Sunday, December 16, 2007

Josipovici's Creative Negation. Sunday Salon

It's been a long time since I've had a Sunday at leisure. For three weeks running it was bronchitis and tooth trauma (at least that's over); then a broken RSS feed. This time, it's moving day tomorrow. All but a few books are packed in boxes. Much cleaning to do and other final preparations, but before I pack up the computer, I want to offer a few thoughts on Josipovici. I've just finished The Singer on the Shore. This is book by a writer, something to keep in mind when you read these essays; he is writing about how and what he reads, of those ideas and experiences that nourish or impede his work. He is not, and doesn't claim to be a philosopher, he doesn't draw on ideas from psychoanalysis , or probe too deeply into critical theory. You won't find Zizekian pyrotechnics, or elaborate linguistic puzzles on the order of Derida or Lacan, or the condensation and ellipses of Blanchot; if that's what you expect when you come to these essays, you will be disappointed. But you shouldn't be. He is none of these things, but that is not his weakness, but his strength.

When he began to work on his first novel, The Inventory, he found himself unable to write an opening that satisfied him. Again and again he tried to describe the room where the possessions of the deceased lay scattered about waiting to be inventoried for his survivors. Every attempt failed, until he realized that this description of the room simply didn't interest him. He was doing it because it was a convention. When you enter a scene in a novel, the narrator fills the space with images, with sound or silence, with atmosphere that sets the tone and mood, but this was not what he had in mind when he began to write, this was not what interested him; it was not what he needed to do; it was not what this novel required. I can't think of a better illustration of Josipovici's essential integrity. He does not--he cannot--simply follow a convention simply because it has worked for others. In that first novel he encountered the kind of block that is no block at all, but those defining limitations indispensable to all successful creative efforts. In the essay, "This is Not Your Rest," we find the same idea in another context.

It was Stravinsky once again who most perfectly summed up the paradox. He remarks somewhere that had Beethoven had Mozart's lyric gift he would never have developed his own remarkable talents. In other words, what is required is that we make the most of what we have and do not mourn the absence of what we do not have. Because circumstances have caused certain roads to be blocked to you, you are forced to discover others, which might never have been found had it not been for you and your circumstances. For what do Kafka's and Proust's remarkable fictions, Eliot's remarkable poems emerge from, if not the profound sense that all ways were blocked to them?"

I wrote in my journal, after copying out this passage (mentioning that one should certainly add to this list, Beckett--evading the shadow of Joyce), that the other side here, is how easy it is for most to go on imitating, expanding on what others have discovered with little sense of "being blocked" by their predecessors achievements. This made me wonder which, then, comes first? Is it because the artist finds one path blocked that he is forced to find another--forced by circumstances to work out another way? Or is there something already present, a sense, perhaps, of his own as yet unrealized work that rises up, as it were, in rebellion, and will not let him follow any other way in good conscience? There is nothing "out there" blocking the way. It comes from within... or rather, is itself, from the beginning, a part, and a participant, in the process; the negative, the "not this, not this not this" that makes this possible.

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