Monday, 13 September 2010

Wondrous strange

More column-inches on Josipovici: see, for example, Mark Thwaite on ReadySteadyBook, or the New Statesman review of What Ever Happened to Modernism? In several of the other pieces, two things strike me as odd. The first is trivial: while Josipovici is routinely described as a ‘professor’, Martin Amis isn’t – even though he is a professor, at Manchester University. The second thing is the number of literary journalists who make a rhetorical point of admitting that they’ve never read any of Josipovici’s books. Philip Hensher, novelist and critic (and creative-writing teacher) in the Telegraph: ‘Josipovici has written fiction himself, though I confess I had not heard of any of it.’ Ian Jack, author and former editor of Granta, in the Guardian: ‘Before this summer I had never heard of him. Had you?’

Well, yes, I had. And another man, not a dedicated reader of contemporary fiction, who came round here a couple of weeks ago; he asked what CBe was publishing next and I mentioned Josipovici, and he immediately remembered the first Josipovici story he’d read (in Penguin Modern Stories 12, 1972), and then others; him too.

There seems to be a cosy assumption here that because these writers, at the heart of the literary/publishing world, have never heard of Josipovici, no one else can can possibly know about him either. (I’m reminded of Robert McCrum last year, when Herta Muller won the Nobel Prize, admitting that he had ‘never read a word she’s written’ and had been ‘frantically searching the web to find out things’.) Fortunately the world is bigger and more various than most folk in the lit establishment imagine. It includes people whose reading choices are not determined by what the Sunday papers recommend; it may even include people who haven’t heard of Philip Hensher or Ian Jack.

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