it’s always fun to look through several works by one writer all together, and it’s easy with Josipovici. his books are very lean, but these are thousand calorie books that read like zero calorie ones. but the calorie analogy doesnt do justice to his intellectual density. they’re more like really good peanut butter.
be it fiction or essays, GJ is always at pains to show the reader which other artists (or critics) a given work is after: Joseph Cornell in HOTEL ANDROMEDA, Rosaline Krauss’s critical work on Picasso in at least a couple of his essays. and while he admires Duchamp and Cage, his heart really belongs with Stravinsky and Kafka. the protagonist of this novel is an Italian 20th c. composer named Mr Pavone, modeled after the actual artist Giacinto Scelsi. and like GJ, it’s all about the bod when it comes to art: artists make what their bodies permit them to make, and the body, not the mind, is the site of contact between art and reader/listener/spectator.
INFINITY: THE STORY OF A MOMENT would be considered avant-garde or at least experimental by many, as Pavone’s compositions would be. a single note struck six hundred and sixty six times? it will either drive you mad or take you to another dimension, as Pavone was heard saying by his loyal servant Massimo. sounds like Cage, youd think, but Pavone insists that Cage is bogged down in theory, whereas his work is all about the sound itself — a universe in one sound. so his real aesthetic position as he sees it is a little more complicated than the old classical regime versus the avant garde, which “makes a virtue” of screeching and scraping, breaking through repression. and Josipovici, if you read the splendid WHAT EVER HAPPENED TO MODERNISM?, also prefers the middle. Not realism, and not illegible abstraction either, but where the twain meet, where we can still feel grounded in the “real world” while striking out on all the paths tradition closed off.
the two novels ive read by GJ are virtually all dialog, especially here: an in-depth interview between the servant Massimo and an unnamed character, who’s also the narrator, presumably a music historian. Pavone is a pompous Sicilian aristocrat, with strong opinions about music, art, women, the fate of Western civilization with all these fascist thugs rising up (not good).
Beauty is not to be despised, Massimo, he said. Though it is a gift like any other and has not been earned, it is nevertheless a gift, and as such should be celebrated. He had met many beautiful women, he said, and he had had affairs with quite a few of them. It is always a disaster, he said, but it should never be a cause for regret. Beauty is a gift, he said, but it is also a curse. It is a curse on the person who is the beneficiary of that gift and ti is a curse on whoever comes into contact with them. Because the person who is beautiful does not know where that gift came from and cannot relate it to herself.
He spends time in Italy, Vienna (studying under Scheler and Schoenberg), London, waiting out the war in Switzerland, travelling to Nepal and West Africa, where he gets profound inspiration for his art, while recognizing that the very fact that he and his friends can go to these places is a sign they are under severe threat.
Had I not gone to Nepal when I did, he said, I doubt if I would ever have recovered from Scheler and Schoenberg in Vienna. In Vienna, he said, I couldn’t look at a score without thinking. I couldn’t strike a note on the piano without thinking. I had ceased to listen and I had ceased to want to make, the two essential prerequisites for the composer.
“Thinking is a disaster for music.” Pavone rejects Schoenberg, as avant-garde as they come, but he’s no conservative either. that being said, there is a desire for recovery, of what music used to mean, in Gregorian or Nepalese chanting. It’s a rejection of the idea of progress: theres nowhere for the avant-garde to advance to. there’s no climax and exhaustion like in the structure of Mozart. instead we have build-up, deferral, recycling, and build up again: infinity within a moment, a sound. it’s also a rejection of hierarchies. he remarks that whoever can effectively argue why a chorus hooting like animals cant be as beautiful as the best passages of Mozart and Bach deserves a doctorate. the instrument is to be attacked, as if the player were a gorilla.
I have never needed much food or much sleep, he said, which is a blessing, because some of my best musical ideas have come at night when walking through the streets of Rome. Cities, he said, should be walked through at night, that is when you become aware of the soul of a city, and Rome is the quintessential city. The conversations you have in a city at night, with passing strangers and the people you meet in all-night bars far surpass the conversations you have during the day. During the day everyone is busy, everyone is going about his or her business, he said, but at night it is as though the notion of ends disappears and each moment is valued in and for itself. Everyone who walks through a city at night walks in the present, he said, while everyone who walks through a city during the day walks in the past or the future. The very buildings of a city seem to return with a sigh to the present moment when night falls, he said, especially if there is a full moon. Nowadays, when the howl of police sirens destroys the calm, it is sometimes difficult to remain in the present, even at night Police sirens cannot help but remind you of the past and the future, cannot help tearing you away from the present. Varese, who was a very great composer, he said, imagined that he as being modern by introducing a police siren into his works, but all that did was date his works and limit their interest. It is quite incredible, he said, how many artists have been ruined by half-baked ideas about what will make them modern.