Philosophy. Book after book after book. The usual suspects read and reread. And looking for what? For answers, for sure, but more: for better questions, different questions, more penetrating questions. Looking to see what questions have been asked previously, trying to emulate them, trying to learn to be able to ask them. To ask them of an object, a phenomenon, a text. Feeling inadequate in front of them – the questions and the books – but seeking out their company regardless, both dwarfed and stretched by it. Feeling immoderate by the scale of one's exposure. Looking to learn to read, again, and with yet more care, more rigour, with eyes less wide, benevolent yet untrusting.

But what, then, of literature? Of fiction and its questions? Of its registers? What it knows, what it claims, what it questions, and what its questions are?

Can one only seek literature by avoiding literature? For how long must one walk away from literature in the hope of one day finding it again? And when one returns, one returns knowing so little, antipathetic to its arcane workings. Astonished, actually, by its arrogance. What can it know!? How can it proceed knowing it knows so little, claiming so much so solipsistically, flaunting its limitations?

What is this thing literature that knows but only through a perpetual process of disavowal? How must one approach it? How can one question it appropriately? How can one learn what it knows? What does it know? How can one listen more carefully?

There are strategies: a careful reading pays heed. Content and contradiction can be explained, complications approached and untangled, tensions revealed – and revealed to be essential or accidental. But after this, what does one know? Only what is overt: structure and narrative; nuts and bolts.

Or become a humanist! Either our author or the work's characters, or both, are there to teach. Claims for veracity, for three-dimensionality, are made. Lessons should or could be learnt from the behaviours on show. Mimetics is ethics, or could be.

But this rings false. The vivisection fails – the thing is dead. We ripped out the beating heart to see what made it beat. We learned little in the process except for our might and our clumsiness.

Blanchot asks: how is literature possible? We are presented with an aporia: its presence and its impossiblity. (It reminds one of love, or God.) Language oscillates between the commonplace - the communicable - and the private. But neither banality or cliche nor the neologistic is de facto literary. Literature is not a presentation we can account for. Literature is a singularity.

Literature makes sense only in and of itself. Its solipsism is its self-grounding: it is the story it tells about itself. It is the answer to the question it has set itself about itself. Literature, in this sense, is always after Kant. It is always Modern. And it is as ancient as modernity has to be. Pace Socrates, it knows nothing, and that is a very great deal, of very great value. It proceeds not knowing; one reads approaching this loss.

Readers Comments

  1. Without detracting from your comments about literature, I feel the need to defend philosophy and the urge for yet more questions about "what it's all about". As with literature, which, as you say, is always modern, so in the same way is philosophy.

    It is interesting that you approach literature from "nothing", which, as you say, "is a very great deal". I cannot agree more about "nothing". Yet approaching something from nothing is possible only when "nothing" is something in the first place. Otherwise we would be creating something from nothing - a dubious prospect that would bring us to necessary questions in philosophy.

    Ronald Green
    "Nothing Matters - a book about nothing" (iff-Books)

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