Sunday Salon: the last note
Posted November 4, 2007on:
After Sorrentino I spent the rest of the evening eating, doing my usual Sunday on-line reading (which includes the week’s postings at Go Fug Yourself and The Superficial) and read one more chapter of the Josipovici. My last comment will be a sort of hodge podge of observations that managed to make it through the timbits clogging my brain.
There are one or two things I did not mention in my former comments on the different writing styles Josipovici has displayed so far in Goldberg: Variations. There are the crisp, “normal” chapters that have a mix of narrative and dialogue, and the short encyclopaedic entries such as the one on the Orkney Neolithic settlement. (There will be at least one more, a detailed description of a painting in a style I don’t remember at the moment, because I first read of it in a later chapter.)
In chapters 4 and 8 Goldberg and Hammond are all dialogue (chapter 8 has a short lede). This allows Goldberg to pontificate on any matter Hammond brings up but, like Julius Caesar in Thornton Wilder’s The Ides of March, one never fights the sinking eye lids or roll eyes at his pretensions. Golberg is an actively intelligent, lucid speaker who could probably make a telephone book seem worthy of in-depth discussion. And like The Ides of March, Goldberg never goes on and on. He works up to his point, strikes the target, rounds it off nicely. Hammond makes his interjections, usually questions or disagreements, which generously allows Goldberg to refine his opinion further.
They are both dialogues but different kinds. Chapter 4 is a straight philosophical discussion on the links between language and civilisation, what it means to be a civilised society, and if it is feasible to become a part of it if one is raised without even the concept of a language. Chapter 8 gives us what suspiciously looks like literary criticism. Hammond asks why Homer presents the lying Odysseus as a hero the reader should admire, and Goldberg talks of the value of (then) contemporary society’s unequivocal reverence of truth (at least in theory), how to define honour in relation to one’s priorities (even what the writer presents as proper priorities), and what it means to live and to endure. It’s a nice off shoot from the Homeric references in Maria’s chapter with her memories of The Iliad.
That’s it from me for the night, and I’m not sure how to continue my Josipovici posts, which I want to do. I think I’ll play it by ear. I may save any more posts on the book ’till the next Sunday Salon as I’d like to keep them all together, but I may have finished the book by then, so it wouldn’t be written in the same format. (I doubt it would be a proper “review” either. That intention would cause another writing block.)
Another idea I had was sparked by Frumious Bandersnatch, who is another Sunday Salon participant: I should leave my Sundays for rereads rather than new books. Of course, I break reading plans as soon as I make them, but I may follow it on a limited basis. Blogging plans have the same victim status but I’m still very eager (as of this moment) to tell you of my changing attitude to Beowulf, so expect something on that this week, possibly tomorrow.
This grand scheme did not go quite as grandly as I envisioned but, what the hell, I got someone to buy the damn thing. I hope my posts weren’t too incoherent. I’ll leave you with the first part of my draft review for the novel. You’ll see that I stopped at the point when I would be forced to directly address the book’s contents. Good night! I’m off to bed.
Josipovici’s novel is a perfect case of how litblogging has refined my reading life. I’ve been reading litblogs for 3 years now, but before it was to a lesser extent because they made up a relatively small percentage of my daily internet readings. It was not until I started my own site and intentionally searched for similar ones that my feeds went beyond the more popular sites and a few popular academic blogs. Not only did I find more critical and journal-like blogs, I found give-aways! Free meant that I would enter to win just about any book except those that I knew I would not enjoy.
That’s probably how I happened on Cruelest Month, Michael Signorelli’s blog. An editorial assistant for Ecco and Harper Perennial his site is focused on poetry but includes the occasional novel and Goldberg: Variations was one of them. I wasn’t enthusiastic about the give-away at the time: I entered primarily because I was aggrieved at missing out on the Zbigniew Herbert collection and I wanted to win something, anything. I’d never heard of Josipovici before then and it was not the sort of book that would have captured my attention unless a favourite blogger championed it. Imagine my surprise when I picked it up last month and found myself falling deeply in love.
One of the most assured ways of winning my ardour is to make me think and to make the process fun. If I’m not having a good time, I’m not going to work for the allusion, I’m not going to pause to savour a sentence, to reread a passage in order to comfortably grasp its meaning, to shift my gaze to a random spot and attempt at unfurling an idea. Instead I will yawn, flip to the back to calculate how many pages are left, find myself gradually moving to a fully reclined position in bed (my favourite reading spot) for a useful nap on the off chance that it’s me and not the book, certain a quick shut eye will re-energize my purpose. This works but usually to the advantage of another book rather than the one that put me to sleep.
Goldberg: Variations did not put me to sleep. In fact I stayed up a little later than I would have for a night or two, to turn one more page to finish one more chapter. The plot itself, what there is of it, is stimulating of its own accord but what I found most winning was the feeling, as I read through the twists and turns and seemingly unrelated chapters, one of which was a minutely detailed description of a painting, that Josipovici never left me behind. (Not intentionally anyway.) Here was a writer who wanted the reader to appreciate what he was attempting and could convey this without “dumbing down” his story or adopting a patronising posture. It’s hard for me to shake off the impression prevalent among the masses that “intellectual” novels are meant to be exclusive in the most demeaning sense, to separate the “elite” wheat from the riff raff chaff. To make it exclusive it must be written in as abstruse a manner as possible without prompting an earnest search for a decoder ring in a Crackerjack box or a mournful look at a framed BA.