This article explores three central figures that recur in Gabriel Josipovici’s critical writing. All three are essentially solitary. First, there is the creative figure – the artist, the composer, the writer – alone in their study or studio. Second, there is a curiously impersonal figure, more elusive, harder to pin down. Not the writer or artist but an anonymous figure walking down the road, Wordsworth’s solitaries in The Prelude and Paul Klee’s Wander-Artist. And, finally, there are Jewish figures, especially from Kafka and the Hebrew Bible. What are these bare, elusive anonymous figures doing in Josipovici’s writing? Why do they come up so often, throughout his work, from the mid 1970s to the present? And are they lifeless or are they full of life, deeply human, rooted in history and literature?
A Celebration and Personal Contribution
This article, as a tribute to Gabriel Josipovici, describes his impact on the author over many decades, initially as his teacher and thesis supervisor, later as colleague and friend at the University of Sussex. This impact included broadening his knowledge of contemporary French literary critics and of writers engaged with criticism, and opening up European dimensions to otherwise insular English academic approaches to literature. A study of Josipovici’s novel Migrations (1977) shows how it manages to explore the many dimensions of the condition of migrancy, even though held here within the bounds of a novel that is tightly packed but opens into a whole world.
There are many approaches to reading the Hebrew Bible, from the pietistic in both Jewish and Christian traditions to the scholarly. Gabriel Josipovici’s approach is not about seeking the reductive ‘meaning’ of a text, but encouraging readers into an open relationship with the text in order to preserve the ambiguities and mysteries that adhere to such texts. Joseph’s encounter with an unnamed stranger in Genesis 37 is used as an illustration of this approach. Standing ‘face to face’ with the text requires humility, and trust in the storyteller.
The present article seeks to analyse the place of Shakespeare’s work within the oeuvre of Gabriel Josipovici, starting with the latter’s first published critical book, The World and the Book, and ending with his most recent, Hamlet: Fold on Fold. In the early work Josipovici sought to establish a direct line between the Middle Ages and Modernism, yet Shakespeare was already a presence whose plays obliged that line to deviate. In his later critical work, such as On Trust, Shakespeare becomes one of the figures who allows Josipovici to exemplify clearly the crucial gap he wishes to explore between saying and doing. This gap is most fully explored in the recent book on Hamlet, where the protagonist is seen as the supreme literary example of what happens when the traditions governing doing have fallen away, leaving the character adrift in a sea of possibilities of utterance and action, none of which has the feel of necessity.
This article tries to elucidate Gabriel’s story ‘Steps’ to some extent. Here, as elsewhere, the narrator’s deliberate failure to clearly separate actual from imaginary facts and incidents causes problems of understanding. Initially, we are told that the protagonist has long been living in Paris. A little later, however, we hear that he has moved to Wales with his second wife. So where does the man live? While other stories remain ambiguous throughout, ‘Steps’ seems less impenetrable. The protagonist, we learn, often indulged fantasies when he went for his strolls in Paris and is quoted as saying ‘Going up and down steps lets the mind float free’. When at the end of the story the narrative suddenly shifts to the present tense – ‘…he climbs the steps of the rue St. Julien’ – this seems to suggest that most of the story represents aspects of the protagonist’s ‘alternative lives’, as envisaged during his walks.
The Voice of Gabriel Josipovici
This article focuses on some of the themes and questions at the heart of Gabriel Josipovici’s fictional and critical writing, most notably the idea that reading is a matter of participation rather than understanding. It asks what is distinctive about Josipovici’s relationship with other philosophically inclined critics and theorists. It offers a participatory reading of one of his critical writings demonstrating the care with which it is arranged. The article concludes with a brief consideration of how other writers and works are brought into Josipovici’s fiction.
Written against the backdrop of Brexit, this short article examines the long history of British disregard for modernist and experimental avant-garde aesthetics, one frequently commented upon by critics and artists over the past century. In What Ever Happened to Modernism? Josipovici added his voice to this chorus, but his focus on British insularity went unremarked by reviewers. In addition to considering this more recent text, the article lingers over Josipovici’s ‘English Studies and European Culture’, an essay written in the 1970s that presciently explores the symbiotic and primary relationship between England and the continent.
In this brief introduction to the Symposium to celebrate the 75th birthday of Gabriel Josipovici, held at the University of Sussex on 10 September 2016, the author recalls his first meeting with Gabriel during the 1960s, when literary criticism was dominated by a particular English perspective. As a cultural outsider, Gabriel introduced new approaches, particularly from France, that became part of transformative changes to the discipline as taught at the university.
Gabriel Josipovici first contributed to European Judaism during its third year of publication in the Summer 1968 issue. In his role as Managing Editor, Rabbi Michael Goulston z’l sought to use the journal to provide, among other things, a place for outreach and dialogue between those who represented the religious leadership of the Jewish people, in this case rabbis of his own generation who belonged to ‘progressive’ movements in the UK, and Jewish ‘intellectuals’ perceived as being alienated from, indifferent to or somewhat marginal within their own Jewish tradition. Thus, the same issue includes the proceedings of a symposium on ‘Judaism and Marxism: The First European Dialogue’.
This is an excerpt from Gabriel Josipovici's life of his mother, Rabinovitch, who died in 1996 at the age of eighty-five. Sacha and her elder sister Vera, known as Chickie, were born in Helwan, near Cairo, in 1910 and 1909 respectively. Their father, a Jewish doctor from Odessa, died when the children were five and six, their mother was carried away by the epidemic which swept Egypt when they were ten and eleven. The greatest influence on the two little girls was their English nanny, who died the following year. After a brief period with their Syrian stepfather, Max Debbane, they went to live with their maternal grandparents, and it is here that the extract starts.