in European Judaism
Author: George Craig1
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  • 1 University of Sussex

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.

Coming from a background in Ireland and France, I didn't make contact with the English academic world till the 1960s, and felt rather lost when I did. The fiercely normative spirit of F.R. Leavis was still in the air, and words like ‘structural’, even ‘structure’, were for architects and builders, and Lévi-Strauss (pronounced Lee-vie Strowss) was the name of a brand of trousers. By chance I was present at a meeting to discuss the draft of a chapter in a book that was being prepared. There I heard a young man called Gabriel Josipovici read his contribution: an essay on Proust. I was spellbound (Proust was my great love, and here was someone whose approach was wholly admirable – and light years away from biography-based simplifications). I was fascinated – not least because he too was, obviously, a cultural outsider. We were to get on famously, and had the happiest of times sharing an MA seminar – trying, among other things, to interest our students in new ideas from France (regularly dismissed by some of our English colleagues – until they were taken up by people in Yale). But the real point of this is that then – how different from now, and the many reasons why we are all here today – Gabriel was not a famous writer. It was to be my great luck that he asked me if I would read the draft of a book of essays he had written, and give my opinion on it. I loved it, and said so, with various comments and suggestions. So far, so totally private. But this collection of essays was The World and the Book, the first stone in the great edifice of writing that we are celebrating here. So: one unfamous person talking to another unfamous person in a room in Arts A, University of Sussex, years ago. But a habit had been started, and I was to see the draft of other pieces – most recently Hamlet Fold on Fold. The ease and warmth of our private dealings has been accompanied, in the public world, by the elaboration of a huge oeuvre of fiction, theatre and criticism. Today we shall be considering aspects of that oeuvre. I want only to draw attention to the way in which the nature and scope of Gabriel's venturing have continued that early impulsion.

Now to the programme of today's sessions.

Contributor Notes

George Craig was born in 1931 and brought up and educated in Ireland (Trinity College Dublin, 1949–1953). He attended the Ecole Normale Supérieure, Paris from 1953 to 1954. His National Service training as a Russian military interpreter was followed by work in the Russian Service of the Agence France-Presse, Paris (1954–1956). He held various teaching jobs in France and Ireland from 1956 to 1961, and taught French at the University of Sussex from 1966 to 1996. From 1998 to 2016, he worked on and translated the letters in French of Samuel Beckett.