Most disciplines studied at university, I
think, seek to make the most accurate, most precise pictures we can make of the world
as it is. The study of literature, and of the humanities more generally, is perhaps
unique in that it not only seeks to give us pictures of the world as it is, but also the
pictures of the world as it isn’t – as it’s not yet or as it might be. In doing
so, the study of literature involves us in an encounter with the future, I think, a very
open and inviting encounter with the future. Textual Practice is a journal that has been
extremely influential in helping us to understand what’s at stake in literary thinking over
the last 30 years. I think we’re in a moment of deep transition in our understanding of
this question, so in asking 30 writers to think about the future of literary thinking
we might help to shape some of the forms in which we’ll think about it in the future.
I wanted to invite a range of novelists, poets, philosophers, theorists, journalists, but
within that category I wanted to choose writers who have focused and reflected most openly
about the process of writing itself – how writing thinks. So novelists such as Ali Smith
and J.M. Coetzee, and Gabriel Josipovici, are writers who have demonstrated the functioning
of literary thinking, and also many of the critics and philosophers and theorists I’ve
chosen are people who have shaped the way that we understand this question most influentially.
In many ways we’re at a very embattled moment; universities are very hostile to critical
thinking in their current formation, booksellers and publishers are very risk averse, and this
produces quite a narrow range in many ways. But even as these factors and other factors
make this a very difficult time, it’s also a very exciting time, a time of new possibilities,
a transitional time, when the very question of how literature talks about the world and
helps to shape it is changing.