Thursday, September 30, 2010

The way in which art grapples with reality

After reading yet another review (and broadly sympathetic at that) of Gabriel Josipovici's book, What Ever Happened to Modernism? - a book which I am yet to see reviewed here in Australia - I am struck by how novel most reviewers seem to find it that Josipovici should look for the roots of modernism so many centuries ago - something which Milan Kundera has also done (although he does not call it Modernism per se, but simply the 'history of the novel') and, much earlier - Josipovici himself. Even the point that Eric Ormsby makes in his Wall Street Journal review:

Perhaps the true question raised by "What Ever Happened to Modernism?" is about the way in which art grapples with reality. The 19th-century novelists created characters and set them within a narrative; this was an "arbitrary" process: David Copperfield and Père Goriot are as contrived as the marquise who went out at five. Balzac carried a cane inscribed with the motto "I smash all obstacles." Kafka noted that he himself should have a cane inscribed "All obstacles smash me." Kafka knew that, as Mr. Josipovici puts it, "to be modern is to know that some things can no longer be done."

was anticipated by Josipovici three decades ago in The World and the Book: A Study of Modern Fiction, where he writes in the Preface:
For we must understand that the great modern revolutionaries did not say: 'Don't look at the world the way people have been doing for the last four centuries, it's wrong'; but: 'Don't look at the world the way people have been doing for the last four centuries, it's lazy.'


  1. I've just tracked down a copy of The World and the Book, and look forward to reading it.

    I am very attracted to this idea that modernism is an underlying current that can resurface in response to a given set of conditions.

  2. Hi Anthony,

    I've only just noticed your comment here (I've changed my settings so at least now I should notice sooner). Yes I've found these older non-fiction works by Josipovici at a local university library, but I'd love to own my own copy of them. He's been writing about such issues for a long time now, and his observations remain just as relevant - or perhaps even more relevant - than they were then.