I was so excited last Saturday to read in the Guardian Review about a new prize for fiction being launched by Goldsmiths College which will go to a book that celebrates the spirit of invention and 'characterises the genre at its most surprising'. Finally, a reprieve for the English literary novel! Think Tom McCarthy, Will Self, Julian Barnes and so on. There are four judges and my delight was increased by seeing Gabriel Josipovici numbered amongst them. Some time ago, I drew readers attention to Whatever Happened to Modernism in which he lamented the state of English literature; a judge of this calibre can only bode well and, to quote Blake Morrison, 'will encourage more risk-taking among novelists, editors and agents alike'.
Coincidentally, I had just finished reading Infinity The Story of a Moment by Josipovici, published 2012. The juxtaposition of two concepts in the title was enough to draw me and feel I was in for a treat. The book takes the form of an interview of one, Massimo, who was man servant/chauffeur to a wealthy and eccentric Sicilian nobleman and avant-garde composer, Pavone, who is now dead. Massimo talks about Pavone's life and particularly his extraordinary opinions and theories of the workings of the world and especially music and art. About the latter, he opines that he sees a decline in standards: 'I do not say according to the highest standards, he said, but according to the highest standards that still prevail' - pure Josipovici! Josipovici said in an interview that 'he [Pavone] is based on the wonderful reclusive Italian composer, Giacinto Scelsi (1905-1988), whose pronouncements about everything from rhythm in music to beautiful women and the future of civilisation are a curious mixture of profundity and bullshit. In fact it was this mixture I found so appealing and tried to mimic'.
Together with the comedy of Pavone's outrageous opinions, there is the pathos and charm of the relationship that Massimo had with his employer and, at times, in the interview, he stops talking as if trying to understand and make sense of the account he is giving. There was no doubt a close bond between the two though Massimo is frequently at a loss in trying to articulate Pavone's thoughts and conversations. He does give us some clue to the title when he talks about Pavone's account of a visit to Nepal and Tibet where Pavone felt that the music there had taken 'many lifetimes, many generations to produce ... that each sound is a world, an infinite world ... yet which is over in no time at all'.
Maybe Josipovic will bring Pavone's opinion that 'many artists haved been ruined by half-baked ideas about what will make them modern' to his judgement of the new prize!
Infinity The Story of a Moment, Gabriel Josipovici, Carcanet paperback, 2012, £12.95