What Ever Happened to Modernism? Gabriel Josipovici

Publication date:
30 Sep 2011
Yale University Press
224 pages: x 133mm
6 b-w illus.
Sales territories:

A personal, penetrating, and polemical account of what Modernism is and how contemporary literature has failed it

The quality of today’s literary writing arouses the strongest opinions. For novelist and critic Gabriel Josipovici, the contemporary novel in English is profoundly disappointing—a poor relation of its groundbreaking Modernist forebears. This agile and passionate book asks why.

Modernism, Josipovici suggests, is only superficially a reaction to industrialization or a revolution in diction and form; essentially, it is art coming to consciousness of its own limits and responsibilities. And its origins are to be sought not in 1850 or 1800, but in the early 1500s, with the crisis of society and perception that also led to the rise of Protestantism. With sophistication and persuasiveness, Josipovici charts some of Modernism’s key stages, from Dürer, Rabelais, and Cervantes to the present, bringing together a rich array of artists, musicians, and writers both familiar and unexpected—including Beckett, Borges, Friedrich, Cézanne, Stevens, Robbe-Grillet, Beethoven, and Wordsworth. He concludes with a stinging attack on the current literary scene in Britain and America, which raises questions about not only national taste, but contemporary culture itself.

Gabriel Josipovici has spent a lifetime writing, and writing about other writers. What Ever Happened to Modernism? is a strident call to arms, and a tour de force of literary, artistic, and philosophical explication that will stimulate anyone interested in art in the twentieth century and today.

Gabriel Josipovici is a prolific and eminent novelist, literary theorist, critic, and scholar. He is currently research professor at the University of Sussex, where he taught in the School of European Studies for thirty-five years.

"This short, fierce book is clearly very personal... Nevertheless, I enjoyed the sinuousness and vigour of Josipovici's arguments."—Sam Leith, Sunday Times

"What can't be faulted is the plaintive logic running through this book. In cultural terms, we live in deeply conservative times... Yet can anyone, now, name the successful middlebrow writer of 1922 or 1915? Of course not. That alone should give Josipovici comfort."—Tom McCarthy, The Guardian

"Josipovici's erudite and intelligent polemic raises more questions than it answers - always a good thing."—Tom McCarthy, Daily Telegraph

"Now in his seventies, he is formidably cultivated... Not that he condescends. Josipovici carries his learning lightly and the meditations on Modernism which make up the body of the book are instructive and accessible... This is a book... one can't help rather enjoying."—John Sutherland, Literary Review

"It is personal, engaged, sometimes a bit nuts – Words – worth a proto-modernist? Flaubert, the author of Bouvard et Pecuchet, a realist? – but consistently eye-opening, honest with its terms and, amazingly for a work of literary criticism, hugely quotable and never dull."—Nicholas Lezard, The Guardian

"A welcome intervention in the long debate about the difference between art and entertainment."—James Purdon, The Observer

"His book is similarly eloquent, besides being, in its task of charting modernism's uniqueness, ingenious, unexpected, astute and insightful. It's also - because of its passion and intelligence - readable, in a way a modernist would approve of."—Amit Chaudhuri, The Independent

"Entertaining as his assault is, this is a more challenging and ambitious book than simply a jeremiad on the contemporary cultural climate."—Ronan McDonald, The London Magazine

"Gabriel Josipovici’s eloquent defence of Modernism seeks out its roots deep within the spirit of Western Culture."—Geoffrey Heptonstall, Contemporary Review