Back in 2003 when I started ReadySteadyBook the Booker Prize was something I had a modicum of interest in. Whilst the books on the list were never quite my cup of tea they did, I thought, represent a fairly good place to start with what was out there that was deemed a contemporary meaty read. With some scepticism, I bought the line that the Booker prize was a decent guide to the modern British novel.
Over the past eight or so years, my opinions on lots of things have modified and changed, but Booker fiction (which I've since rather pejoratively called Establishment Literary Fiction) continues, for me, to be the fairly "decent guide to the contemporary British novel" that I thought it was back in the day. And it is for that reason that I have so very little interest engaging with it here.
ReadySteadyBook has changed considerably over the last few years. I started it thinking I could maintain a kind of mini-Amazon – offering short reviews of lots of books across numerous genres. Very quickly I realised that I couldn't keep up with the slew of new books that get published each week and, moreover, that I didn't have anythig like the energy or commitment to review even a tiny percentage of them. So my focus sharpened and I began – as the site's tagline still declares – 'reviewing the very best books in literary fiction, poetry, history and philosophy.'
Not long after, I added a blog to the site and my 'online literary journal' started to have a relationship to and with the burgeoning blogosphere. And for a while I really enjoyed the camaraderie of my fellow book bloggers. ReadySteadyBook grew, I loved the feedback, got a little bit better at blogging, and began to articulate a little more clearly my feeling that 'literary fiction', whilst an often hugely entertaining genre, was not what I meant by – or required from – literature.
Recently (indeed almost since Lee did such a great job on RSB's facelift), I've allowed RSB's blog to become almost like a Tumblr: a place where I record the occasional apposite quote or link. ReadySteadyBook as an online 'journal' has continued to thrive (with excellent recent highlights including David Winters' review of Gary Gutting's Thinking the Impossible: French Philosophy Since 1960, David Auerbach's excellent essay on Hans Blumenberg, Barry Baldwin's review of Geoffrey of Monmouth's Life of Merlin: A New Verse Translation and Dai Vaughan's breathtaking essay on Jean-Pierre Melville). But as blog I'm not sure it is cutting the mustard. And, you know, that is ok. It is ok because I no longer want the RSB blog even to be a "literary blog"...
When Gabriel Josipovici's What Ever Happened to Modernism? landed I was pretty taken aback by the bile directed towards it by many reviewers. But I was also amazed by their ignorance of the philosophical underpinnings of Josipovici's astonishing essay. After reading countless reviews, one couldn't help but be shocked by how many reviewers simply hadn't understood what Josipovici was trying to do. Now, Josipovici wears his philosophical learning pretty lightly, so it is only right not to read his work as an academic treatise, but philosophers like Kierkegaard and Wittgenstein, critics like Blanchot, historians like Eamon Duffy, haunt his work. What Ever Happened to Modernism? engages with an argument that has been raging at least since Max Weber first articulated his notion of the "disenchantment of the world" and uses that as a rubric to see what is so exceptional in the work of writers as widely geographically and temporally separated as Cervantes and Beckett, Wordsworth and Borges, and works out what sensibilities they shared in the literature they produced. But the reviewers of What Ever Happened to Modernism? just didn't seem to have any idea about this.
The book's reception made me, again, realise that my own interest in literature is really what it does philosophically and is philosophically. Actually, I'm deeply uncomfortable with that phrasing – not least because I think that the thing that literature does (and is philosophically) is... literature. But the point is that that argument needs unpicking. And it needs unpicking slowly and methodically.
So all of this no more than a preamble to say that I'm currently working on a long paper, a paper that might become something more than that, that attempts at length rigorously to work through a problem that the idiot reception of Josipovici's finest work has made me want to contemplate much more fully. And some bits of that contemplation are going to end up here. Here on a blog that categorically has no interest whatsoever in the Booker furore, but as fervent an interest as ever in literature and what it means and what it is.