Ellis Sharp offers a superb account of Gabriel Josipovici’s lecture in London on Wednesday night.
In the case of fictional narrative, to give something an end does not signify that it supplies meaning. Novels are not mirrors of the world but rather machines that secrete spurious meanings into the world. Modernists had a deep sense that the bad faith of the novel should be acknowledged. Very few modern British novelists write out of that awareness. Two who did, he argued, were William Golding, in Pincher Martin, and Muriel Spark, in The Hothouse By The East River.
He then contrasted their writing with three contemporary examples. The first was the opening of a short story by a successful writer of fiction and journalism (not identified and I didn’t recognise the story). The second was from a novel by a Booker Prize winner (again not identified, and again it wasn’t something I’d read). The third was an extract from Suite Francaise.
They were all bad writers, going through the motions, Josipovici argued. Each extract raised questions of narrative authority. Each author displayed a complacent omniscience about their characters.
(Steve, who was also there, says the first example was Philip Hensher and the second V. S. Naipaul.)
Here’s a related idea, which I encountered at the excellent Mel Bochner exhibition recently at the Art Institute.