I suppose, in a sense, this post is a kind of manifesto or, more modestly, the beginnings of a statement of intent about where I see ReadySteadyBook heading over the next couple of years.
As many of you know, I wear two hats: I'm editor here at ReadySteadyBook and I'm also, in my day-job, lucky enough to edit The Book Depository (TBD) website. As editor of TBD my role is to make sure that the frontlist titles that I choose to review and feature on TBD's pages, and the authors and publishers I interview, reflect in some modest way the astonishing range of books that TBD customers buy every day. The breadth of their purchases is amazing; I want TBD's homepage to be, in a small way, similarly catholic.
Here on RSB I have a different role. Certainly, it is one that I'm making up as I go along. I started RSB thinking of the site as an online literary journal that would reflect many opinions, air many voices, and I still think that that aspect of the site is important and needs growing (if you want to contribute, email me), but principally RSB is -- like it or loathe it -- me and my musings. My thinking about literature and books over the last three or four years has developed and, I hope, deepened. RSB facilitates that ongoing learning by forcing me to attempt to articulate what it is I think I feel about literature, and engaging with others in the blogosphere about those ideas.
When I talk to folk, especially publishers, about what kinds of books I like to feature on RSB, I often reach for the phrase Literary Fiction ... and then I quickly backtrack. Literary Fiction is one of the genres of fiction that I'm happy to feature on TBD's homepage, alongside a host of other types of books. And Literary Fiction is, undoubtedly, the genre that many of the books that have been reviewed on RSB in the past have belonged to. But, editorially -- and by that I mean, via the blog, and from my heart -- I'd actually like RSB to be seen as being anti-Literary Fiction. Indeed, what I've taken to calling Establishment Literary Fiction is, to me, the very antithesis of literature: it is hubristic, formulaic and trite; it is non- essential.
Literary Fiction is genre fiction; literature, art, is writing that deconstructs the very idea of genre. Proust's In Search of Lost Time isn't literary fiction, but a novel that destroys the idea of the novel in its very realisation. Beckett's famous lines from Worstward Ho -- Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. -- are in themselves a manifesto for writers and writing. If Literary Fiction is defined by its proud masterpieces, its smug perfections, literature should be known as a failed art that in its failing helps us to understand our own feeble inadequacies and helps us to fail better.
Simon Critchley writes (in Infinitely Demanding): "When I pull myself out of the slumber of my inauthentic existence and learn to approve the demand of conscience, which for Heidegger is the demand of my finitude confronted in being-towards-death, then I become authentic, I become who I really am." This "I" -- as Simon recognises -- is conflicted, multiple, but it is the demand of which he writes -- of ethics, of art -- in the face of finitude, of silence, that I'm interested in here. This demand, taken up by art, by literature, is infinite. Literature can approach, help negotiate, begin to articulate, that demand; Literary Fiction withers in the face of it, never having heard its call, deaf to it.