The Books of My Numberless Dreams

Sunday Salon: Josipovici now, Hodgson later

Posted on: November 25, 2007

4:22 PM: My head’s in a weird space at present, since finishing the Josipovici, just as I was after the first read. I don’t know if I’ll be able to leap right into another book.

As usual I visited other Sunday Salon participants. The Frumious Bandersnatch examined the validity of her dismissive feelings towards Coelho’s fiction. Ann Darnton settled into warm jammies and began a book that’s busy “exploring the source of the creative impulse and the tremulous knife-edge on which artistic genius so often exists” . If you have any suggestions for Pulitzer Prize winners she should try, add a note in comments, please. Bill Parsons always has an interesting review up for Sundays. This time he’s read a book about the Archimides codex, a palimpsest.

3:04 PM: The “Wander-Artist” gets its own chapter, it’s very own monologue, and helps me to see a little clearer what others like Josipovici actually see or get from the painting, since I barely react to it at all. Here’s some of what I scribbled at the end of the chapter:

The “Between”? Inspiration? Artistic/creative moxie? Is it even fruitful to try and pin it down”?

“The Offering” chapter follows, another of Goldberg’s letters to his wife — whether any character actually sent off any of his letters is debatable — in which he seems to be at the end of assignment, and his exile never happened, although that feeling of being irrevocably changed has not disappeared. He conveys such a resigned, hopeful, settled tone that I’m almost convinced that everything is settled and you have something a happily-ever-after.

Then in “For You Alone” we’re given a costume drama/quirky sitcom/whotheheckknows in which Goldberg arrives to cheery servants, and a dinner with Westfield, sons and friends, during which Goldberg dances with a cat, Westfield and a lady waltz around the table and the sons bang out nonsense rhymes.

“The Final Fugue” has another moment of Goldberg arrival at Westfield’s estate. He descends from the carriage with his luggage, stops at the steps to look back at the departing carriage and sees “Hammond’s white face in the window and…a hand raised in parting salute“.

2:10 PM: In chapters 25 and 26 Josipovici lifts the veil a bit, or cuts out holes here and there, to give readers a peek into the workings behind the book.

Gerald, the only character set in contemporary time, is more explicit about the draft he’s working on, which turns out to be the one we’re reading. This was an amusing, slightly disorienting chapter because he expressed my own thoughts, and even subsequent actions based on what had went on before. He pointed out his weak period depiction as a “costume drama with only fragments of costume still clinging like seaweed”, which matched my own impression except that I liked it that way. When he re-examines the “Wandering-Artist” by Klee he searches for what Plakat meant, a “placard”, and then looked up that word as well.

He took it much farther than I did though because I simply took it as a description of the painting’s medium (like canvas, wood etc.), provided by a curator or something, while it turns out to be Klee’s. Gerald does not take this at face value considers its impact on one’s interpretation of it, combining its intent as a “poster” with further searches on the German definitions of “Wander” and “artist”.

This all happened because the book he is struggling to complete is the one we’re reading. At the start of the chapter he admits that he can’t sleep, like Westfield. He’d get drunk but his liver can’t handle it, like Goldberg. He mentions the research he did on George III and the Neolithic settlements, the story of the wild boy, Hölderlin all subjects that cropped up in previous chapters. It ties in with Goldberg, also a writer, who struggled to compose a story for Westfield. And I remember Josipocivi who admitted in an interview that he struggled to write Goldberg: Variations. Along with all the ruminations of sleep, insomnia and dreams, on language and civilisation, on music, romantic relationships, Homer, now it emerges that all those exercises were the fruits of frustration.

In chapter 22 we deduce from Westfield’s replies that Goldberg contended that silence was noisy, that sleep was as much a gesture, an active, communicative part of our lives as being awake, as talking. In his second letter to Mrs Goldberg he wondered that humans spent such a great part of our lives asleep but yet it rarely come up as a subject in literature. He pointed to Homer as the exception, arguing that in one sense both Achilles’ and Odysseus’ driving motivations was to rest, to sleep. Achilles does not become peaceful even after he kills Hector, completing his revenge; it’s not until he gives the body over to Hector’s father that he can “leave the poem…both hero and poem can at last fall asleep in peace”. Odysseus wishes to return to his wife and his secret bed.

This leads Goldberg to conclude that

…sleep is the goal of art as it is of man. And it can only be the sleep that truly ends if it has in some way been earned by the protagonist and earned by the writer. In that sense it is also the goal of the reader. But only a true work will allow him to sleep well when he has closed the book.

This book’s momentum, then, seems to be moving up this strained point and then falling back, in an effort to seek some kind of earned resolution.

In chapter 26, which shifts from Gerald’s first person to third, an unnamed “he” admits that he “has tried to set a world in motion and all he has done is reveal the paucity of his mind and the cardboard nature of his creatures”. Again we get the sense of the author again, distant, in another form, not really any more Gerald than Goldberg.

As Goldberg had his “other” who wanted to escape, this figure has an “other” in an episode that I can’t verbally explain or comment on. In some small way I supposed that it was another connection to chapter 22 in which Goldberg suggested that characteristic of great writing (or maybe just truthful writing, although that’s probably even foggier) is the inability to categorise or even individualize, but it has some enigmatic quality, when the writer is “Everyone and no one….Inhabiting the different forms and leaving them transformed”. (Shakespeare is presented as an example.) The other calls it the “Between”.

Between is only a way of talking. What is important is not to be found in any place and it is not to the be found in any time, either the time before you ebgan or the time after you have finished. It is not inside anything or outside anything, but is what has made these things happen. Do you understand me?

Good question.

12:34 PM: A late night out makes for a late Sunday start. Good afternoon and welcome to another round of Goldberg: Variations reading with moi! I’m a bit muggy this morning so who knows how the commentary thing will go. Still, I did get some reading in after I fed the impatient cat who trembled with joy as she heard the Whiskie’s bag being opened.

I’m at chapter 27 of 30. In 22 we got a one-sided dialogue between Westfield and Goldberg in the dark, 23 Gerald (the one character set in contemporary time) made several attempts at writing a letter to Edith, his wife who left him, and in 24 Goldberg wrote one to his, during which he reaches a sort of crisis and decides to leave everything behind, including his family, to become a faceless wanderer.

The chapters I really want to focus on, or start from are 25-6. In them it is revealed that a good deal of what went on before was Josipovici’s efforts to work through failure. In the first chapter Westfield gave Goldberg one day to invent his own tale to tell at night, and we see Goldberg turn his inability to do so into the main event successfully, or so it appeared. But in chapter 24 we’re returned to that moment, Goldberg’s letter to his wife, and in it, among the musings on how literature has addressed sleep, he is no longer satisfied with that solution of turning failure into narrative. It seems a shallow and falsified tactic. All his previous life now seems like a dream before this moment, his defeat at Westfield’s estate, and though he ponders how the news of his failure will affect his future earnings, and therefore his family’s well-being, this does not seem to be the most important issue that leads him to self-impose exile. He himself feels irrevocably change, that there is another person inside him with a desperate need and “curious excitement” to escape into a different life.

While I read the letter I was carried along, more or less convinced of his decision. During my first reading I remember being quite distraught about it. This time, at the end, I stepped back and thought, Hmmmm, no no this doesn’t really seem in character for Goldberg at all. Maybe, kinda, but not really.

That was in contrast to my other impression. Typically when I meet this sort of chapter where an author changes a plot development, which also screws around with its chronology, I’d…well consider it along those lines, of changes in plot and time, how it affects the novel’s overall structure, if it does really or is it just a side path that leads back to the main. Not for Goldberg: Variations. Each chapter is more isolated and so Goldberg’s change here doesn’t so much ask me what it means for chapter 1’s Goldberg, but about what it means right now, in this book’s moment and how it will progress. Of course, I step back and look at the overall picture but it looks more like a map of a land with several tributaries but no main river, still in the same country, all going out to the sea.

Oh but what was I going on about with the theme of failure earlier? I’ll get to that in the next update maybe.

4 Responses to "Sunday Salon: Josipovici now, Hodgson later"

Well, I just have to get hold of this novel, don’t I? It sounds amazing and you’ve done wonderful justice to it over the past few Sundays, imani. If Josipovici sees a spike in his sales, I think he ought to send you a chunk of the royalties!

litlove oh, I would just be happy with a good box of his fiction. 🙂 I’m glad you’ve enjoyed my posts on him so much, and more that you’ve read his fiction.

I’m really amazed by how detailed and articulate your coverage of this book is. Really enjoying the posts.

Thank you, frumious! This is the last of it, I’m afraid, although I feel as if I should do a final summation post on the book. (And clean up typos and missing possessive apostrophes, and all the other mistakes my on-the-spur posts are usually littered with.)

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