It could be Rooney, Terry and Ferdinand, says Fabregas. It could very easily be that. But it happens to be McEwan, Barnes and Rushdie (et al), says Josipovici. Yesterday the Guardian, after talking to Gabriel Josipovici about his forthcoming book from Yale, What Ever Happened to Modernism?, printed the result as a news story; it was followed up by two pieces on a news page in the Evening Standard.
Josipovici’s thinking about the novel is not news. It has developed over decades of engagement with the form and can be tracked through his own novels and critical work over that period. It has contributed to a way of thinking about fiction, and books that are worth the writing and worth the reading, that goes back a long way, but happens to differ from the ways in which fiction is usually reviewed, ranked and even recognised at all by the mainstream media.
The Guardian knows this. But its only way of ‘covering’ books outside the review pages is to translate them into news, which involves the reduction of any variation of ideas to a playground conflict between named names. Other staple set pieces in this books-as-news genre are prizes (the myth of the ‘best’ book); accusations of plagiarism; insult and gossip (as in Ruth Padel’s candidacy for the Oxford professorship of poetry). All of these trade on the cult of personality – of which Josipovici is deeply critical, but of which, in becoming ‘news’, he has now himself become a victim.
Publishers, who need publicity for their books, collude in this process. I collude in it: by writing this, and by not neglecting to mention that Josipovici’s novel Only Joking will be published by CBe in October. So am I pleased with the publicity now attending to Josipovici? I fear that the reception of his new work (as well as the Yale book and the CBe book, there’s a new and selected stories from Carcanet in October) will be coloured by certain phrases (‘embittered academic’, for godsake; there are worse terms for the sub-ed who conjured that, but he/she won’t have to face the music) printed yesterday. I hope that people will read the books and respond directly to those.