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Gabriel (David) Josipovici Biography

Nationality: British. Born: Nice, France, 1940. Education: Victoria College, Cairo, 1950-56; Cheltenham College, Gloucesteshire, 1956-57; St. Edmund Hall, Oxford, 1958-61, B.A. in English 1961. Career: Lecturer, 1963-74, reader, 1974-80, part-time reader, 1981-84, and since 1984 professor of English, University of Sussex, Brighton. Northcliffe Lecturer, University College, London, 1981. Awards: Sunday Times award, for play, 1970; South East Arts prize, 1978. Agent: John Johnson, 45-47 Clerkenwell Green, London EC1R 0HT.



The Inventory. London, Joseph, 1968.

Words. London, Gollancz, 1971.

The Present. London, Gollancz, 1975.

Migrations. Hassocks, Sussex, Harvester Press, 1977.

The Echo Chamber. Brighton, Harvester Press, 1980.

The Air We Breathe. Brighton, Harvester Press, 1981.

Conversations in Another Room. London, Methuen, 1984.

Contre-Jour: A Triptych after Pierre Bonnard. Manchester, Carcanet, 1986.

The Big Glass. Manchester, Carcanet, 1991.

In a Hotel Garden. Manchester, Carcanet, 1994; New York, NewDirections, 1995.

Moo Pak. Manchester, Carcanet, 1995.

Now. Manchester, England, Carcanet, 1998.

Short Stories

Mobius the Stripper: Stories and Short Plays (includes the plays One, Dreams of Mrs. Fraser, Flow). London, Gollancz, 1974.

Four Stories. London, Menard Press, 1977.

In the Fertile Land. Manchester, Carcanet, 1987.


Dreams of Mrs. Fraser (produced London, 1972). Included in Mobius the Stripper, 1974.

Evidence of Intimacy (produced London, 1972).

Flow (produced Edinburgh and London, 1973). Included in Mobius the Stripper, 1974.

Echo (produced London, 1975). Published in Proteus 3, 1978.

Marathon (produced London, 1977). Published in Adam (London), 1980.

A Moment (produced London, 1979).

Vergil Dying (broadcast 1979). Windsor, SPAN, 1981.

Radio Plays:

Playback, 1973; A Life, 1974; Ag, 1976; Vergil Dying, 1979; Majorana: Disappearance of a Physicist, with Sacha Rabinovitch, 1981; The Seven, with Jonathan Harvey, 1983; Metamorphosis, from the story by Kafka, 1985; Ode for St. Cecilia, 1986; Mr. Vee, 1988; A Little Personal Pocket Requiem, 1990.


The World and the Book: A Study of Modern Fiction. London, Macmillan, and Stanford, California, Stanford University Press, 1971; revised edition, Macmillan, 1979.

The Lessons of Modernism and Other Essays. London, Macmillan, and Totowa, New Jersey, Rowman and Littlefield, 1977.

Writing and the Body: The Northcliffe Lectures 1981. Brighton, Harvester Press, 1982; Princeton, New Jersey, Princeton University Press, 1983.

The Mirror of Criticism: Selected Reviews 1977-1982. Brighton, Harvester Press, and New York, Barnes and Noble, 1983.

The Book of God: A Response to the Bible. New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University Press, 1988.

Steps: Selected Fiction and Drama. Manchester, Carcanet Press, 1990.

Text and Voice. Manchester, Carcanet, 1992.

Touch. New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University Press, 1996.

On Trust: Art and the Temptations of Suspicion. New Haven, Connecticut, Yale University Press, 1999.

Editor, The Modern English Novel: The Reader, The Writer, and the Work. London, Open Books, and New York, Barnes and Noble, 1976.

Editor, The Sirens' Song: Selected Essays, by Maurice Blanchot. Brighton, Harvester Press, and Bloomington, Indiana University Press, 1982.


Critical Studies:

Interview with Bernard Sharratt, in Orbit (Tunbridge Wells, Kent), December 1975; "True Confessions of an Experimentalist" by Josipovici, and interview with Maurice Kapitanchik, in Books and Bookmen (London), 1982; article by Linda Canon and Jay L. Halio, in British Novelists since 1960 edited by Halio, Detroit, Gale, 1983; interview with Timothy Hyman, in Jewish Quarterly (London), 1985; James Hansford, in Prospice (Portree, Isle of Skye), 1985; essay by Josipovici, in Contemporary Authors Autobiography Series 8 edited by Mark Zadrozny, Detroit, Gale, 1988; "Bonnard and Josipovici" by Jean Duffy, in Word and Image, 9(4), October-December 1993.

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"Modern art," says Gabriel Josipovici in The Lessons of Modernism, "moves between two poles, silence and game." In his own novels the game is that of verbal art; the silence is that of unanswered questions. Conversations abound, explanations are sought, inquiries are pursued, but answers are always lacking. Characters experience an overwhelming pressure to speak, like a weight on the chest. But there is no narrator with authority to pronounce on the truth. The reader is drawn into puzzled involvement, impotent attentiveness, and pleasure in the play of the text.

In The Inventory a young man is constructing a list of the contents of a flat in which an old man and his son Sam used to live. They are both now dead. The precision of the inventory contrasts with the uncertainty of what he hears about their lives from Susan who tells him stories about her experiences of the two men. Why did Sam suddenly leave? Was he in love with Susan? Did she love him? Are her stories based on memory or invention? The novel is almost entirely in dialogue form and its effect depends on the author's precise control of rhythm, pace, and tone. It demonstrates his fascination with the musical, kinesthetic, and dramatic aspects of speech which he has explored equally in his work for radio and theater.

In Words Louis and his wife Helen are visited by Jo, who was once Louis's girlfriend and who may or may not also have had an affair with his brother Peter. The reader learns about the characters only through what they say to each other. Conversations return again and again to certain nagging questions. What happened years ago when Louis and Jo separated? Are either of them in earnest now when they talk about going away together? Are they serious or are they playing games? We only have their words to go on and words always leave open a variety of possible interpretations: cheerful banter or wounding aggression, flirtation or contempt, honesty or evasion? The Present represents a change in fictional technique, for in this novel even the basic narrative situation is left undecided. The narrative, in the present tense, simultaneously develops stories in a number of different possible directions. The present leaves the future open. Reg and Minna share a flat with Alex; Minna is in hospital after a breakdown and dreams or imagines her life with Reg; Minna is married to Alex and they live with their two daughters in the country; Alex is dead having thrown himself from the window of Reg and Minna's flat. The stories interweave, each compelling but inconclusive.

Since 1977 Josipovici has written his most ambitious and accomplished work, including the major radio play Vergil Dying and the novels Migrations and The Air We Breathe. In these novels he moves further away from the conventions of realist narrative. Whereas the early novels (and The Echo Chamber) are constructed around inconclusive stories and are primarily in dialogue form the later novels are constructed around multiple repetitions of fragmentary scenes and haunting images.

In Migrations a man lies on a bed in an empty room; a man collapses in an urban street; an autistic child fails to communicate with uncomprehending adults; a man talks in an over-furnished room with an unsympathetic woman, and so on. The text migrates restlessly from scene to scene: "You try to find a place to stop, roots … attempt to find a resting place for the imagination." "A series of places. Each must be visited. In turn. Then it will be finished. Then they will disappear." Temporary stillness and a disturbing sense of the physicality of speech, of words in the mouth, are achieved as the narrative voice repeats certain rhythms, images, and sound patterns and occasionally settles on certain sensuous sentences: "The black sky presses on his face like a blanket." "The sun streams in through the closed panes." "Silence drains away from him in dark streams." There is a poetic preoccupation with certain elemental forces, water and light, motion and rest, air and breath, which are to become an explicit theme of inquiry in The Air We Breathe.

In Conversations in Another Room an old woman, Phoebe, lies in bed. She shares her flat with a companion and is visited regularly by her niece. The narration is in the present tense and is mostly dialogue, at times very funny. The conversations circle around unanswered questions about Phoebe's husband who vanished without trace, and her son David whose marriage has broken up. In the hall the niece's boyfriend sits under a convex mirror, occasionally jotting in a notebook. To the reader's surprise, towards the end of the book there is suddenly a section in an unfamiliar and unidentified voice, in the first person. We do not know what the relationship is between this voice and the characters in Phoebe's flat. The voice says: "Perhaps we cannot write about our real selves, our real lives, the lives we have really lived. They are not there to be written about. The conversation always goes on in another room." Contre-Jour derives from a fascination with the French painter Pierre Bonnard. The first half of the novel is in the voice of his daughter, who has left home. The second half is in the voice of his wife. She compulsively bathes as her husband sits and sketches her. She voices her complaints and her unhappiness about her daughter's behavior. She writes odd notes and pins them around the house. We begin to realize that she is seriously disturbed. Perhaps the daughter does not exist at all but is made up as a consolation or a demented irritant by the painter's wife. We hear only short fragments of the painter's own speech as they are quoted by the women. Through all of his wife's miseries he continues, apparently serenely, to paint. Is his absorption in his work immensely cruel or is it that he has extraordinary patience? At the end we read a short, formal letter from the painter to a friend announcing the death of his wife. It has come to seem that the main subject of the work is the painter himself even though we scarcely hear his own voice directly. We view him only in the negative shapes he makes against the background of those who surround him, against the light.

The plot of In a Hotel Garden takes place as much in flashback as in forward motion, with the glum protagonist Ben attempting to sort out the problems of his past. All in all, the book offers little to hold a reader's attention. One central image from Migrations can serve as an index of Josipovici's concerns as a novelist. The friends and relations of Lazarus wait outside the tomb, excited, anticipating a miracle. Lazarus emerges and slowly unwinds the linen cloth. He unwinds and unwinds and when he is finished there is nothing there, nothing but a little mound of dust. There is nothing in the center. There is no central meaning. As Josipovici says in The Lessons of Modernism the modern writer, like Eliot's Prufrock, rejects the role of Lazarus, "come back from the dead, come back to tell you all."

—John Mepham

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