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Les Variations Josipovici

Metaleptic Variations

Variarions métaleptiques
Dominique Pernot


Les derniers romans de Gabriel Josipovici offrent beaucoup de variété, allant de la parodie, de la fiction comique légère, dans Only Joking et Making Mistakes, à des sujets plus graves, plus personnels, ontologiques. Dans un court roman, Everything Passes, et dans un roman majeur, Goldberg: Variations, le lecteur est amené à se poser des questions sur la nature mystérieuse de la réalité, qui est, trop souvent, acceptée sans conteste par de nombreux romanciers de l’école réaliste. Une gamme étourdissante de techniques, telles que l’hyperréalisme, le gothique, la mise en abyme, la mise en fantaisie, l’intertextualité, pour ne citer que quelques exemples, construisent et déconstruisent l’illusion du monde représenté et menace le fondement même de l’activité du romancier. Les variations multiples et l’utilisation d’un procédé remarquable – la métalepse – dans Goldberg: Variations, permettent à l’écrivain de réfléchir à sa propre scénographie et à son activité personnelle. Josipovici fait un métacommentaire phénoménologique, autoréflexif, sur la condition de l’écrivain et reconnaît les limites de son entreprise, tout en acceptant la présence éphémère, évanescente de l’artiste qui passe « dans le monde », à l’instar de l’artiste errant représenté par Paul Klee, avec qui le narrateur s’identifie profondément.

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  • 1 Gabriel Josipovici, What Ever Happened to Modernism? New Haven (CT)/London: Yale UP, 2010, (...)

1Gabriel Josipovici has been writing fiction (novels, short stories and plays) for over 40 years, as his first short novel, The Inventory, came out in 1968, and the latest, Infinity, in 2012. His 18 novels, never exceeding 200 pages, as well as short stories, show an amazing diversity of subjects, multiple approaches to different topics and existential situations, while reflecting a wide range of novelistic techniques. Indeed, it would not be revolutionary to contend that Josipovici espoused some of the various literary trends of his era, exhibiting nouveau roman characteristics, even “experimentalist” ones, in the 1970s. However, over the same period, he has not been averse to writing a classic story in a more traditional style. But his mark on the literary scene, although very idiosyncratic, has never been properly acknowledged by the British public or critics. It is obvious that Josipovici refuses to take the popular thoroughfares, to pander to what he calls, in What Ever Happened to Modernism?, “High Art and Fashion”, to a particular English brand of realism, to “a robust pragmatic tradition, always suspicious of the things of the mind”1 and to the vogue of historical novels. According to him, the reader’s attention is too often focused on the past or present tragedies of the world, relegating all personal and philosophical concerns to the background.

  • 2 Gabriel Josipovici, Only Joking [2006], London: CB editions, 2010.
  • 3 Gabriel Josipovici, After and Making Mistakes, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2009.
  • 4 Gabriel Josipovici, Everything Passes, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2006.
  • 5 Gabriel Josipovici, Goldberg: Variations, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2002.
  • 6 Gabriel Josipovici, What Ever Happened to Modernism? op. cit., 164.
  • 7 Ibid., 187.

2If readers bought one of his novels published after 2005, Only Joking2, which was first published in Germany in 2006 under the title Nur ein Scherz, or his last two (After & Making Mistakes3 or Everything Passes4), they might be rather surprised to discover that Goldberg: Variations5 came from the same pen, a few years before, in 2002. They would conclude that this latter novel shares few characteristics with the later ones, as their represented worlds seem rather traditional and realistic. However, Josipovici’s fiction is not monolithic, but varied, as his latest anthology of short stories, Heart’s Wings and Other Stories, shows. This implies that it can be realistic, but also antirealistic and even postmodernist. The rejection of traditional storytelling, what could be called realistic conventions, with its insistence on characters who “do not flout the laws of probability”6 is typical of his work, but this does not imply that his stories are devoid of realism. In his long career, we can observe, first, his enthusiastic adherence to avant-garde, “experimentalist”, nouveau roman technique, but also to less daring, more sedate narrative formulas. I cannot help thinking that the definition of modernism given by Josipovici in his latest critical work, that “only an art which recognizes the pitfalls inherent in both realism and abstraction will be really alive”7 sums up what he is and how he has been trying to accomplish himself.

  • 8 Stephen Abell, “Scales, Trills and Runs”, The Times Literary Supplement, 20 December 20 (...)

3I must confess that I have always had a soft spot for The Air We Breathe and Contre-Jour: A Triptych after Pierre Bonnard. The Air We Breathe is a very original novel which uses nouveau roman techniques with a rare mastery of the narrative tempo while Contre-Jour: A Triptych after Pierre Bonnard presents a slow but unrelenting deconstruction of reality, a finely executed closing of the triptych. Yet, to my mind, although many other novels and short stories have their own merits, Goldberg: Variations remains one of his greatest achievements. Stephen Abell in his review of the novel writes that “Josipovici tells a number of stories rather well, and simultaneously provides a provoking commentary of them” and adds that it is “a testing of intellectual boundaries, a running-through of theoretical scales”8. That is why I will concentrate on this novel in this article. Before, however, I will study the novels which came out after Goldberg: Variations and analyse them, describing their plots and their effects. These novels help the reader to understand the evolution of his fiction, the gradual softening of the metafictional elements and the return to a more realistic or less unrealistic use of fiction, emphasizing the tour de force that Goldberg: Variations is.

Playful Variations

4Only Joking comprises 47 short sections of dialogues, with few scenic indications, and no physical or moral description (we never know what the characters look like), no summary and no authorial or narratorial commentary. It is essentially a dramatic work, and could easily be put on stage, a dominant and persistent feature of Josipovici’s fiction.

5It is composed of multiple, intertwined, deliberately implausible, confusing and confused plots. The main one revolves around the Baron, who has recruited Mr Alphonse, a private eye, who used to be a clown, to “tail” or to spy on his wife, Elspeth, whom he suspects of being unfaithful. Ironically, she, herself, has already taken on the same sleuth, as she is worried about the Baron’s will, and even invites him to the restaurant every week. Alphonse, who pretends to be a professional detective, confesses to her he is also employed by the Baron to follow her and reveals himself to be feckless, incapable of achieving anything, except, accidentally, shooting himself in the foot, while the Baron discovers that the very man his wife was seeing was Alphonse himself. Meanwhile, a couple of outsiders, Natasha and her boyfriend, Charlie, plot to get hold of Alphonse’s wad of banknotes, so it is planned that she should try to catch Alphonse’s interest and move into his flat. She picks someone’s wallet while she knows Alphonse is watching in order to take him in. She hides her real identity from him and calls herself Isabelle. She goes through his belongings in vain, but after discovering her dishonest trick, he tries to shoot her. She finally manages to steal the money hidden in Alphonse’s accordion, before having it nicked stupidly by a bunch of kids in the street. His lack of professional competence is also underlined when he botches the killing of the Baron’s sister-in-law, so he looks rather grotesque.

6The second plot is as ludicrous as the first, since a young but poor artist, Charlie, succeeds in marrying Rosie, the daughter of a wealthy Italian restaurant owner, Lino, against all the odds. The latter, the head of a gang of burglars, plans to steal the Braque from the Baron’s son’s home. Thanks to an extremely clever ploy, Charlie sets his camera opposite the door of the house, where the future burglary takes place, and films the thieves in flagrante delicto, getting in and out of the house. This allows him to be in a position to sell his precious work of art at a high price to Lino, thus ensuring his artistic success and his marriage to his daughter. Moreover, in the last section, it is revealed that the Baron has orchestrated everything, not only his own escape to a Greek island with Natasha, but also the ditching of his own wife, Elspeth, who can now move to Felix’s cottage with Alphonse. He even planned the change of life of his own driver, Felix, enabling him to travel round the world.

7This novel does not claim to reflect our society in a realistic manner since the characters are not round characters, but a gallery of types: the aristocratic circle, the Baron (who remains anonymous) and his second or third wife, the apparently professional detective, the young, impecunious, second-rate artist, the treacherous woman. The situations are literary topoï, characteristic of light comedy, even farce: the ex-clown, who is also an accordion player, is in charge of the investigation. The clear parody of a detective story points to the fictionality of the narrative.

8Some metafictional elements within the text also warn the reader about the artificiality of the represented world, for example, when the Baron, a master puppeteer himself, is ready to watch a “shadow puppet play” at the end of the novel. (157) These characters, indeed, look like puppets, “papier-mâché models”, (46) even though the writer does not pull the strings too hard. The recurrent expression “only joking” reminds us that this novel should not be seen as a slice of reality, as in a traditional detective story, or run-of-the-mill thriller, a product of the realistic conveyor belt, but as a parody, in the same way as the speech delivered by the “distinguished critic, Hector Zamora”, (144-147) is a send-up of the usual pseudo-literary discourse on an insignificant work of art. The frequent repetition of “only joking” throughout the novel is a reminder that the represented world should not be taken too seriously. This particular work is part of Josipovici’s Variations, a divertimento in his work, as sprightly as a Mozart concerto, and anticipates Making Mistakes.

  • 9 Gabriel Josipovici, After and Making Mistakes, op. cit., 238.

9If Only Joking deconstructs the referential illusion with so much zest, emphasizing the metafictionality of the represented world, Making Mistakes remains less exuberant, although they both share the same topic. The flavour of this novel is definitely distinctive, with its intellectual and detached gaze, as it shows the deep complexity of human beings, the fickle nature of the male and of the female in his or her quest for happiness (often equated with sex) throughout the dialogues of the twenty-five chapters. Even if the approach is more realistic, it still belongs to the comedy of manners, as it is a reworking of Mozart’s Così fan tutte, on a less burlesque note, but with some recognizable stereotypes: the flighty husband, the typical seductress who ends up making scenes, the apparently wise psychologist (Alfonso) who explains the reasons for human vagaries. The plot is not only formal, imitating a geometrical pattern, with two couples (two sisters in love with two different young men) who have been friends for a long time and who get separated and unite again after an exchange of partners, but also ironical as the composition of the couples is reversed. The dialogues can be witty, reminiscent of G. B. Shaw or even Oscar Wilde, for example, when Tony, a male protagonist, speaks: “Where would the world be without love? Empty. Of humans at least. But it’s a young person’s game. After a certain age you are entitled to view it a little sceptically”.9

10Josipovici‘s brilliant versatility cannot be but acknowledged, as he is able to create not only his own metafictional comedy (Only Joking), but also adapt a dramma giocoso to our modern world (Making Mistakes).

The Trembling of Life

11However, one would have a completely wrong idea of Josipovici’s narrative fiction if one only read these last two novels. After, which came out in 2009, as well as Everything Passes published three years before, offer, in my opinion, a more idiosyncratic view of Josipovici’s personal poetics. The story may seem to echo the preceding ones when the protagonist of After, Alan Schnaidaire, meets a former girlfriend, Claude Grey, who disturbs his whole married life. Both are tentatively trying to reconstruct a past adventure at the seaside, but what happened becomes hazy and uncertain as different conflicting versions are given. Her final disappearance adds more mystery to this strange romance. “Do you remember as much as you need?” (58) Claude asks Alan, or do we fantasize as much as we need? Reality, desire, fantasy, memory have become so enmeshed that it becomes impossible to disentangle them.

  • 10 Gabriel Josipovici, What Ever Happened to Modernism? op. cit., 164.

12The text does not give a clear, transparent, well-articulated image of the world unlike realistic fiction. On the contrary! Light metafictional elements in After allow the introduction of an “authorial” commentary in a surreptitious way. For example, Alan, who is both a writer and a university teacher on sabbatical, says: “But people keep thinking they have to be clear. I’m not clear about a lot of things but that’s all right. That’s what I always tell my students: genuine puzzlement is much more productive than false clarity”. (80) This statement reflects Josipovici’s view on contemporary fiction which is replete with falsely transparent worlds. It mirrors his critique of realist writers, which is expressed in What Ever Happened to Modernism? “We never doubt what they are telling us, whether it is about the way someone speaks (‘sententiously’), the weather (‘an intolerable hot evening’), or an action (‘I half carried her to the settee’),” Josipovici writes. “The openness, the ‘trembling’ of life itself” is lacking, since these narratives are confidently uttered, “giving the lie to our own sense of things being confused, dark, impossible to grasp fully”.10

  • 11 Gabriel Josipovici, Everything Passes, op. cit., 28.

13The gap between the represented world in contemporary fiction and authentic life is one of the major concerns of Josipovici. A genuine writer has to find his own style, his personal vision of the world as the protagonist of Everything Passes says: “the trouble with most works of literature is that they face you head on. It’s never like that in real life. Things just slip past us and we’re hardly aware of them before they’ve gone”11.

  • 12 Gabriel Josipovici, What Ever Happened to Modernism? op. cit., 168.

14Indeed, this novel gives a good indication of how Josipovici refuses to use “the clichés of the middlebrow novel”12, and allows the reader to get a proper feel of his original poetics.

15This short work of sixty pages, divided into brief paragraphs, does not record time in a chronological order. The reader has to reconstruct the different periods of time which correspond to the protagonist’s past. We are not only literally plunged into a fragmented world, but also into imaginary scenes, fantasies. A succession of frames, of slight conversations, and extremely minimal visual details constitute the novel. The opening page provides an excellent example:

A room.
He stands at the window.
And a voice says: Everything passes. The good and the bad. The joy and the sorrow. Everything passes.
A room.
He stands at the window.
He stands.
Silence. (1)

16The repetition of this scene throughout the novel makes the reader feel both the weight and the wait, the heavy ponderousness of time, its inexorable passage and the timeless wait of man in the silent greyness of an empty room.

  • 13 Gérard Genette, Figures III, Paris : Seuil, 1972, 243.

17Moreover, in the third paragraph, the indication of a “cracked pane” (“He stands at the window. Cracked pane.” [2]) in the room can be a referential, realistic element within the represented world. However, it contains a symbolic meaning as the crack breaks our field of vision, our unity and our rational coherence: the fissure in the represented world of the fiction symbolizes the crack in the protagonist’s mental world. The crack in the pane, which foregrounds the frame-break or the metalepsis occurring near the end of the novel (“‘I saw myself standing in an empty room,’ he says. ‘I was standing at the window, looking out through the cracked pane’” [55]) exemplifies the cleavage of the diegetic world. A metalepsis is, according to Gérard Genette in Figures III, the passage from one narrative to another or any intrusion of an extradiegetic narrator or narratee into the diegetic universe13. The transgression of narrative levels is akin to frame-breaking, a term generally used in Anglo-Saxon criticism. The disjointedness of the pane dislocates the coherence of the story and the sanity of the character: “then I saw my face at the window, behind the cracked pane. Looking out”. (55)

  • 14 Evelyne Londyn, Maurice Blanchot, Romancier, Paris : Nizet, 1976, 71. My translation of « q (...)

18The cancellation of the primary diegetic world stresses the deeply ontological nature of Josipovici’s fiction and opens it onto a new space, the space of subjectivity. Evelyne Londyn describes a similar scene in her commentary on Celui qui ne m’accompagnait pas, a novel by Maurice Blanchot: “someone who is the self of the narrator but as being impersonal, someone is this self outside my own self who looks at this room from the outside whereas I can see it from the inside”14. The uncertainty of the projected world sends the reader back to the narrator, to his spatial and ontological status. The precariousness of the fictive world, its unreliability and invented nature (the protagonist repeats the word “sometimes” [57]) foregrounds the lack of referentiality of the fictive world, its illusory existence, and draws attention to the complexity, strangeness and distance of reality.

19This underlines the artificiality of any representation, of the impossibility of mimesis. Besides, the instability of the diegetic ground, the shattering of the foundations of the fictive illusion has philosophical and ethical repercussions. The fragility of our existence is significantly stressed, our grasp remains weak and our sense of reality can be demolished in no time. Everything Passes shows the basic brittleness of life, its lack of ontological firmness: it could be compared to a religious sermon alluding to the Book of Job or Ecclesiastes, although there is no reference to God, since everything passes, the good and the bad, the joy and the sorrow. It teaches us patience, fortitude and stoic virtues.

20The chaotic nature of reality implies that the act of writing and its result can only be inadequate and give a partial, imprecise view of the world. “All in the right order” (50) remains an impossible task for anyone who can hold a pen, which is translated by the whiteness of the page: “nothing was legible. And the page underneath was white”. (53)

21Totality, coherence, chronology, consequentiality, which are all features characteristic of the realists, do not belong to the world of Josipovici’s fiction.

Metaleptic Variations in Goldberg: Variations

  • 15 Ian Brunskill, “Nur Ein Scherz”, The Times Literary Supplement, 30 June 2006, 22.
  • 16 Gabriel Josipovici, Goldberg: Variations, op. cit., 1.

22Similar traits can also be noticed in the novel, Goldberg: Variations, which is a “dense and ambitious novel” with its “elaborate Bach-inspired counterpoint”, according to Ian Brunskill15. Josipovici introduces a multiplicity of narrative effects, a variation on different registers, an original counterpoint in his fugue. The text is composed of two principal parallel narratives. The first one, the melodic subject, relates to Goldberg, a rather poor preceptor living in the eighteenth century, who goes to Westfield’s house, in order to read to the master of the house. As Mr Tobias Westfield suffers from insomnia, Goldberg “is to read to him till dawn or else till [he is] sure he is asleep”16. The second narrative, the countersubject, which abruptly starts at chapter 14, belongs to another century, to our era with Gerald, a writer visiting the Unterlinden Museum in Colmar with his wife, Edith.

23The diegetic continuity is suddenly interrupted by the use of the collage technique in chapter 5, “The Sand”, with its unexpected and disconnected insertion of an extract from a history book by W. Douglas Simpson, The Ancient Stones of Scotland. In a clever way, the apparently gratuitous and loose intrusion of this descriptive, realistic and referential excerpt is proleptically motivated in chapter 7, when it is linked to the characters of the first narrative. The content of this new frame is finally recuperated and integrated into the continuity of the represented world. In chapter 13, the current is inverted: a fictitious character, Isaac Sinclair, threatens to become a historical and referential character when his life parallels that of Friedrich Hölderlin, whose verses are quoted. The introduction of the young Thomas De Quincey foregrounds the effect of the real even further, conflicts with the fictional nature of Sinclair and reminds us of historiographic metafiction. The frontiers between history and story become blurred.

24Similar to this collage is the hyperrealism of chapter 11 entitled “Containers”, which is utterly disconnected from the previous diegetic world. A minute description of a mysterious object (“a shelf in a shallow recess, above which is a cupboard” [67]) interrupts the main narrative. However, like “The Sand”, this chapter will be integrated within the narrative framework in chapter 14, when Gerald stops in Colmar in front of “a strange still-life”. (101) This realistic piece belongs to the second principal narrative. Reading the novel implies a constant effort of reconstruction, of trying to fit the new puzzling piece into the general picture.

  • 17 Jean Ricardou, Le Nouveau roman, Paris : Seuil, 1973, 98.

25Furthermore, the two narratives become so much entangled that a scene belonging to one is transferred to the other: Sarah, Goldberg’s daughter, has a dream in the first narrative (“a speckled butterfly flew into her ear and even her head” [62]), which becomes a reality when Leila Haverkampf, whose husband is the Swiss private owner of twentieth-century works of art and of many Klees, tells Goldberg on the phone that that is precisely what happened to her. (145) This strange repetition of an improbable event is what Jean Ricardou calls a “mise en fantaisie17 as the imaginary sequence in the first narrative becomes an unreal one in the second narrative, proving that this second one is as fictive as the first. The problematic and fragmentary representation is also heightened with the introduction of a Gothic or Victorian episode. The nature of Chapter 7 entitled “Ballantyne” is highly improbable with the uncanny display of telepathy between twins (James and Henry) and the weird meeting between James, Captain William Ballantyne’s son, and his unknown, lost and deformed sister in Orkney (with “webbed hand and feet” [47]). The teratological is combined with the sacrilegious, since the possibility of incest is mentioned. The credibility of the narrative is partially spoilt as more unlikely elements are introduced and the deconstructive movement gains impetus.

26Chapter 25, “The Postcard”, brings a radical change. A powerful deconstructive movement follows with the introduction of a shattering frame-break: the main narrative (Goldberg’s experience) is taken over by the first person narrator, by the subject-narrator in charge of the narration: “What have I to do with Goldberg, Westfield, Ballantyne and the rest? What do I know about England or Scotland in the year 1800, or about the Jews of that time or the landed gentry? Why should I want to tell stories and to tell them in this way?” (171) The bold metalepsis modifies the focus of the novel as the pretence of a traditional, pseudo-historical story is abandoned. The first narrative has been captured by the more contemporary one.

  • 18 Alain Goulet, Voix, traces, avènement. L’écriture et son sujet, Caen : PU de Caen, (...)

27Not only is the first diegesis destroyed, but the second is also abruptly obliterated. In chapter 26, “Between”, in a remarkable metaleptic leap, the hyperdiegetic narrative undergoes the same fate as the preceding story of Goldberg, destroying all referential illusion. Another narrator, “the abstract subject” (if we follow Van Den Heuvel’s classification of the different subjects in a fictional work18) intervenes, discarding both preceding representations: “these figures he has created, tried to breathe life into, have very little credibility”. He accuses himself of anachronisms: “his sense of the period is weak, some of the events he has tried to invoke smell vaguely of the eighteenth, others of the nineteenth century”. (175)

28The destruction of all the represented worlds is all the more powerful as the second narrative is also cancelled. The two previous narrators are discarded, and proved to be merely the invention of the extradiegetic, “abstract” narrator, who questions the value of the preceding mimesis:

[…] for what have they to do with him, these great parks, these Skara Braes, these country houses with their great parks, these quarrels between husbands and wives, these holidays in Switzerland and meetings with collectors? They are far away from his own life and his own concerns, from his own needs and his own desires. (176)

29Both preceding diegetic worlds are the creation of this new writer’s imagination (“he has tried to enliven things by inventing a present-day figure” [176]) in the same way as Goldberg is a figment of Gerald’s. A vertiginous descent into narrative depths: one feels that the downward movement could become infinite – an infinite regress – without ever coinciding with the concrete writer, Josipovici himself, with the unending interposition of a new persona between his real self and the projected one, playing his own variation, his idiosyncratic fugue for three voices.

  • 19 Gabriel Josipovici, The World and The Book: A Study of Modern Fiction, Basingstoke/ (...)

30Chapter 26 represents a unique moment in all the written production of Josipovici. The disruption of and the disjunction in the diegetic planes of the narrative, the general crisis and self-questioning of the represented world constitutes the heart of the novel. The “trompe-l’œil effect of modern art” here is unprecedented. The realization “that we are dealing not with the world but with one more object in the world, one made by a human being”19 metamorphoses the nature of the work itself, adding a deeply ontological level.

31The singular metaleptic regime, consisting in the destruction of the illusory reality of the fictional world, foregrounds the discourse of a hitherto unheard voice. The erasure of the diegetic world opens the way for the emergence of enunciation. The passage from the mimetic, pseudo-referential, fictional mode to a critical, more personal commentary, to a self-reflexive metacommentary, is linked to the profound questioning of the act of writing. On several occasions, in different novels, Josipovici insists, not only on the difficulty of writing and the consequent loss of inspiration embodied in the typical writer’s block, but also on the acute feeling of failure, revealing the sorry plight of the author. In Goldberg: Variations, a series of writers – Goldberg, Gerald, He – are introduced, and all of them mention the struggles writers have to face. In chapter 25, “The Postcard”, Gerald confesses, “I sit at my desk, the postcard propped in front of me […] I have my book to finish,” expressing his deep misgivings, as he is “racked by doubts”, (171) which cause his sleeplessness. The preceding chapter also shows Goldberg’s crisis: “what I have been writing here is nonsense, a wild dream of flight, an evasion of responsibility”. (170) The rejection and condemnation of the represented world on paper goes further with Gerald, who is even allowed to “see the desk at which I am sitting and the page lit by two candles, on which I am writing. The words appear on the page before me and I watch them as they form. But it is not I who form them”. (183) These three voices reject their own products, criticize the fictitious worlds on the page characterized by their “absence”. They disavow the represented worlds as weak, unfaithful, and they disown these unworthy “marks”. (178)

32Ending the novel at this juncture, when the new narrator repudiates the created fictitious world, would be a depressing avowal of defeat, a sad melody which is visible in the temporary fit of despair of Goldberg, who confesses that he would rather “wander out into the world, alone and invisible, without a place to rest his head, without skills” and feels the “need to disappear” (168) in order to become a wandering Jew like his ancestors, like Abraham. (169) The recognition that the creation of fictive worlds can in no way translate our own needs and desires echoes the disconnection between fiction writing and the authentic reflection of the nature of the writer’s self. Is the result of writing independent of the deep nature of its creator? Is it an anonymous and impersonal activity with not much value except as a pastime? Is writing condemned to be sterile écriture, a writing characterized by absence?

  • 20 Gérard Genette, op. cit., 93.
  • 21 Henri Quéré, Intermittences du sens, Paris : PUF, 1992, 3.

33The introduction of a mysterious voice, (“the other”), who acts as a helpful, friendly advisor, an optimistic conscience, brings some consolation to the narrator. The ensuing dialogue provokes a fundamental change in the tone of the narrative: from dysphoria to euphoria. After a fit of discouragement and despair comes the phase of repossession, reappropriation of the space of writing, of its very act. The conversation gives him back the confidence to carry on, to think about the paradoxes of writing: “what is near can only be arrived at by talking about what is far away”. One must take into account the “importance of between”, of “that which lies between” (177), these “effets de presence” as Genette writes in Métalepse20, or of what Henri Quéré calls “intermittences du sens21, this constant exchange between “discontinuities and continuation”.

  • 22 Ibid., 35.
  • 23 Brian McHale, Postmodernist Fiction, London, New York: Routledge, 1987, 118.
  • 24 Lucien Dällenbach, Le Récit spéculaire, Paris : Seuil, 1977, 131.
  • 25 Gabriel Josipovici, Goldberg: Variations, op. cit., 180.
  • 26 Jacques Derrida, L’Écriture et la différence, Paris : Seuil, 1967, 339.

34The “instanciation22, the course or the itinerary followed by the enunciation, manifests itself in a spectacular and original manner: the next chapter entitled “Wander-Artist” is not only an ingenious mise en abyme of the writer’s condition but also a very apt metacommentary on it. The Wander-Artist painted by Klee on a postcard, reproduced on the cover of the novel, is propped both on Gerald’s desk (173) and on the new narrator’s desk. The latest voice projects himself onto the artist painted on the postcard. Thanks to this new device, a “‘still’ representation is transformed before our very eyes into an ‘animated’ sequence,”23 the new persona (and indirectly, the writer himself) celebrates the power and value of creativity. The complex mise en abyme, a “transcendental” one, if we adopt Dällenbach’s classification24, shows the crucial importance of the artist-writer in the world and the mystery of writing. It is impossible to justify the origin and the aim of this movement in this passage. Writing like walking remains an adventure, which is not planned since it is neither history, “the dead weight of history”, nor “pure invention”25, as they are immersed in a particular language, history and rules. The ontological self-questioning (“Who I am? Where do I come from? Nobody knows. Where am I going? Nobody knows” [179]) must be relinquished so that only its dynamic nature remains. A writer should not worry about the impulse to write a narrative, about the fictitious work which is created, but must be pleased with the sheer movement of writing. He should appreciate his own evanescence, the presence of the trace, which is “the erasure of one’s own presence”, consisting in “the threat or anguish of its irremediable disappearance, of the disappearance of its disappearance”26.

  • 27 Alain Goulet, op. cit., 18. My translation of « une épiphanie déstabilisante, engag (...)

35The answer of the “other” in chapter 26 stresses the hidden, indirect nature of the act of writing itself. One must content oneself with being in motion, with “passing through the world”, (180) welcoming the advent of a short-lived voice, the fulguration of an evanescent and authentic voice, an epiphany (“a destabilizing epiphany, involving the corporeality of the mind”27), an ecstasis outside the different times, the “different bubbles, the different worlds”. (183) In this chapter Josipovici justifies that writing, however strange the result may be, is never a gratuitous, impersonal, worthless activity.

36After this uplifting and comforting voice, the melodic, basic story is resumed on a different note: the coda is euphoric. It shows Goldberg’s victory: he has finally managed to make Westfield sleep. This is followed by a humorous, childish mise en fantaisie with a waltz round the table and by the return to the beginning of the main narrative describing Goldberg’s arrival. By beginning at the end, Josipovici prevents any attempt to order the story chronologically and by rejecting traditional narrative forms, he underlines the unique experience which writing confers on the subject. The musical term “variations”, indicating the changes or elaborations in harmony, rhythm and melody, which is highlighted in the paratext with the representation of a musical scale, offers Josipovici the opportunity to play his own literary variations, subverting traditional, realist principles. The multiple elements in the fugal texture of the novel, the ceaseless variations such as hyperrealism, Gothic details, metalepses, frame-breaks, mise en abyme, specularity, mise en fantaisie, obtrusive intertextual references, dislocated chronology, achronicity and lack of causality illustrate his ability to play unfamiliar notes, to orchestrate different voices. The secret, veiled presence of the writer symbolized by the wandering artist in the painting reminds the reader that Josipovici’s écriture is extremely personal and deeply original. The writer is not dead yet in spite of many ominous prophecies by eminent critics. The use of multiple devices, of modern and postmodern techniques, allows Josipovici to play a singularly new tune and an inimitable metaleptic fugue.

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ABELL Stephen, “Scales, Trills and Runs”, The Times Literary Supplement, 20 December 2002, 21.

BRUNSKILL Ian, “Nur Ein Scherz”, The Times Literary Supplement, 30 June 2006, 22.

DÄLLENBACH Lucien, Le Récit spéculaire, Paris : Seuil, 1977.

DERRIDA Jacques, L’Écriture et la différence, Paris : Seuil, 1967.

GENETTE Gérard, Figures III, Paris : Seuil, 1972.

GENETTE Gérard, Métalepse, Paris : Seuil, 2004.

GOULET Alain, Voix, traces, avènement. L’écriture et son sujet, Caen : PU de Caen, 1999.

JOSIPOVICI Gabriel, The Inventory, London: Michael Joseph, 1968.

JOSIPOVICI Gabriel, The World and The Book: A Study of Modern Fiction, Basingstoke/London: Macmillan Press, 1971.

JOSIPOVICI Gabriel, The Air We Breathe, Brighton, Sussex: Harvester Press, 1981.

JOSIPOVICI Gabriel, Contre-Jour: A Triptych after Pierre Bonnard, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 1986.

JOSIPOVICI Gabriel, Goldberg: Variations, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2002.

JOSIPOVICI Gabriel, Everything Passes, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2006.

JOSIPOVICI Gabriel, After and Making Mistakes, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2009.

JOSIPOVICI Gabriel, Heart’s Wings and Other Stories, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2010.

JOSIPOVICI Gabriel, Only Joking [2006], London: CB Editions, 2010.

JOSIPOVICI Gabriel, What Ever Happened to Modernism? New Haven (CT)/London: Yale UP, 2010.

JOSIPOVICI Gabriel, Infinity: The Story of a Moment, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2012.

LONDYN Evelyne, Maurice Blanchot, Romancier, Paris : Nizet, 1976.

McHALE Brian, Postmodernist Fiction, London, New York: Routledge, 1987.

QUÉRÉ Henri, Intermittences du sens, Paris : PUF, 1992.

RICARDOU Jean, Le Nouveau roman, Paris : Seuil, 1973.

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1 Gabriel Josipovici, What Ever Happened to Modernism? New Haven (CT)/London: Yale UP, 2010, 175.

2 Gabriel Josipovici, Only Joking [2006], London: CB editions, 2010.

3 Gabriel Josipovici, After and Making Mistakes, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2009.

4 Gabriel Josipovici, Everything Passes, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2006.

5 Gabriel Josipovici, Goldberg: Variations, Manchester: Carcanet Press, 2002.

6 Gabriel Josipovici, What Ever Happened to Modernism? op. cit., 164.

7 Ibid., 187.

8 Stephen Abell, “Scales, Trills and Runs”, The Times Literary Supplement, 20 December 2002, 21.

9 Gabriel Josipovici, After and Making Mistakes, op. cit., 238.

10 Gabriel Josipovici, What Ever Happened to Modernism? op. cit., 164.

11 Gabriel Josipovici, Everything Passes, op. cit., 28.

12 Gabriel Josipovici, What Ever Happened to Modernism? op. cit., 168.

13 Gérard Genette, Figures III, Paris : Seuil, 1972, 243.

14 Evelyne Londyn, Maurice Blanchot, Romancier, Paris : Nizet, 1976, 71. My translation of « quelqu’un qui est le moi du narrateur mais en tant qu’impersonnel, quelqu’un est ce moi en dehors de moi qui regarde cette pièce du dehors alors que je la vois du dedans ».

15 Ian Brunskill, “Nur Ein Scherz”, The Times Literary Supplement, 30 June 2006, 22.

16 Gabriel Josipovici, Goldberg: Variations, op. cit., 1.

17 Jean Ricardou, Le Nouveau roman, Paris : Seuil, 1973, 98.

18 Alain Goulet, Voix, traces, avènement. L’écriture et son sujet, Caen : PU de Caen, 1999, 126.

19 Gabriel Josipovici, The World and The Book: A Study of Modern Fiction, Basingstoke/London: Macmillan Press, 1971, 299.

20 Gérard Genette, op. cit., 93.

21 Henri Quéré, Intermittences du sens, Paris : PUF, 1992, 3.

22 Ibid., 35.

23 Brian McHale, Postmodernist Fiction, London, New York: Routledge, 1987, 118.

24 Lucien Dällenbach, Le Récit spéculaire, Paris : Seuil, 1977, 131.

25 Gabriel Josipovici, Goldberg: Variations, op. cit., 180.

26 Jacques Derrida, L’Écriture et la différence, Paris : Seuil, 1967, 339.

27 Alain Goulet, op. cit., 18. My translation of « une épiphanie déstabilisante, engageant la corporéité de l’esprit ».

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Dominique Pernot, « Metaleptic Variations »Revue LISA/LISA e-journal [En ligne], vol. XII-n° 2 | 2014, mis en ligne le 27 mai 2014, consulté le 22 janvier 2021. URL : ; DOI :

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Dominique Pernot

Dijon, France. Dominique Pernot est professeur agrégé au Lycée Européen Charles De Gaulle à Dijon. Il a soutenu sa thèse en 1994 intitulée « La quête dans l’œuvre de Gabriel Josipovici ». Il a également publié trois articles : « Biblical, Modern and Postmodern Winding and Unwinding in Gabriel Josipovici’s fiction » ( Germanisch-Romanisch Monatschrift , 1999) ; « The Lessons of the World and the Book » ( Études Britanniques Contemporaines , n°24) et « Memory as Deranged and Immemorial » ( Études Britanniques Contemporaines , n° 29). Il s’intéresse à la littérature britannique contemporaine, en particulier, aux différentes formes d’écriture et aux techniques littéraires.

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