Josipovici’s Insight

Although I have read Barnes and McEwan fairly extensively, I find myself agreeing with Josipovici’s argument:

Reading Barnes, like reading so many other English writers of his generation – Martin Amis, McEwan – leaves me feeling that I and the world have been made smaller and meaner. The irony which at first made one smile, the precision of language which was at first so satisfying, the cynicism which at first was used only to puncture pretension, in the end come to seem like a terrible constriction, a fear of opening oneself up to the world.

The insight of that analysis is precise and powerful.

Josipovici also summarised my own recent response to Sarah Hall’s How to Paint a Dead Man:

While great novels deal with complex events beyond the full understanding of both the characters and the reader, too many contemporary works follow traditional plots with neat endings, he said.


Referring to graduates, like McEwan, of the University of East Anglia’s famous creative writing course, Josipovici said: “They all tell stories in a way that is well crafted, but that is almost the most depressing aspect of it — a careful craft which seems to me to be hollow.”

Its all a tad depressing having two favourite authors lowered from their pedestals, but Josipovici describes the process of disillusion with considerable insight. The criticism is timely. I have been pondering what serious novel I can read with any conviction after reading Ulysses. Joyce’s book makes so much that I planned to read paler by reflection.

I am looking forward to reading Josipovici’s forthcoming What Ever Happened to Modernism?

2 thoughts on “Josipovici’s Insight

  1. >Yes, d—d insightful, really. I used to read a lot more of that sort of thing, and I know that I still like it. But I wonder if I don't read these when I am also constricted and unwilling to open up to something less hollow. Or perhaps the causality is reversed, and they rub off on me somewhat.I guess my point is, Josipovici does lower them from their pedestals, but for me at least there is a time when cold, careful craft is welcome.

  2. >Nicole – I see what you mean. With Barnes and with early McEwan I agree: at times I lap up their precision and will continue to do so.But with some more recent McEwan and particularly with Amis and Rushdie, Josipovici is spot on when he says, "I wonder, though, where it came from, this petty-bourgeois uptightness, this terror of not being in control, this schoolboy desire to boast and to shock." There is a need to show off that reduces the work, makes it (to use Josipovici's term) hollow.This so-what feeling was so evident on reading Sarah Hall's book How to Paint a Dead Man. I thought, how sad that this evident talent is being wasted on a template novel with a cliched collection of characters. Reading recently that Hall took a Masters in Creative Writing explained much.

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