Wednesday, December 29, 2010

The World Transformed

Ramona Koval: Gabriel, you say that the two greatest post-war English novelists were William Golding and Muriel Spark. Why them?
Gabriel Josipovici: Again, I have a last chapter in which I say this is my view, I quite recognise that there are other views, I try to justify my view. My feeling when I first started reading the early novels of William Golding, that is the first four, Lord of the Flies, The Inheritors, Pincher Martin, and The Spire, was that I was in the same sort of universe as the universe of a Borges or even of a Kafka, that there was something...it seized me and shook me into a sort of recognition of the mystery of the world and gave me a sort of flashlight of awareness of that.
What he does in all these books is to lead you in to look at the world one way, and then with an extraordinary twist towards the end you're pulled out and recognise that this is actually the world inside somebody's head, and therefore the world itself is other than that thing that is inside the person's head. And this is most striking in Pincher Martin were this man is thrown up on a rock in the middle of the ocean, tries to survive Robinson Crusoe-like for a while, but gradually starts to feel there's something that isn't quite right with...I mean, not just the surroundings that are inimitable to life but that there is something peculiarly worrying about it.
And then comes the terrible shock that actually the configuration of these rocks is like that of his teeth as his tongue passes over them, that in a sense he is dying as he is drowning at the very moment that...the whole thing takes place in a moment in which he is drowning, and he tries desperately to hold on to life, and imagines this rock and everything else.
Muriel Spark in a different way I think does the same sort of thing, perhaps because of her Catholic conversion, this sense of suddenly seeing the world transformed, not as other people mostly see it, not as the novel mostly sees it. Her novels, again, are often leading to a point where we are made to see that things are not quite as we thought they were. So in one sense they are...and modernism itself is already a sort of detective story, but it is a detective story where there isn't an answer at the end.

From the transcript of an interview of Josipovici on Australia's ABC radio about his recent book Whatever Happened to Modernism? Link via This Space. (Although a silly article in the Guardian attempted to develop a spat between Josipovici and various eminences gris of English literature, his book has received a good number of approving reviews. He makes some very interesting points about common problems of structural and narrative constraints in fantasy and 'realistic' fiction, too.)

3 Comments:

Anonymous Keith Talent said...

Perhaps a spolier alert for the reveal of Pincher Martin? Great novel and I didn't see the end coming.

December 29, 2010 1:51 PM  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

It was published in 1956, so a bit late in the day for spoiler alerts, I think. (You didn't spot the boiled lobster?)

December 29, 2010 6:03 PM  
Anonymous Keith Talent said...

Well I got told off for telling someone about the twist in The Mousetrap ...

Didn't spot the boiled lobster, but I'm also the person who didn't predict the 'twist' in We Need to Talk About Kevin, and that's about as obvious as they come.

December 29, 2010 7:31 PM  

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