Gabriel Josipovici: Everything Passes

As Richard says, this was written as part of a proposed symposium on Gabriel Josipovici’s Everything Passes, and so it wasn’t meant to stand alone as it does here. I somewhat assumed people would have read other assessments already, such as Paul Griffith’s excellent breakdown. See also Dan Visel’s commentary and Stephen Mitchelmore’s.

The key moment of Everything Passes, I think, comes very close to the end, when, having been frequently treated to slightly varying descriptions of a man standing at the window over the course of the book, our main character Felix now describes the room in his spoken description of a near-death experience (apparently drawn from the experience of Schoenberg’s that inspired his intense String Trio):

–I saw myself standing in an empty room, he says. I was standing at the window, looking out through the cracked pane.
–Then I saw my face at the window, behind the cracked pane. Looking out.

For me it came as a revelatory moment, for two reasons: first, Felix is revealed to be the one who has had this vision that has so frequently recurred; and second, this is the only time the vision is given from a definite vantage point, that is, from outside the window. Both of these are in contrast to the structure of the book to that point, which has presented the narrative in present-tense, third person, seemingly from a God’s-eye view. To be shown the same scene in nearly the same words through Felix’s eyes is to imagine that for the whole course of the book he has been staring the whole time at himself, that this disconnected and pointilistic narrative was constructed by Felix himself. Except not quite by Felix, because Felix is behind the glass now, the object of viewing. The viewer stands outside the glass. Who is this viewer?

The easiest analogue to draw is that of a near-death experience, with the common report of a person seeing himself from some vantage point above his actual body. I don’t find this very compelling. I would rather see it as a device used to expose the literary vantage point of the reader. We find that the vague narrative of a life assembled over the course of the book has been part of the experience of that narrator, rather than only the narrative structure imposed on the life by the author, standing between us and Felix. Except now that Felix is the narrator, looking through the window outside, he is no longer the man inside the room. Who is this man?

I don’t know that the book permits an actual answer to this question. Felix changes from object to subject as we go from observing him to seeing through his eyes, and then we realize that we may have been staring through “his” eyes the whole time, staring at a doppelganger who plays out larger and smaller pieces of his life. The superimposition of these frames, those of text, life memories, cultural knowledge, subject, and object, is what gives the book its doubly vertiginous quality, miming contrasting forward and backwards motions on different levels. I do wish that the content of the memories had been closer to the loaded material of Josipovici’s In a Hotel Garden, where the weight of history and catastrophe gave the sparse text an immediacy missed here. In Everything Passes, as the details of a life not particularly well-spent accumulate, the life drains from its narrative as we learn more of the man behind the window, as it does from Felix himself.

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