"Murray is the best kind of literary biographer" – The Financial Times.
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Winner of the 2015 Basil Bunting Award for poetry

Tuesday, 3 August 2010

Josipovici And Other Animals

In my last post I commented laconically on coverage of a very interesting-looking book by the writer and critic Gabriel Josipovici, Whatever Happened to Modernism? which I will talk about later when I have caught up with it.  But I have just read his 2001 memoir A Life which I found a delightful book and perhaps a surprising one for someone whose reputation is as a somewhat austere and rigorous critic.  It is the life of his mother, Sacha Rabinovitch, as much as his own, their lives being entwined by the facts of history and exile, and he makes use of her (excellent) poems and family photographs to build up a picture of a remarkable woman.  Both were passionate animal lovers and there are some marvellous descriptions of the various dogs they owned and, inevitably, grieved over.  It's a story that passes through Egypt, France and England and I found it deeply absorbing.

Josipovici, in spite of having written an affecting memoir claims that he is suspicious of the genre.  He quotes his mother's view: "...to write one's memoirs is to cease to look forward.  It's a form of nostalgia and self-indulgence."   He says much later in the book that autobiography is unsatisfactory because: "A person can never grasp the trajectory of their own life, not only because that trajectory is not over till their life ends, but because a life is more than what one can say, it is more than one can think.. It can only be lived, not told – not told by the liver, that is, but only by another."  That is why he chose to write another person's life.  Again, he says: "A memoir would have left me to wallow in my sorrow; writing the life of another, of that other, was what I needed to do, and I now see why."  We can only be grateful that he overcame his reservations and wrote this book.


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Nicholas Murray said...

It's certainly possible if you can explain the technicalities to me!!