasp that.

  6. Anonymous5:44 pm

    Can VS Naipaul really be one of those whose work he characterised as 'complacent'? The author of 'The Enigma of Arrival'? Hmmm...

    I think Josipovici is brilliant, and generally right. People tend to think of Modernism in historical terms, that it was a movement, an achievment that is in history, something to be studied for the curiousity value, an adjunct to the social crises of the early twentieth century -- but then to be ignored whilst the same types of novels are written. Instead of it being alive and present and absorbable now, today, in 2007, that their shadow is still cast upon us, and shades our body and landscape.


  7. Jay, Josipovici actually wrote a review of "The Enigma of Arrival". It's in a defunct magazine called "The Listener". I found it because it's quoted on the back of "A Turn in the South". As I loved Enigma I wanted to see what he said. It's a warm review that ends by asking why it's called a novel. It's not ALL of Naipaul he's criticising, just the complacency that has entered his work. And this Ellis is what I'd say leads to his antipathy for postmodernism. From what I hear, it embraces the failure to be truthful as the freedom to do anything in terms of form and content (hence, you might say, the bloated products of many of the big name postmodernists). They're trying to be Dickens by the back door. But maybe GJ's is not the accepted definition of postmodernism which, to me, often seems like a definition of modernism.



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